Back of House: Maggie Leon is Designing Her Own Path in Snowboarding, Both as Rider and Engineer

Maggie Leon has broken the mold, balancing her work designing snowboard gear with filming video parts.


words: Mary Walsh

When Maggie Leon was in third grade, she was assigned to write a report on something she was interested in. She could write about anything her 8-year-old heart desired, so she picked a subject she found fascinating: UV coatings, specifically polymers, monomers, and oligomers—the molecules that make up the coatings. Maggie’s father was a chemical engineer who specialized in this area and from a strikingly young age, Maggie was captivated by the way things worked. Her interest in the coatings at age 8, her yearning to understand the world from a functional perspective, and her eagerness to dive deeply into the things she is passionate about epitomizes who Maggie was then and who she is now.

Today, at 24 and a recent graduate from the University of Vermont, Maggie both works and rides for Burton Snowboards. As a mechanical engineer, she designs inline products and creates solutions for adaptive snowboarders. As a rider, she films with the crew she grew up with, Spotheads, as well as with her Burton teammates. This fall, she’s got a highly anticipated part dropping in The Uninvited III. Balancing these two pursuits isn’t without pitfalls, but Maggie has always been up for a challenge. You see it in both her work and her riding—she’s tenacious and tackles things head-on.

But back to third grade. It was around the same time that Maggie passed in her paper about chemical engineering to an undoubtedly surprised teacher, that she fell in love with snowboarding. Maggie grew up in Connecticut. Her parents were big skiers—they met at Killington in Vermont—so Maggie and her brother, Joey, started skiing at a young age. But when Maggie was 7, she and Joey were tubing at a local golf course and saw some people riding plastic K-Mart snowboards. They tried them out and were hooked. “We would always ask if we could borrow their boards and we’d build little jumps and session those,” she remembers. “My dad was a huge skier, so he wanted us to continue skiing. So, we made a deal with my dad that we would ski or snowboard every other weekend.” That soon turned into full-time boarding, riding the park at Ski Sundown in Connecticut during the week and spending weekends in the Green Mountains.

“Joey and I were always in it together,” says Maggie. “That was the most fun part of it. We were always just pushing each other.” A lesson their dad got them early on with a park instructor opened up a new world of snowboarding to the duo. “From then on, every time we’d ride, we’d pick a way to progress our snowboarding or a different feature to learn something on,” says Maggie. “We would feed off of each other.”

The pair became devoted members of the Killington scene. “Darkside played the biggest role on our snowboarding,” Maggie recounts, referring to the infamous snowboard shop just down the road from the resort. “We learned a lot about the culture there. Every day after we’d ride, we would session Dark Park or just watch videos there. Basically, we were shop kids.”

Maggie Leon and Zeb Powell
Maggie Leon and Zeb Powell on the Red Bull Slide in Tour last winter. p: Brian Nevins

Meanwhile, the two main tracks of Maggie’s life continued to run parallel to one another. In high school she got her first sponsors, eventually getting flow from the local Burton rep. Her reputation started to grow through local contests, photos by photographer and friend Ashley Rosemeyer, coaching at East Coast women’s camp Park Affair, and of course, anyone that saw, in person, the boundless determination that Maggie has on her snowboard. Senior year of high school, things were starting to come together for her snowboarding while she was simultaneously figuring out where to attend college to study engineering.

When you talk to Maggie, her energy is boundless. She speaks freely, laughs easily, and really focuses on whoever she’s talking with. She’s got a confidence that feels almost palpable, but she’s also extremely modest—whenever asked about herself, she immediately starts talking about the people in her life that are integral to whatever she is doing. She emphasizes their importance in her experience. Maggie is outspoken and self-assured, both when it comes to snowboarding and engineering. Of course, there are things she’s still trying to figure out, but she seems to approach life in the same way she breaks down how things work: step by step, considering all sides and all ways each aspect functions.

Maggie attended UVM in Burlington, a school that her father saw potential in from the start, even when she wasn’t so sure. “My dad passed away senior year of high school,” she says. “He had a really massive impact on me, obviously. He really wanted me to go to UVM to make connections, because he for some reason saw a potential for me at Burton.”

This is when her story went from riding for Burton to also working for the company. Through a series of serendipitous events fueled by Maggie’s perseverance, she landed an internship with Chris Doyle in Burton’s Rapid Prototyping Lab. The RP Lab, as Maggie refers to it, is where new ideas and prototypes can be created using 3D printers and other advanced machinery. It’s highly creative and she flourished in that environment. During her senior year of college, she continued in the lab, unlocking a new passion that further blended STEM and snowboarding. “My senior project was working with adaptive riders to optimize and improve Step On to eliminate as many compromises as these riders have to make for able-bodied, in-line equipment,” she explains. “The goal was to make these riders more comfortable on snow, because there’s a lot of stuff that they deal with that as able-bodied individuals we don’t even think about.”

