Interview with Ed Leigh - WHITE DREAMS
Interview by Sam Baldwin
Photos courtesy of Ed Leigh
Published July 2008
SnowSphere speaks to Ed Leigh, probably the hardest working man in the snowboard media, about his rise from White Lines teaboy to international snowboard broadcaster and Ski Sunday presenter.
You’ve been involved in the snowboard industry for a long time now – how did you begin on your path?
I grew up in a sailing family where everything except family and friends was there to be sacrificed in the name of following your dreams. Maybe not the most responsible path in life but it definitely had an effect on me.
My grandad got his hands on one of the first windsurfers in the country and that was my introduction to sideways sports. From there it spread like wild fire into skating and surfing and when my brother and I saw snowboarding on Hi5 one morning, we went nuts.
For us it was the ultimate mixture of surfing and skating; all of skating’s tricks with all of surfing's soul and none of the slams (or so we thought). The bonus was that we had Gloucester dryslope on the doorstep which was a bonus because at the time we were traipsing up to Swindon every weekend on the train to skate a mini ramp.
From there I was smitten and had a few holidays on snow. The moment I finished school I went to work in Greece as a windsurf instructor and from there it was a natural progression with all the other seasonal staff to head for the mountains.
Your big break was becoming the editor of White Lines Magazine - how did this come about?
It was a break in every sense of the word; I had been riding semi-professionally for the best part of five years with Burton and a really solid hook up from Chris Hart at Noahs Ark, when my knees started to give out. The frustrating thing was that they wouldn't just break, they just seemed to be eroding slowly and I couldn't or rather didn't know how to fix them.
After an up and down season where I did some of my best riding, but battled with the pain, my ACL and medial ligaments finally went and I had the excuse I needed to take a season off and work on getting them better. I had focused riding on big mountains and backcountry so if I wanted any coverage in the magazines I had to write it myself.
I had been contributing to both SUK and White Lines at the time but White Lines came up with a job offer so I went over and in 6 months I had gone from tea boy to Editor. I was pretty surprised by my meteoric rise but the job taught me an awful lot about the industry and introduced me to a lot of of amazing people so I am eternally grateful to Matt, Chris, Chod, Nick and Jim for taking me on - thanks gents.
Where in the world have you snowboarded and where has your best trip been to?
The list is pretty long now; I’ve done most continents but I think by and large trips are like parties, the ones that you expect the least of usually turn out to be the best. One that really sticks in my mind for that reason was my snowboarding trip to Baqueira in the Spainish Pyrenees in 2003. It was a really eclectic mix of friends: Jonny Barr, Duncan Carr, Matt Barr, James McPhail and me and we scored this epic dump that even CNN were covering.
The journey out there was really hard; we tore roof racks off the cars, got lost in a blizzard and arrived in a deserted town at midnight. But on the second day it cleared and revealed these beautiful mountains and just the most amazing terrain. We all went to work on it in our own way and while we have very different riding styles, they seemed to compliment each other.
Because they are so far south and at quite a low elevation, the snow turned in a couple of days but that time was some of the best backcountry I’ve had, just because it was mid-week, there was no one in resort and it was such a surpise to find such epic mountains.
Where would you still like to go snowboarding that you haven’t been to?
I'd love to go snowboarding in Iran, the worst kept powder secret in the world, but I have this horrible feeling that if I can’t get there this year it’s going to be too late…
Amongst other projects - you now co-present the BBC winter sports show – Ski Sunday. We’ve heard that the inclusion of snowboarding in the programme ruffled a few feathers in the ski industry – can you elaborate?
Not too sure who you’ve been talking to but in all honesty I haven’t had any negative feedback. It's difficult and unfortunate in the UK because so many of the people who built snowboarding up in the early days were treated so badly by the ski industry, that they are still bitter (see article: Skiers V Snowboarders ).
I don’t blame them for that at all, in fact we all owe them a debt of gratitude. But at the same time I arrived at the tail end of that, when skiing had realised snowboarding's worth and had started to accept us. Throughout my involvement in the sport I've never had negative reactions.
I can imagine as always there were some Daily Mail reading luddites who were outraged that the ‘killer craze’ had been legitimised by mainstream coverage but I have thankfully never come across it.
On Ski Sunday you went snowboarding in Gulmarg Kashmir. The SnowSphere team also visited Gulmarg this season and had an excellent adventure. What did you enjoy most about the trip and do you think Gulmarg could ever become the Whistler of Asia?
