Descendance is a new film by The North Face which tells the story of Dennis Ranalter, better known to his friends and fans as D-RAN. As well as showcasing his incredible array of tricks, the film (and the panel discussion The North Face organised for its London premiere) shines a spotlight on the lack of diversity in skiing as a sport.
Born to a white Austrian mother and a black Ghanaian father, Ranalter was raised in what one of his friends describes as “a narrow valley, full of people with narrow minds,” and experienced racism from a young age.
The premiere took place at the Bike Shed in East London, a space beneath the train tracks in Shoreditch, which had been converted into a two-room gallery. Upon entering the space, we were taken into the world of Dennis Ranalter.
The dark room was kept alight with a few strong beams of light, creating a gallery ambiance, while the trains rumbled faintly above. Each art piece on the wall depicted a different chapter of Dennis’s life encapsulating the completely different terrain—from the Austrian mountains, to kids playing on the beach in Accra, Ghana—that have helped make Ranalter who he is today.
The initial mixer was a great opportunity to share thoughts on the trailer of the film, the art in the room and delve deeper into our own experiences in relation to diversity—or lack thereof—within the industry.
I see similarities between myself and Ranalter, in believing there are opportunities to build communities on the slopes, which is why I Co-Founded Off Piste Ski Trip, an organisation which offers an experience of the culture Black people are missing on the slopes through music, social events and community.
Once we entered the second room, the film began quickly. The movie is anchored by interview footage in which a series of meaningful questions is put to Ranalter by Phil Young (the film’s executive producer and a long-time campaigner for greater diversity in outdoor spaces). These help tell his story of excelling physically, while mentally being uncertain about his identity.
Intercutting these interviews with incredible action footage (D-RAN is an insanely stylish skier) the film follows him on a journey from Austria to Ghana which helps him explore these issues. It was powerful to experience Ranalter’s growth, showing courage and using racial stigmas to fuel his passion and become a critically acclaimed freeride skier. It was even more powerful to see Ranalter break down in Ghana when meeting his Dad for the first time in years, and realising the culture he’d been missing from this side of his family.
The movie showcased Ranalter’s shifting views on his own perceptions of race and racism, while also highlighting the need for winter sports and outdoor activities to be more culturally inclusive—and the importance of having role models, like pro skiers, from diverse backgrounds.
As Ranalter himself said in the panel discussion afterwards, “showcasing black achievement and representation is very important. It’s important to see people who look like you in places, as it gives you power and strength”
Alongside Ranalter and Phil Young, the panel featured a group of successful community founders, all of whom are working to promote diversity in the outdoors: Peigh Asante of SwimDemCrew, Zaineb Abelque of Athene Club, and Evie Muir of Peaks of Colour.
They outlined the need for involvement of people of colour in the space, to encourage the next generation to get outdoors more, but at the same time to challenge the unrepresentative norms in the winter sports and outdoors space.
Descendance is out now on Youtube. Watch the full movie below.