Outsiders: Ben Leoni
[Editor's note: Freeskiing has always been a sport that prides itself on being different than the confined, regimented nature of some aspects of skiing. Freeskiing is defined by its counterculture, limitless, free-of-rules nature. This interview series aims to celebrate that by featuring individuals in the freeskiing industry who are paving their own way, doing things with their own style. They are the Outsiders. Stay tuned next Friday for the fifth installment.]
Suz Graham Logan LaPlante Warren Miller Scot Schmidt
Google "skiing lawyers" and you'll get 2.5 million results, mostly about attorneys representing clients in a lawsuit against a ski resort. Ben Leoni's name doesn't appear on that list, but perhaps it should: At 30, Leoni is a skier first, a litigator second. He's appeared in ski magazines and movies by Meathead Films, ripping Northeastern powder on the weekends. Monday through Friday, he's in an office, doing litigation. In January, his shared segment in Meathead's latest film "No Matter What" won the best powder award at the 2013 Powder Video Awards. Leoni is proof that perhaps skiers can have it all.
I didn't know until college at Bates that I wanted to be a lawyer. I always thought about it [in] high school, but in college I started to take classes in environmental law and policy.
I grew up in Weare, N.H., on the backside of Pat's Peak Ski Area. My parents were ski instructors, which is how they met. I learned to ski at a young age.
After I graduated college, I spent a year at A-Basin in Colorado. It was fun, but I had a whole bunch of friends going to Utah. I figured if I was going to drive across the country, I might as well go to Utah. We all worked at the Alta Lodge together for a couple of years.
I've always been interested in conservation and protecting the environment. I saw the law as a tool to be able to go and do that.
I had sponsors before I went to law school, when I lived in Utah. A bunch of sponsors dropped me when they found out I was going to law school back East. Smith and Flylow, they know I'm a lawyer and they don't care. They keep supporting what I'm doing, and that's pretty awesome.
I work for Curtis and Phaxter in Portland, Maine. It was founded by Ken Curtis, the former governor of Maine. The firm was founded back in the late '70s when they were doing a lot of work with renewable energy. We still do a lot of renewable-energy work.
I skied 37 days this year. Twenty-eight of those were in the backcountry, in and around Mount Washington. Twenty of those days I was filming or shooting.
I spent all winter filming for an Eastern backcountry web series we're calling "Working for the Weekend." Since I'm strapped to my desk during the week, we shot the entire web series on weekends and holidays and will feature some super-remote areas, tight couloirs, natural birch glades and cliff hucks. We're planning on releasing at least three webisodes this fall on Skitheeast.net.
Winning Best Powder at the Powder Awards [with Meathead Films] this year was the single greatest 24 hours I've had in the last couple of years. It blew me away. I was not expecting that we would win. I was [as] surprised about the win that night as I was about how much snow we got the morning that we went out to film the day that led to that award. I was walking on air for two weeks after that and had a hard time concentrating at work.
In law school, I wrote a peer-reviewed legal article on resolving environmental disputes, which won the highest award in legal writing in the U.S. I received the award from Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor at the Library of Congress. Winning the Powder Award and the National Legal Writing Award are my best achievements from my separate lives.