I had a really hard trip to Kashmir; as beautiful as it was we only had three days to enjoy it because our schedule was so tight and we had been so delayed by the snowfall before we arrived. It is such a laid back place that getting anything done in that time scale is nigh on impossible so we were quite stressed and on top of that the camera man was battling food poisoning.
TV can be a bit of a Catch 22 in that respect because your job is to make something look great, but the reality is that it's a lot of stress and running around to make that happen.
I would have to say that the snow was the best part of the trip because we did score the resort with almost 2 metres of fresh, but as far as the Whistler comparison goes - I’d have to say no. The terrain, the length of the season, the infrastructure and the political climate all create too many barriers for Gulmarg to ever become a mainstream resort. (see article: Skiing and Snowboarding Gulmarg Kashmir - TOP TIPS).
But it is one of those off the beaten track places where you make your own amusement, rather than feeling like you’ve been spoon fed it in somewhere like Whistler and that will always be its appeal.
Have you personally noticed any reduction in snowfall since you began snowboarding, and are you concerned about the effect Global Warming may have on the ski industry?
This is a really difficult question to answer because I fear that I have very rose tinted glasses on when it comes to reminiscing about my first season in 93/94. I know that we had a lot of snow and didn’t ride the pistes until late March because we had such regular dumps.
Then the following two years were awful, equally as bad as anything I’ve seen in the last four years. I think the big difference comes not in snowfall but in temperature changes. The flux between very cold and very warm is happening so quickly at the moment and sadly making the mountain so much more dangerous as layers of snow don’t bond properly.
Interestingly though we spoke to one the world’s leading glaciologists in Chamonix this winter and he explained that glaciers were far smaller 2000 years ago than they are today. As European glaciers have retreated they have started to reveal evidence of terrace farming from Roman times!
That is a very interesting fact to look at and shows that we are essentially not facing the warmest climate ever experienced by mankind and that alone should give us hope. But at the same time we can't be complacent, and consistently warmer temperatures are closing down lower resorts, so do your bit as best you can and never waste a powder day - that’s all I can say.
What advice would you have for those who want to work in the snowboard/ski media industry?
Work your arse off! When I started I was very lucky in that snowboarding was just finding its feet and I was in the right place at the right time and got swept up with it. That said I never took my position for granted and was writing up to 60,000 words a month sometimes.
If you really want to do it then perseverance is the key. You have to go out of your way to find stories and offer them to magazines. If you don’t want to start as an intern or staff writer in an office in London then you have to imagine who your competition is for the coveted roll of freelance alpine journalist and the reality is that it is a position that most freelance journalists want for the winter.
You’ve got to offer your services to every editor you can contact and often for free just to get published and prove what you can do. The key is to network, get on the AIM Series, go to the Metro Show, meet people in the industry and find out what is out there.
My only real piece of advice is that it's still a small industry in the UK and most people know each other so if you work hard and have fun you’ll get along with people and get work.
If you could pick only one country to snowboard in for the rest of your life – where would it be?
New Zealand, it's where I live; the terrain is awesome and totally undeveloped and the helis are very cheap.
What country has the:
America. They have the biggest market, so they have the most money to spend and the most experience. The only thing threatening this is the culture of litigation; parks are almost too dangerous to exist in America.
Canada; at its best it's unbeatable. Terrain is a whole different kettle of fish, but if you're talking snow quality it doesn't come any lighter, drier or more consistent than Canada.
Japan is the best place I’ve ever been for a snowboard trip; it has everything: amazing snow, amazing people, amazing accommodation and wonderful, cheap food.
Here at SnowSphere.com – our mission is to encourage and inspire people to explore the world via their snowboarding or skiing trips – what do you think of the SnowSphere concept?
It's a great goal but also a very ambitious one because it's not possible for everyone. For a start this kind of travel can be expensive, it also takes time and a lot of people only have a couple of weeks a year or less and need the security of resort infrastructure to make the most of that time.
It's like the lottery though, it's great to dream and even if it just sows the seed for people to dream, then you’re doing something good.
What’s next for Ed Leigh?
Another season of Ski Sunday; we're on the drawing board at the moment with ideas which is always good fun because you can start with your wildest dreams and then work backwards to make them a reality.
Cheers Ed - we look forward to seeing you shred more exotic mountains of the world on Ski Sunday next season!
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