009: Lesley McKenna/Blazing Trails

Lesley in Aviemore, June 2017. Photo: Euan Baxter

“If an opportunity comes up, I walk through the door. And if it’s fun and I’m learning, I keep going”.

A personal glass ceiling was smashed for episode 009 of the Looking Sideways podcast, as I finally welcomed somebody who isn’t a man to the show – snowboarder, three-time Olympian, current Performance Manager of GB Park & Pipe and still reigning (!) UK half pipe champion Lesley McKenna.

Photo: Euan Baxter 

Even this impressive description doesn’t really do Lesley justice. Because the reality is she has spent her career blazing trails for other people to follow, whether by pioneering the route into the Olympics that all British athletes now follow, producing the all female films she made as a member of the Chunky Knit production crew, her role as Roxy Team Manager, or as now with her visionary work with GB Park & Pipe.

Photo: Josie McNamara 

At the end of May 2017, Lesley came to visit me in Brighton, and we spent the morning digging into the details of her life and career in snow sports.

Highlights of our conversation include:

  • Her background as a ski racer, and the personal and professional events that saw her switch to snowboarding.
  • Her experiences as an Olympian, and how she coped with the negative reactions to some of her performances.
  • How she has managed to link traditional sporting culture and action sports culture to create the philosophy that has led the GB Park & Pipe team to such success.
  • Her personal philosophy and work ethic – how she is driven by learning and new experiences, and how this has opened new doors throughout her life.

This was a hugely enjoyable, inspiring chat with a true action sports visionary, full of peerless insights from Lesley’s career with value for anybody interested in how somebody at the top of their game has managed to sustain excellence over a two decade career. Don’t miss it.

If you only have five minutes…

Listen to this section - Lesley talks about how she coped with the criticism she received after the Turin Olympics

Connect with Lesley

Show Notes

  • FIS meeting in Slovenia.
  • Lesley’s average time on the road.
  • GB Park & Pipe’s endless winter season.
  • The process of planning the next two Olympic cycles for GB Park & Pipe.
  • The structure of UK Sport and subsidiary bodies…
  • … and Lesley’s role within that.
  • Growing up in Aviemore.
  • Lesley’s family and their roots in the 60s Scottish ski scene.
  • Chick Baxter’s early Scottish ski footage.
  • Lesley’s first memories of skiing.
  • Scottish Pairs Disco Dancing Champion 1986.
  • Early ski racing career.
  • Getting hooked on the technical side of ski racing.
  • Selected for the Scottish ski team.
  • Doing her first season in Jackson Hole – and going on bomb patrol with the local Ski Patrol.
  • First powder turns.
  • Honorary member of Jackson Hole Ski Club.
  • Getting injured on her first Jackson Hole downhill race…
  • … which led to first interest in alternative medicine.
  • Selected for the British Ski Team.
  • Learning to snowboard in Aviemore with the Boardwise crew.
  • The make up of the early UK snowboard scene.
  • ‘I was the straightest teenager ever’.
  • Clashes with the ski establishment.
  • Entering the 1996 British Championships Snowboard Championships in Meribel.
  • Bringing ski race tactics to snowboard racing.
  • Training with the French Snowboard Team
  • The 1996/1997 season in Meribel.
  • On the Snowboard World Cup Tour with Melanie Leando.
  • Switching to half pipe snowboarding, and just missing out on the Nagano Olympics.
  • Becoming fully immersed in the snowboarding community.
  • Competing in three Olympics – Salt Lake City, Turin and Vancouver.
  • The pressures of Olympic competition and then effect it had on Lesley.
  • Life in the Olympic Village.
  • Coping with criticism post Turin.
  • Setting up Chunky Knit Productions to make women’s snowboarding films.
  • The camaraderie of women’s snowboarding.
  • Worst injury of her career – smashed ankle.
  • Moving into coaching and management with Roxy and at the Vancouver Olympics.
  • Post riding career options.
  • Lesley’s take on the Roxy Steph Gilmore controversy.
  • Taking a full time position as Programme Manager of GB Park & Pipe.
  • How communication and environment affect action sports.
  • Marrying action sports culture with traditional sporting culture to create the GB Park & Pipe operational plan.
  • Self-determination theory.
  • How UK Sport funding works.
  • The thinking behind the #ProjectPY2018 communication project
  • The team’s prospects for Pyeongchang.
  • How Lesley reacts to the negativity around GB Park & Pipe.
  • Back in Aviemore today – building a new house.
  • Founding a co-operative to develop local housing.
  • The An Camas Mòr development
  • Making your own opportunities.
  • What Lesley would do if she wasn’t involved in snowsports.
  • The case for Cairngorm to enter community ownership.
  • Lesley’s biggest success – staying sane as a working mother.
  • Biggest failure – not spending enough time with friends and family.
  • Lesley’s last day ever snowboarding – and last trick.
  • Reigning British half pipe champion.

Places Mentioned

People Mentioned

Organisations mentioned