Danimals on his street mentality, the backcountry, filming his best part yet, and more.
Interview: Mary Walsh
Photos: Tanner Pendleton, Cole Martin, Dan Liedahl
Dan Liehdal is good at everything. Really good, in fact. Hailing from Minnesota, one of snowboarding's hallowed meccas of metal, Danimals is a steel savant, with an urban aptitude matched only by his effusive style and creative take on the street spots he drops into. But his overall proficiency extends far beyond the time he spends strapped in. When skateboarding, he's a natural, both technical and fluid. In the summer, he's Dirtbike Dan, riding through the wooded arenas outside his hometown, casually competing in lengthy eduro races where he lands consistently in the top twenty five. When he talks about shooting photos, an interest he humbly describes as "not even a hobby yet," he's self-effacing about his abilities, though we can tell you that his photography, like everything else he does, is uncommonly interesting. Given his propensity to excel, it's no surprise that over the better part of the past decade, Danimals has ingrained himself in snowboarding as one of the most talented rail riders in existence, a sentiment that is substantiated every fall when his annual video part drops. Last autumn, however, his moniker was absent from the marquee, as he's spent the past two seasons stacking clips for one of the most anticipated team movies in recent years, LANDLINE. While cities have still been a winter staple for this Minneapolis-raised rider, Dan has been dipping into the backcountry, testing his chops in powder landings. The resulting footage is sure to comprise Danimals' best part yet.
Were you filming for LANDLINE. with mostly the same crew, or did you mix it up?
We hopped around a little bit, but for the most part, we were with the same people. Being more of a rail guy, I was generally with Sam [Taxwood], [Jake] Kuzyk, Dillon [Ojo], Cole [Navin], and [Mike] Rav.
When you're in the streets, what do you look for in the spots that you want to hit? What makes you stoked to drop into something?
Everyone that rides in the streets has ridden 100 down bars, a bunch of kinked rails, a bunch of triple kink rails—that stuff starts to get a little old after a while. Every once in a while, you come across a down bar that looks really nice, and you get excited, but for the most part, you're always trying to do stuff that you haven't really done. I like finding something that I can jam off of and catch a wall—something that's got more of a tranny feel to it. I always think big banked-out spots look really cool, like a rail on top of a bank where maybe if you have speed you can ride up the bank, slide the rail, and come back into the bank—those type of spots, where you're catching a little bit of airtime. I like the rails to have something weird about them, not necessarily a rail where you can try any trick, but maybe you slide from here, pop off there, and then catch this landing over here. You're not forcing the spot; the spot is just there in front of you.
How much does skateboarding influence your trick and spot selection?
It definitely influences it. When I was younger, all I ever did was try flip tricks, ollie down stairs, and slide rails on my skateboard, just trying to be the super tech person in the skatepark. And I still really like that, but in the past few years, I've started to ride way more tranny on my skateboard, and I think that's how I like to snowboard, as well. Now, when I go to Hyland, I try to ride it like it's a bowl instead of just different, technical features. I'm still riding rails and stuff, but I'm more trying to catch airtime and find little trannies.
In a lot of places east of the Rocky Mountains, snowboarders end up heading west, but in Minnesota in particular, there is a long-standing heritage of people staying there while fostering successful pro careers. This isn't a new question, but what is your opinion on why this is and why you choose to make Minnesota your base of operations year-round?
It's funny because people always ask me if I would ever move away from Minnesota. I've definitely thought about it, and in a weird way, it's almost like I live away from home at the same time that I live at home. Two years ago, I spent over a month in Utah staying at [Chris] Grenier's place. Homebase was here, but homebase was also there. I think it's worked out really well here. Our season doesn't start quite as early as everyone else's, but as soon as it does, the towropes are going, and people are just snowboarding non-stop, so you get back into it really quick. You ride a ton at the resorts, and it's generally pretty easy to film in Minnesota. If you have the means to do it, you go on a couple trips elsewhere. At the end of the season, you filmed, you rode a bunch, and then the thought of coming back home to a green summer filled with a lot of water is hard for people to leave. I think when you have that routine going, it's hard to move away. This is as good as it gets.
This is the first movie in which you've really been able to start going into the backcountry.
Yeah. I didn't do it that much; it was a little chunk of time per year, but this was the most involvement I've been able to have in the backcountry.
There's a learning curve when you first head into the backcountry. Sledding is hard; landing in powder is hard. It's a whole new experience. What was it like for you?
It is pretty tough out there. No matter how good you are at snowboarding, if you've never gone into the backcountry, it's not going to be easy. I do ok on a snow-mobile; I get around fine. But jumping and everything—I crashed on every single jump that I tried. Every trick that I tried I had to work for. It was challenging, but at the same time, it's so cool to be out there. I'm pretty mellow about it, so even if I wasn't landing, I wasn't getting too frustrated. I know it's going to be hard. You need to go with guys that know what they're doing because it helps you out so much. When I went with Pat [Moore], he was like, "This is where the jump goes. This is how we build it. You can do whatever afterwards, but this is how we have to do it from here." That was really nice. Whether it was a good day or a bad day, it was always pretty good to me.
Can you compare a street trip versus a backcountry trip?
you're going to have a good time. On a backcountry trip, generally you're waking up way, way early com-pared to a street trip. You probably do more work on a backcountry trip because you have a snowmobile and have to drive for miles and miles sometimes. There are a lot more precautionary things that you have to be ready for, like avalanches or if a storm comes in. When you go out in the street, you still have to have a lot of gear like extra boards, sweatshirts, and jackets. Then you get kicked out so much that you just go from one spot to the next. When one spot doesn't work, you drive around until you see another, but maybe that doesn't work, so you go to the next one. There's a lot of preparation for that as well. Some days can be so easy both in backcountry and street, and some days can be a total wash, but the crew dynamic doesn't change. It's just where and how you're doing it.
So you'll keep filming in the streets, but it sounds like you'll be spending more time in the backcountry in the future too?
I'd like to. I would love to ride more powder and learn more out there, because that's where I feel like I'm really learning. I still love street trips; I'm going to do that as long as I can, but if someone's like, "Yo, we're going to Japan to ride powder," I'm like, "Hell yeah."
You enjoy taking photos. Did you take a camera around with you all winter?
A little. I have two not super nice, but pretty nice, little 35mm film cameras. I also have a more basic, easy-to-use 35mm camera. It has a little flash on it, and that one I brought with me. It's nothing crazy. You point, it autofocuses, and you snap a photo. But the other two you can put different lenses on and really adjust how much light you're letting in and stuff. If I take the time and use those, the photos turn out a lot nicer. I would bring the simple one with me or just get little dispos-ables. There are always those moments where you see something cool. So I always just bring a little camera.
How many rolls did you end up shooting throughout the past year?
Not that many, really. Maybe just over ten.
Did you get some photos you're stoked on?
Yeah, I got some cool stuff. I mean, I never took any action photos of people snowboarding, unless it was just us messing around on a little jump or something. Most the time, it would just be like, "Oh, the crew's just chilling right here, and it looks cool." So, I'd take a picture of it. Or "Rav is sitting against this wall, and it looks cool." Take a picture of it. It's always pretty basic. It's just for me, so in the future I can look back and be like, "I went on such a cool trip with Rav to Russia, and there's a dog right here."