This feature appeared in the September issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding. Subscribe here.
By Jesse Fox
For some people, enough is never enough. When I learned Bjorn Leines still had boxes to tick on a snowboarding bucket list, I had to shake my head. After 26 years of strapping-in and over 25 video parts attached to his name, he's still ripping through a laundry list of NBDs? Yeah right!
Bjorn Leines. Arlberg, Austria. Photo: Darcy Bacha / Bucket List
Many moons ago, Leines and I shared a sponsor with Rome. I was beyond humbled, and at the time he joined the team, the word legend already encompassed him. We filmed, traveled, and took advantage of all the fun things sponsored snowboarders are fortunate enough to do. Riding a snowboard will always be something I do, but it was never a long-term career option for me. It's praiseworthy the run he's had and my brain tends to check into the What-Have-I-Been-Doing-Hotel thinking of over-achievers like Leines. Momentary depression sets in. Did I lose my way? Where's my drive?
The moment I get on the phone with Leines I feel reinvigorated.
"Snowboarding, for me, is an expression of your spirit," Leines says. "There are no boundaries. I'm not the type of person who likes limitations or people who impose limitations. Snowboarding is a way to be free from the attachments and bullshit that society creates."
The constant escape is why he's been able enjoy a pro career that has spanned longer than it hasn't. His drive makes sense. When freedom is the drug and snowboarding the dealer, it creates a unquenchable thirst. "At the end of the year, I'm always the guy who feels like he didn't do enough," Leines claims. "Empty boxes on the list, you know? There are always going to be boxes to tick." It's clear that life is too short to not make your dreams real. If you start dwelling on the shit you haven't done, if you're lost, maybe the list will help you find your way. "Realizing your dreams," says Leines, "is writing them down and asking yourself, 'What are my goals? What are my aspirations?'"
Tyler Nicholson, best run of his life, on repeat. Baldface Lodge, BC, Canada. Photo: Darcy Bacha / Bucket List
Since the geyser of wisdom is flowing, I dig for three bucket-list items every snowboarder needs to attach to their life. "First, ride powder with your friends at a challenging resort," Leines says. "Something with an awesome mountain experience like, Squaw Valley [California], or Snowbird [Utah], or Jackson Hole [Wyoming]. Second, take a road trip with your boys. Think about chasing the Powder Highway in Canada. Get lost in the Monashees and Selkirks. And lastly, Alaska. Alaska will change your perception on mountains. It is the gnarliest place on the planet. Get there on a shoestring budget, get there on a heli budget, just get there."
Sharing knowledge is second nature for Leines. During my time on the Rome team with him, I saw firsthand how he takes up-and-comers under his guidance and shows them the ropes. "I think I do it because I'm an older brother," he says. "Having longevity, a career for this many seasons, has opened my eyes to the fact that everyone needs a little direction and help sometimes. I've had some pretty great mentors and if I have the opportunity to be a mentor to other people, I'm honored to do that."
The top of Scary Cherry and the old Red Bull Ultra Natural course at Baldface Lodge. Damn right that's on the list. Photo: Darcy Bacha / Bucket List
The Bucket List videos aren't another chance for Leines to be the only character on stage--it's not about man and list. It's about experiences with family, friends, snowboard legends, and the future generation getting theirs for the first time. Enter Tyler Nicolson, who comes from a flat, frozen speck on the map of Canada called North Bay, Ontario. He's torn the contest circuit a new a-hole but has never ripped a proper pow day. "Tyler is just such a genuine, awesome kid and he really rips at snowboarding," says Leines with conviction that shows how hard he's backing the dude. "It's really gratifying to help facilitate an experience like this for someone who has really earned it. When we were at Baldface, every run he was screaming, 'That was the best run of my life!' He was saying how he'd never really shredded powder before. Like, how is this possible?" The excitement of everyone getting firsts must have spread like a disease throughout the squad, I say. "Exactly," Leines replies. "It solidifies what I believe in snowboarding and that energy is transferred. I'm excited to be out there no matter what, but it's really uplifting when you have people around you who are genuinely stoked. It's contagious."
Photo: Sean K Sullivan / Bucket List
From bottomless-Baldface to Boston rails and pow hunting in Austria, the season was full of highlights for the Bucket List crew. But for Leines, the top box he checked was shredding with his brother, Erik. "We used to get to ride a ton together as teammates, traveling. Now we both have kids and run Celtek," Leines says. "For us to get on a trip like that and let go of everything was a highlight for sure."
Then Leines reflects on an experience from the winter that he feels should be at the top of your list--"Being in an RV in the middle of the BC Mountains." Driving a home on wheels through the terrain most suited to his style is Leines's happy place. "Getting to ride lines, that's my favorite type of snowboarding," he says. "Being atop a fresh pow-line and knowing I can send it." Again, these Bucket List moments are always better when shared. "[Chris] Grenier was out there with me and he was so hyped to be in fresh terrain," Leines adds. Keeping tabs on the season isn't something new for Leines. When he was younger, he kept a trick list from filming his video part. "I wrote down the shots we got back then because things were filmed on 16 mm and you never got to review your tricks," he says. "You just saw them at the end of the year. I'd write it down so I'd know what I did: Cab seven, Half-Cab into a chute, whatever."
Always on the search. Bjorn Leines boosts a backside 180 Japan while filming for the Arlberg episode with Gabor Aboni, Thomas Delfino, and Gigi Rüf. Photo: Darcy Bacha / Bucket List
Leines breaks down the difference between the trick list and the bucket list--"I have tricks on my bucket list, for sure, like Cab double cork. But there are also simpler things, like finding certain peaks, climbing them, and shredding them. With the Bucket List series, we were just trying to get people together who are inspiring and respected, whether they had good personalities or a good bag of tricks and figure out what they wanted to do."
So far, the fuzzy-feel-good vibe has been thick in the conversation. The last question I've written down stares at me with one hand cocked like it wants to slap me in the face for even thinking it. I don't want to ask, worried there may be mortality to the man, the legend. Leines is talking about double corks that still need to be done and throwing Cab nines with the same ease most of us throw ourselves on the couch to watch Netflix. Nevertheless, it takes boldness to fight a pro career deep into your 30s. I've got to know if the title Bucket List suggests his career is easing into a different roll.
"I'll keep riding and pushing my boundaries," Leines says firmly. "Regardless if I'm supported by sponsors, I'm down to get in the mix. We've got plans for Bucket List to continue next year. For me, I just really enjoy my roll producing a project and extending opportunities for younger guys. But I'm going to be out there as long as I possibly can."
Personally, I hope he never takes his foot off the gas.