She may not be a native, but she’s certainly a Colorado sweetheart – one of the most positive and effervescent local personalities, Gretchen Snyder stands out in a crowd. Not because she’s a tall, leggy blonde. And not because of those hot pink pants she wears down the slopes in Vail as an avid skier, although they’re really hard to miss.
As a supermodel, actress, and spokesperson for breast cancer awareness, Snyder is more than just a pretty face. Savvy, smart, and supremely grounded, she is a star on the rise – a former 303 Magazine fashion host, an upcoming motion picture starlet, a New York and LA runway model, and a lover of all things Colorado.
Says Snyder, “I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘You have to move. It’s not even a question.’ But as long as I can, I’m going to stay right here in Colorado. There’s just something really special here.”
Born and raised in Dayton, Ohio, Snyder made her first trek to Colorado as a teenager, joining a girlfriend and her family to Keystone for a life changing winter vacation. Upon her arrival, she immediately fell in love with the mountains, the outdoor vibe, and one really cute snowboard instructor! So much so, she was determined to relocate and make Colorado her permanent home.
“Everyone was so open and free and it resonated deeply with me,” she adds.
Following high school, Snyder left the comforts of the Midwest to attend the University of Colorado, where she studied to become a teacher for deaf children. Although the school dropped her major during her sophomore year, she went on to earn a degree in secondary education. Subsequently, she attended grad school and secured a teaching certificate from CU-Denver.
But there were many roadblocks on the teaching circuit; one of which, deeply affected Snyder – the inability of teachers and administrators to accept young people with fresh ideas. As a result, she put her teaching aspirations on hold. Needing a change of pace, she took a position as an art curator in Vail and began receiving an overwhelming number of queries about modeling.
Before she knew it, she was doing photo shoots for major publications and events like the MSN Fashion Series, “Closet Genius,” Model Mayhem, AOL, Mapquest, and Times Square’s Diwali Festival – all in all, participating in over 70 different fashion shows, editorials, and commercials.
Recently, her repertoire has expanded to include acting. First, as an extra in the Eddie Murphy, Denver-based production, Imagine That; then, on the ABC show “Mind Games” and the upcoming Josh Lucas film, The Mend.
Next month, she’ll get her first major role in a Universal Pictures’ film, co-produced by Queen Latifah, about a woman attempting to rediscover herself after overcoming addictions. Based on a true story, it’s expected to be uplifting and emotional and feature many strong women – a subject matter that is very near and dear to Snyder’s heart.
“I was raised by really strong women in my family, guiding me,” she says. “I never really understood why people would want to bring others down and not lift them up…we should be loving and supporting one another and making others feel good about themselves.”
It’s an important message that Snyder lives and breathes, from the slopes of Vail to the catwalks of New York to dozens of high schools and colleges across the country. Multitalented and motivated, Gretchen Snyder is freestyling her way to the top.
You modeled at an early age, but it wasn’t until college or later that things took off. When did it become something you wanted to turn into a career?
Like many stories you hear, my girlfriends and I were walking down Pearl Street one day and a man approached us and asked if he could take a picture. Now, I was raised a very strong girl and my initial reaction was: ‘Wait! This is creepy and a little weird. I don’t think so!’ But he ended up being really nice. He said I had really nice features and would resonate well on camera. So, he took one of my pictures and sent it to a woman who happened to be helping with a fashion show in Boulder. It was around Halloween time and featured some eccentric, funky, cool designers. And it ended up being my first fashion show. As soon as I did it, I knew I was in love. I love theater and fashion and wasn’t the slightest bit nervous. It was truly my ‘A-ha’ moment.
But I never thought I could make a career out of it until this past year when everything started to click.
Things are clicking. But you’re in Vail. And Colorado isn’t the fashion capital of the world nor is it the moviemaking capital either. How have you been able to make it work remotely without moving to LA or NY?
It’s funny how everything has blended together so well here in Colorado. And you’re right – Denver is this awesome city, but it’s not LA or NY. For me, the mountains are where my heart is. As much as I love LA and adore NY, as long as I can keep it going where I can go to those places to work and come back home to the mountains, I’ll always do it. Colorado is in me.
