Friday 5: snowboarder and mountain leader Lesley McKenna

lesley mckenna snowboarding
Lesley McKenna answers our Friday 5 questions (Image credit: Hannah Bailey)

Lesley McKenna is a three-time Olympic snowboarder, winter mountain leader and based in the Cairngorms, Scotland.

She has been a trailblazing figure in the world of  snowboarding, making a lasting impact not just through her impressive performances on the slopes but also by advocating for greater recognition and opportunities for women in snowboarding.  She co-founded Wandering Workshops in a bid to help make the outdoors a more accessible space. 

After an outdoorsy childhood in Aviemore, Lesley spent a decade travelling the world as a professional snowboarder. She then returned to her roots and now lives with her partner and young daughter in the town.

Lesley McKenna

Lesley McKenna is a three-time Olympic snowboarder (Image credit: Hannah Bailey)

She also works as a coach developer and is studying for a Ph.D. at Leeds Beckett University in the area of ethics in sport.

Recently, Lesley has been part of an all-female team that produced a film, Thrawn, launched by Patagonia. It champions the  significance of snowsports in the Cairngorms and the value of a resilient community. 

She has also made a women’s splitboarding film, Wandering, that explores the motivation to slow down, connect and protect nature. 

Snowboarder Lesley McKenna on the slopes

Lesley has long been a keen winter sport enthusiast (Image credit: Hannah Bailey)

If you could only keep one item out of all your outdoor gear, which would you keep and why? 

That is a difficult question to answer as back-country touring on the snow definitely requires a lot of essential gear. I am going to say my Yeti thermal water bottle that keeps my tea warm all day in any weather. Hydration is key!

snowboard lesley mckenna

Lesley is an ambassador for Scottish outdoor sports (Image credit: Brodie Hood)

What's your pet peeve in the outdoors/adventure space? 

I don’t really have a pet peeve but I do get flummoxed and annoyed by litter in the back of beyond. If people manage to carry it there, why not take it home with them?

If you could be instantly transported to the start of any adventure, what would it be, where and why?

 Another difficult question to answer. I am going to say to the top of Braeriach – a mountain in the Cairngorms – on a perfect snow and weather day with low avalanche risk and a great group of friends to shred with. 

That is such a perfect and hypothetical scenario that it is almost in the realms of impossibility and that’s what makes it so special to think about.

Snowboarder Lesley McKenna

Lesley returned to her roots in Aviemore (Image credit: Hannah Bailey)

We're sitting round a campfire. Tell us a funny or entertaining story about one of your adventures.  

 I’m not sure I’m much of a funny kind of storyteller but I do admire people who are that person. My first memory of camping out around a fire was from when I was a really young kid, maybe three years old. 

We were camping at a bothy in the north of Scotland with a few other families. The bothy is a few miles from the road and we had cycled in – me being pulled along on a three-wheel trike. 

I must have eaten something that didn’t agree with – likely the marshmallows on sticks – and just after going to bed in a sleeping bag on the floor beside my dad I felt ill and then my poor dad received a most unwelcome present all over him and into his sleeping bag. I think only my mum saw the funny side of that one.

Is there any gear that's on your shopping list at the moment?

Right now I am keeping an eye out for some good bikepacking bags that work well with both mountain bikes and gravel bikes because I am keen to do a bit more bike-packing this summer.

Fiona Russell
Outdoor writer

Fiona Russell is a widely published adventure journalist and blogger, better known as Fiona Outdoors. She is based in Scotland and is an all-round outdoors enthusiast with favorite activities including trail running, mountain walking, mountain biking, road cycling, triathlon and skiing (both downhill and backcountry). Aside from her own adventures, Fiona's biggest aim is to inspire others to enjoy getting outside and exploring, especially through her writing. She is also rarely seen without a running skort! Find out more at Fiona Outdoors.