Lesley McKenna – What Backcountry Means to Me
What Backcountry means to me is a way to adventure both outside and in. A way to play, discover, try out new ideas and moves, and communicate different feelings and stories to those with me and also to myself when I am reflecting on the experience.
Mainly, and most important, is the fun bit, but fun can be many things, and I think being able to see the fun in taking on the driving sleet, mist, ice, sastrugi, high winds as well as the powder, sunshine, snow sparkles, and new lines is also part of the fun of ski touring and split boarding in Scotland.
I love the way the experience helps me to connect with my companions in so many different conditions and how we can problem solve our way around the challenges and safety questions that come up in a way that connects us through the learning and knowledge we create together on that particular day in those particular conditions. There are so many ‘particular’ conditions in Scotland as it is always so variable, both in snow conditions and weather as well as terrain, that there are infinite possibilities of experience and knowledge creation and therefor ways of understanding and enjoying.
By approaching the backcountry in this way, I can enjoy short mellow tours or longer more technical tours equally and also enjoy and share the experience with others who might have different ability or experience levels and always get something really fun and interesting from the day.
For me being out in the mountains is a way of knowing and appreciating myself and nature on a deeper level. It is a way to explore my own nature and own being as a human in the world and a way to help me understand and appreciate the nature and experience of my fellow humans. It also makes me feel connected to nature, or really a part of it in the very literal sense. I can feel the effects of the weather, the storms and the sunshine as I experience their effects on the environment and nature around me. it can also be a way to challenge myself both physically, mentally and emotionally, especially when I am in more technical terrain and I am looking for a very connected form of decision making, a kin to what is called naturalistic decision making, where it is as if my mind and body are one and my senses and logic are working in harmony to process everything that is going on. I find there is a certain creativity in that process as well. Snowboarding or skiing in this state for me is often timeless and hyper real, often called the flow state, and it is a magical like place to be.
Finally being in the mountains and forests of the highlands brings me close to the old and timeless folk culture and myths of the land. The themes that the local Gaelic myths capture are archtypes I have felt when out and about and also when meditating and reflecting internally. The story of the Cailleach, queen of winter and bringer of storms and change, mother of all the Scottish gods and goddesses is my particular favourite. I love to introduce people to these myths and stories and to the land and mountains where they came from as well as to the internal landscape where they still live.
I grew up living at Dellmhor in Rothiemurchus and went to Aviemore Primary School and then to Kingussie High School. I was lucky enough to have a lot of great winters on Cairngorm growing up and also lucky to come from a family who were very passionate about skiing. I learnt to ski at a young age and spent a lot of time skiing with my extended family. My father was a BASI trainer and also drove the Snow Cats and Worked on the Ski Patrol when I was a kid and my mother was also a ski instructor.
I had a great time skiing with Cairngorm Ski Club and along with my cousin Alain Baxter, went from Cairngorm Ski Club to the Scottish Alpine Ski Team and then on to the British Alpine Ski Team. I was British Women’s Giant Slalom Champ in 1994 before changing skis for a snowboard and taking up snowboarding. I raced snowboards on the ISF and FIS World Cup tours before deciding I had had enough of gates and focusing on half pipe events. I was really luck to have a lot of support from the local snowboard shop Boardwise at the time I swapped from skiing to snowboarding as well as a lot of support from the local snowboard scene.
I went on to be the first ever GB Snowboard competitor to compete at the Winter Olympics in 2002 and also to win a FIS World Cup when I won a halfpipe World Cup in 2003 and the first snowboarder from the UK to compete in the USA Winter X Games halfpipe event. I had 6 FIS World Cup Halfpipe podium results in my career and competed in 3 Olympics before moving to coaching. I coached the European Roxy Snow team for 4 years and then moved to the newly formed GB Park and Pipe Team in 2012 where I became the Programme Manager for the ski and snowboard athletes competing in halfpipe, slopestyle and big air events at Word Cup and Olympic level.
Between 2012 and 2018 the GB Park and Pipe team won many World Cup and X Games medals and also 3 Olympic bronze medals by Jenny Jones, Izzy Atkin and Billy Morgan. I an a BASI L4 ISTD qualified instructor as well as a ski and snowboard coach and I am also a qualified yoga teacher. I am currently winding down on the competition scene side but still work part time for GB Snowsports as a programme manager and am moving more towards backcountry interests. I look forward to launching some new projects in the backcountry space this season.