Barrier to entry and access to sport is an increasingly popular topic in the snow industry. We all have our own story on how we got here, or how we continue to stay on snow, but what Erik Leon has created with CORE Snowboarding is allowing others to write their own story. Erik partners with resorts across the US and local non-profits through his CORE Nation events with the mission to preserve snowboarding through increased participation. We caught up with Erik after his last CORE event of the year which was held at Timberline last weekend and brought to you by Smith Optics and EVO. – Ally Watson

Can you quickly give an explanation of what CORE is and how it got started?
So, CORE is the thing that I started, and it stands for Community Outreach Riding Equipment.

Basically, I had the opportunity to get my first set of signature gear and quickly realized that the process of that is that you just stamp 100 extra dollars on top of some product that you ride and then you make a royalty from the sales. But you’re not really doing anything more than that; you’re pretty much just solidifying the product by saying that a professional rides it, and that doesn’t really work out so well for growth in our snowboard industry.

Personally, I grew up kind of underprivileged and didn’t have the opportunity to get signature gear from other people, so my initial thought was, How do we make this product affordable as possible? Then the next step would be taking sustainable steps in everything that we produce, and just being mindful of things like consumerism and that we are contributing to other people’s environments by the choices that we make and the products that we ride. And then our next step is to do community engagement. So, for example, CORE is an event that travels around the United States and raises money for local non-profits while making an impact on the community, whether it’s the rail jam itself or the non-profit we’re raising money for. CORE is basically those three steps that I really wanted to integrate into my snowboard career and mentality moving forward.

How was the Timberline event this last weekend?
Everything went great. It’s my second year at Timberline and everything was smooth sailing and awesome. Stoked to be there. The weather cleared up and our course ended up being really soft. We only had maybe one or two people who had participated in a CORE event before, so it was a full new crowd, which is awesome, and everybody was just so hyped and had such a good time.

Can you talk a bit about Snowdays PDX, the non-profit beneficiary for this event?
So, Snowdays is one of the five non-profits that I partner with throughout the season. I’m local to Portland, so it’s a local non-profit for me that I get to contribute back to directly. I know the group pretty well now. They have been operating for nineteen years—next year will be twenty years of giving back to the snowboard community and taking kids snowboarding.

Have you been able to head out with Snowdays at all?
Yeah, I was just with them last Sunday. They go every two weeks and they also have expanded to a Hoodoo, where they’re working with kids from Central Oregon.

What goes into the selection of the non-profits that you support? Obviously, you work with a bunch of resorts across the country alongside non-profits that are local to each area.
It depends. Some resorts have pre-established connections with these non-profits. So, sometimes there is an existing relationship, and I can kind of step in and be like okay we are going to throw an event for them. Other times we search around and do some digging to find someone to partner with.

My main focus is non-profits that are typically a bit smaller. CORE doesn’t necessarily come in and raise $30,000 in one day. We are making an overall impact and impression, and that’s the biggest take away. Like, we have people wanting to volunteer at the end of the day and we are raising awareness as well as financials.

We also have established relationships with larger non-profits, like SOS Outreach, who are almost nationwide. It’s really cool to work with them because even though they’re large, they are very integrated and are willing to show up to the event, post up with a booth and bring awareness. It’s just like vibes and stuff, which I feel is very key, you know?

Yeah, totally. And you partnered with them at Ruby Hill, right?
That’s correct.

On the other side of the spectrum, what’s your process like picking and collaborating with resorts?
My overall goal is to go from East to West—just cover the whole United States. So, in the 2021-22 season I was able to do so. I had Killington as one of my stops and this year I wasn’t able to get Killington in there, but next year I want to work really hard to make that happen. I have a lot of people reaching out to me and I do my best to try to incorporate that.

Do you notice any kind of engagement from event participants in terms of maybe opening their eyes to non-profit work or volunteering or things like that?
Yeah, we have participants that are eager to volunteer further, like, rather than just participate in the event that raises money for the non-profit, but actually start volunteering their personal time afterwards. I think it’s a huge factor that varies from community to community and how easily accessible the non-profit is to the mountain community. We do see a lot of energy shifting like, “Oh yeah, the bigger picture is growing the sport and being able to share this.” This last event was so huge in the sense that we really had the energy of Mount Hood come together and be like, “Okay, there’s something bigger here.” We are going to see a lot of the faces we rode with last Saturday volunteer with Snowdays in the future.

It’s cool to see people take the goal and the intent of the event with them home.
Yeah, I get some pretty cool messages and afterwards it’s always cool, you get a little high from the event. You know, I’m just feeling motivated and then the people that participate in it will reach out afterwards and just seal the deal. Then you’re just feeling stoked.

And all the title sponsors in the events are your primary personal sponsors?
Correct. I have included other alternative sponsors in the past and as much as I can. For example, at my first ever CORE event, I partnered with a number of professionals that are based in the Minnesota and Wisconsin area and had them donate a signature board or a board that they ride. So, therefore it leaves that impression of the local pro supporting the growth. We still do things like that. One cool takeaway is that Joe Sexton donated a Public board, and that year Jaylen Hansen won that board and she continued to snowboard on it for like a year. And after that, she started getting Public boards and now she’s on the team.

That’s super sick.
Most recently, Austin Smith and Eric Pollard own a snowboard company together called Season Eqpt. They donated some skis to our CORE event at Trollhaugen because we knew we were going to have a pretty awesome ski turnout, which we did.

What made you decide to have it open to both skiers and snowboarders?
I mean, same kind of concept that we are just sharing the place. If you’re trying to build community on one end, but then not looking at community on the other side, you’re not really doing much. You have to look at it 360. We are sharing this place in this space and, and if I’m only advertising to snowboarders and only snowboarders can build community, then we’re kind of leaving some room for error in the growth on our slopes.

I agree, it just leaves a whole community out of participation. So as someone who is really involved in community engagement, sustainability, and mindful consumerism, it’s clear those are things you look for with your sponsors. What’s it like working with brands that hold a similar ethos and support your efforts in your personal life as well as your snowboarding career?
It’s awesome. I mean, it’s, it’s definitely eye-opening. You know, brands may say they want to do things, and to actually be partnering with brands that see that through is massive. It helps you stay motivated to be a part of it. And with community growth, it feels like it all happened at the same time, but all felt so right. It still feels so good, and we’re still focused on that for myself with the brands but also the brands themselves.

Yeah, people’s personal ethics can often be torn with their sponsors at different points in their career. So, it’s really cool to be supported by like-minded brands.
Yeah, for sure. I mean, overall, the athlete really dictates where the brand ethos can go and shift. I feel like if you are an athlete and you want to see change, then you just have to be persistent and very attentive to the vision that you want to see. More often than not, the brands will mold to your idea, you know? It’s not gonna be easy. When I first pitched CORE and an affordable snowboard, people thought I was crazy. You just have to keep pushing.

Do you have any future goals for the growth of CORE? I know you said maybe more events in the coming seasons. Anything else?
I’m working on the website, which is slow moving, and I have been in works about possibly turning CORE into a foundation but that’s a lot of work and I’m still trying to find time to do all this stuff. In hopes for growth, I really want to see the events take off, maybe get some more athletes involved in CORE. Hopefully get some people who want to do more community work where they grew up or where they’re from, and they can take CORE as like a skeleton to run with to create their own event—and CORE is there to support them and allow them to like have a structure.