I’ve had a lot of people tell me, ‘You have to move. It’s not even a question.’ But as long as I can, I’m going to stay right here in Colorado. There’s just something really special here. With the movie coming up, everyone around here is so stoked for me, but it’s also really chill. It’s not a huge deal. It’s more like, ‘There goes Gretchen. She’s off to shoot a movie. She’ll be back. And it’s cool.’ It’s like we’re going skiing next weekend (laughs). And I love that. It’s not hyped all the time.
So, what are some of your favorite things to see and do in Colorado?
I love skiing, of course. It’s my passion and my all time favorite activity. Other than that, I love being outdoors. I hiked 2 fourteeners for the first time this summer, which was fun. And I enjoy going out to nice dinners in Vail and Denver. There are some really great restaurants. And I also love the film festivals in Vail and Denver. I love going to the movies and they do such a great job with them every year.
You’ve been on billboards, national commercials, magazine covers, calendars, and you walked the runway in Times Square recently. What’s been your most memorable modeling moment and why?
I have two. The first was the Times Square fashion show. It was absolutely insane. I flew out to New York to film a couple of scenes with Josh Lucas for The Mend. And while I was there, I got a phone call from a guy who said he had a million people wanting me in this fashion show. At first, I thought he was kidding. But it turned out to be very real. I extended my stay for an extra 3 days to walk in the show and it was in front of over 100,000 people. It’s called the Diwali festival in New York City. And it was just insane. We had body guards all around us. There were 13 models – the coolest and most beautiful women. And they had us up on these big screens in Times Square. It was amazing!
I remember when we came off the runway, they were interviewing us for a couple of television spots and I just started crying because it was on my bucket list – to walk in a fashion show at Times Square. And I did it.
And the second?
The second was here at the U.S. Open. They have this event called Boarding for Breast Cancer, where they bring in all of these superstar athletes like Tony Hawk. And I guess they saw me skiing one day, dressed in hot pink. And they asked to interview me.
I wear the hot pink pants because my aunt lived with breast cancer for nine years before passing away. And my grandmother also. It’s on two different sides of my family, so I have to be really careful. And that interview was huge. I had never been so proud of anything – to be able to talk openly about something that has touched my family. I go out of my way to help raise awareness of breast cancer.
I wore the pants 124 days last season. But now, it’s become my thing. I’ll only wear them. Everyone in Vail knows the story and has seen the video (below). And random people come up to me and say hi and talk to me about my story. It’s so nice.
What’s the biggest misconception about models and the modeling world?
A couple of times when I’ve gone in for a photo shoot or a fashion show, people have treated me like a complete idiot. They’ve even talked slower, like: “How. Are. You?”
Growing up, my parents raised me well and told me that I didn’t have to prove myself to anyone. But there have been times where I’ve actually had to say, ‘Listen! I graduated with a 3.9 from grad school. I’m not an idiot. I have two degrees. I’m a really smart woman and really well spoken.’
People in the modeling industry just assume that you’re vain and all you have is your looks. You don’t have a lot of depth and you’re not the smartest person. And that’s just not real. I’ve met so many smart, amazing women through modeling and it makes me a little frustrated.
Your attitude, energy, and the way you present yourself and speak to clients means almost as much as your look. I remember people in LA telling me when I shot “Closet Genius” that ‘there are a million girls who are six foot, blonde, and gorgeous, but we chose to fly you in because you’re fun.’ One of them actually said, “We could actually fucking stand you!” (Laughs).
So, you have to have a great personality. After all, you might be a beautiful person, but at the end of the day, if you aren’t fun to work with, people aren’t going to ask you back when there’s another beautiful girl who’s going to get it done, have fun with you, and not be such a prima donna.
How would you describe your own style?
I wear a lot of black and leather. So, I definitely have a little bit of the rocker vibe going along with some bohemian chic. Right now, I’m wearing leggings that my girlfriend in Denver made for me with skulls on them – they’re awesome. I have boots with cute spikes. And then, I have my hair curled with a beanie and a leather jacket. So, I like the rocker thing, but I also love getting dressed up. If I was in Denver, I would be wearing dresses almost every single night!
