The Women Behind Maven

MAVEN is the first Australian ski movie with an all female cast and crew. Divya Gordan, Chess Smee and Leah Foster are the women behind this adventure shot in Australia’s Main Range. I caught up with Div and Leah a few months ago and found out how the movie came about and some of the challenges they faced.

Words Mandy Lamont Images supplied

Divya Gordon and Chess Smee

Filmed and Directed by Div Gordon, self taught film-maker and adventurer, in the Snowy Mountains last winter. After meeting and learning of Chess’s objective to scale Australia’s 11 highest peaks in a single day, Div decided to make a film about it. “It’s about Chess’s journey through the season. She’s out on the main range doing her thing and bringing us all along.” Div tells me. An Alpine guide and Thredbo ski instructor. Chess spends northern hemisphere winters in Canada where she is a ski touring guide and avalanche educator and heli-ski guide and race and Freeride Coach amongst many other things. On snow almost every day, last year Chess spent around 200 days in ski boots! She is on a mission to empower women with the skills and confidence to explore the backcountry and to persue anything they dare to dream.

Leah Foster

Leah Foster, one of the producers and photographers was along on most of the missions. The talented graphic designer has also designed the website, manages the Instagram page and promotions. She’s been along for the ride from the beginning. She was also the one driving everyone home after arriving late at Guthega after big missions. New owner of K7 Adventures, read more about Leah here.

Maven def. One Who Understands

An old Yiddish word meaning one who understands, MAVEN is about becoming experts in chosen fields. “With the film we’re saying we’re on our path to becoming mavens.” Leah tells me. “Driven by our curiosity, out there doing what we love, learning and growing in our respective fields.”

The best laid plans...

Finalising the film in March, it’s been a huge project starting at the beginning of last winter. Over several missions, Chess, Div, Leah, and different supporting crew went out on the Main Range to film. “We tried to shape a narrative at the beginning of the season. We had the objectives and the missions, but as we went through them, things didn’t go according to plan. There was a lot of learning and growing in those missions, which shapes the narrative a lot.” Leah tells me.

A non skiing ski movie

“It’s still a ski movie, there’s a nice shred sequence, but there’s also some extreme bush walking, bush whacking and hiking,” according to Div.  With such a low snow year they ended up pivoting to talk about the environment and the season, speaking with threatened species expert Linda Broome, and botanist and plant ecologist Susanna Venn.

Mostly on the drone, Div had other photographers accompany her at different times. Aaron Dickfos, Tom Roffey and Cooper Stankovich.

In good company

“Going out with all chicks, there’s no competition. It’s all fun and light hearted. I think we all trust each other a lot, maybe too much,” according to Leah. Regularly getting back at Guthega car park at 11pm at night.

“On the first mission to Opera House Hut, we were very trusting and having a great time until we realised, we’re not going to make it to the Hut. Ending up in the Creek we shouldn’t have because we were distracted by the easy path to the wrong creek. A nightmare followed, but a fun nightmare. Bush bashing through steep terrain in the dark down to the creek before calling it.”


“It was good to have a failure because you need that in a storyline. We took a chance on the unknown. It didn’t work out but we all got back and everyone was still laughing. It was huge, we all pushed through a new limit.”

“We found our limit to be so much higher than we all thought. And we just kept proving that again and again.” Div points out.

Up shits creek with paddles

“We were up shits creek but we had paddles.” Leah tells me laughing. “We had tents, food, and everything we needed. Ending up camping in the creek, what I found amazing was that there was no negativity, there was no blaming. Everyone kept their attitude in check and at a good level. The next morning everyone was chipper and happy and laughing and joking. The all women dynamic took that energy out of it. I think it might have been different if that was a bunch of dudes that ended up in that kind of situation.”

All coming together

MAVEN is Div’s first film with a production budget, and bringing on other sponsors it was bigger than anything she’s done before. All of a sudden she had a team, and lots of things to manage, which took its toll. There were lots of learnings on many fronts.

Make sure you see the MAVEN film tour this winter through the mountains and major cities with the Warren Miller Film tour this winter.

  • Mt Buller, 6th July 2024 – Mt Buller Cinemas
  • Mt Hotham, 9th July 2024 – The General Store
  • Falls Creek, 11th July 2024 – Frying Pan Inn
  • Jindabyne, 16th July 2024 – Banjo Patterson Hotel
  • Thredbo, 19th July 2024 – Thredbo Alpine Hotel

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