This is where Maggie gets even more excited, talking about the different people she has met and worked with and the relatively small adjustments she has made to their gear that have made a big impact on their riding. Swapping the heelcups around so the Step On lever is accessible on the inside of the foot to make things easier for a woman whose right arm is paralyzed. Adding a Speed Zone cleat to the inner boot liner to make tightening the fit possible. “It sounds selfish,” she says, “but it’s gratifying to be able to help someone.” But it isn’t selfish at all, it’s actually selfless. And that’s just how Maggie is.

Currently, Maggie is working on inline products—gear that will hit shelves and be available to consumers, but she still gets emails from adaptive snowboarders who have heard she can help find solutions for issues with their gear. She does everything she can to help out and always wants to do more. “I think the work that I’ve done with a lot of these riders has opened up my mind to why I’m doing this,” she says.

This fall, Maggie is one of the main riders featured in The Uninvited III. Burton gave her a stipend of time to spend filming last winter— part of a hybrid role that she has been developing with the company that allows her to balance her work and her riding—which she used primarily with her go-to crew, Joey and the rest of the Spotheads, while vibing with The Uninvited riders through consistent texts and a WhatsApp group that was always going off. “Jess [Kimura] went literally above and beyond,” Maggie extolls. “She didn’t need to help me this much, you know what I mean? She’s so giving, so fricking giving. I can’t emphasize it enough. I called my mom when we started filming for the movie this year and told her that I was going to be working with Jess again. She was like, ‘Oh! Jess Kimura?!’ She knows that I’ve been following Jess since I was like 10. The Uninvited is just really, really special to me.”

In 2020, Maggie joined Zeb Powell and Miles Fallon for a few days of the Red Bull Slide In Tour, an East Coast resort road trip. In 2021, she was invited on the whole thing. Last May, she stood out while riding at Snowboy’s IT’S TITS! event at Mt. Hood. And of course, this fall, she has clips in The Uninvited III, as well the Spotheads movie. All while she’s working on binding tweaks and more at 180 Queen City Park Road. Her star is rising, both on her board and in the office, and while it can be a definite challenge navigating both things at the same time, Maggie wouldn’t have it any other way. When asked which is more exciting for her, getting a clip or finding a solution to an engineering problem, she doesn’t have a clear-cut answer—both things are so integral to who she is, to her passion, to her goals.

Maggie Leon at Mt. Hood, Oregon, as seen in the Focused photo gallery in issue 18.1. p: Ashley Rosemeyer

“The time is now to do this,” she says, speaking to filming video parts. “At 24, I’m definitely new to starting my career, but if I’m going to make this snowboard shit work, I just feel like I’m in the heat of it now. Though, I don’t want to take the pro snowboarder route where all you do is ride, because I still want to do other things professionally.” Like helping make snowboarding better for others through product innovation. “It only takes a couple of hours to stitch in some Speed Zone cleats and make it a little bit easier for her,” Maggie says, talking about a woman she’s been corresponding with who had to have her arm amputated. “And then I get texts from her every other week saying, ‘Thank you so much. Look at what I’m learning!’ and sending me clips of her hitting boxes. Just seeing how a couple little design tweaks or little changes can impact someone’s life in such a positive way is really special.”

What does the future hold for Maggie? A lot of possibilities with the drive that she has, but you can bet that sharing her love of snowboarding, through her own riding and video parts, as well as through creating gear that helps both able-bodied and adaptive riders, will be at the heart of it all.

Comments

Up Next

January 5, 2022

Carving Artist: Never Summer Creative Director Jeremy Salyer

A look into the mind of the Colorado-based artist and designer.

January 4, 2022

Canopy Hues: A Forest Bailey Interview

A conversation between Forest and 686 TM and friend, Patrick McCarthy.

January 1, 2022

Taking Flight: The Arthur Longo Interview

A discussion between two best friends, Arthur Longo and Olivier Gittler.

December 31, 2021

Risk Maturity: Pat Moore and Baldface’s Annual Gathering to Increase Backcountry Education and Safety

words: Melissa Riitanophotos: Melissa Riitano, Amanda Hankison, and Dustin Lalik Just about a month ago, I had the privilege...

December 28, 2021

Always Rene: An Interview with Rene Rinnekanags

In this modern era of snowboarding the word “talent” is thrown around too easily. When it is possible to...

December 21, 2021

Check In: Early Season in Minnesota with Sam Taxwood

This winter took a little while to arrive. But the dry conditions affecting much of the West until only...

December 7, 2021

Behind the Graphics of the Arbor Shiloh: An Exclusive Conversation with Aaron Draplin

Jeff Baker speaks with the bearded man behind Draplin Design Company to hear the story of the 2022 Arbor...

December 6, 2021

Victor Daviet Launches Snowboarders of Solidarity to Help Afghan Refugees

In late November, French phenom Victor Daviet put out a call to action on his Instagram to help a...

November 28, 2021

Get to Know Abby Ronca, East Coast Up-and-Comer

DOB: May 19, 2005Home Mountain: Bear Creek, PAStance: goofy Board: CAPiTA BOF and CAPiTA EqualizerBoots: Thirty Two TM2 Bindings:...