Do you wear anything Colorado specific?
Imagine That was shot largely in Denver and you got to play a part in that film. Was that your first experience as an actress?
It was. I used to own a condo on Little Raven Street in Lodo in the river front area. And I heard about the casting. I had eight or nine friends through Donna Baldwin and Maximum Talent go and try out for the film. But for whatever reason, I wasn’t feeling it that day and didn’t want to go. So, I went to get a coffee at Starbucks at REI and this guy came up to me and asked if I modeled, acted, and wanted to be in this film. I thought I was going to be this six foot blurry person in the back with a cast of hundreds. But they actually had me in one of the main scene with three other girls. I was on set for four days and it was just a block away from my condo!
That’s where the acting bug hit me. The people were fun. The hours were really long, but I loved it. Eddie Murphy had it in his contract that no one was supposed to talk to him, but I went up to him anyway! And he was hilarious. It was such a cool experience.
How did you land a starring role in a Queen Latifah co-produced film?
That’s funny too. I actually got cast in a Lady Gaga music video. I was all set to fly out and the casting director (who wrote songs for P.Diddy) contacted me at the last minute and said he didn’t think the video would be my cup of tea. He was impressed that I spoke to and acted as a role model for young women and said that there was going to be a lot of overt sexuality in the video and it was going to be very dark. So, I sat down with all the people that I trust and ended up turning it down.
Coincidentally, he’s the one that cast me in this film. Queen Latifah is co-producing it and it’s a true story about a woman dealing with addictions and finding her faith. There are all sorts of twists and turns in the plot. And I play the main character’s best friend.
You mentioned speaking as a role model, i.e. this concept of beauty, love, and connectedness amongst women. Where does it come from?
Growing up, I’ve dealt with so much of the toxic part, i.e. the awful part where women can hate and hate and not be excited for one another. So, I’ve really worked hard to change that and surround myself with the most positive women who are amazing and exude beauty and love. Having gone through all of it first hand, I just don’t understand the point. I never really understood why people would want to bring others down and not lift them up.
And the motivational speaking?
Well, I started mentoring a little girl who was modeling when she was fourteen and I was about twenty two. She’s absolutely stunning and gorgeous. And it was weird to see her go through the exact same things I had gone through. Something inside me just switched. And that’s when I started reaching out and talking to high schools and local groups supporting women.
I was raised by really strong women in my family, guiding me. My aunt was one of my biggest fans. And obviously, my mom is the strongest person ever. They’ve taught me so much; especially, that life is too short. Many women feel like they need to beat each other down. And it’s really their own insecurities that come out and end up getting taken out on you – it’s not what you want to be involved in. We should be loving and supporting one another and making others feel good about themselves.
I’m really, really excited about this film coming up just because it aligns with everything I believe in. And it’ll be my first break out role I’ve ever done. So, I’m focusing all of my energy on that right now.
I love modeling too, but I think I’m going to put more of my focus into acting going forward. Modeling is awesome and it’s fun to create a character for yourself on a shoot or a runway, but there’s something unique about acting. I love memorizing lines. I don’t get nervous on camera. And that feeling of a group working together on a project is highly addictive. It’s where I want to go moving forward.
And you’ll continue to inspire?
Yes. I’ve been talking to a lot of people about using modeling and acting as a platform to speak to more people. Originally, I was thinking only about women, empowering them to love one another. But I have a good friend who is a famous athlete and we’ve talked about going to schools and colleges together to talk about modeling, acting, professional sports, the challenges, and living your truth. That way men can feel connected as well. I’m hoping we can do that soon because I love talking to kids and I’m really, really passionate about it.
Mark Sells is a nationally recognized film/entertainment journalist and Critic-at-Large for 100.3 FM The Sound (Los Angeles). In addition to his blog on 303, you can follow The Reel Deal on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook for the latest entertainment news, reviews, and interviews.
All images courtesy of: Gretchen Snyder, Mark Sink, Deahna Brockman & Charles Hildreth Photography, 2013.
Gretchen Snyder – Boarding for Breast Cancer