No Excuses Interview Series: Brody Leven


Today, I am very happy to roll out a new series on Mountain Lessons: the No Excuses interviews. Any semi-serious athlete knows that it’s damn hard to maintain momentum and keep growing in their sport. Families, commitments, work, laziness– all threaten us with mediocrity. To turn our goals into reality is a monolithic job that we take on in addition to the other challenges of our lives. It’s amazing that we get anything done.

But there are those among us, mere humans all, who get the job done over and over again. While you’re on the sofa, they’re running hills. While you pine for your two weeks of vacation, they’re planning expeditions. In today’s world of managed media personalities and slick Instagram streams, it is too easy to forget that these people weren’t born with some innate advantage. They don’t live in a magical world that makes their dreams happen for them. They work for it, like we do.

This interview series will seek to explore the approaches and personalities of athletes who are inspiring in both the quality and consistency of their achievements. They’re real people, people I know, and people whom I admire. I hope that you find inspiration in their words and that this little look into their psyches will serve as a reminder– what they do, you can too. If you want it.[divider_line]

Brody Leven
Brody Leven (Adam Clark Photo)


Brody Leven. Pro Skier.
Brody Leven. Pro Skier.

Professional athlete; self-mocking vegetarian; mountain runner; full-time alpine bum; rock climber; bike tourist; photographer; adventurer. No one of these titles is sufficient to describe Brody Leven.

A fellow midwesterner, Brody hails from the quietly flat state of Ohio. But unlike the rest of Ohio, he climbs on Denali with Conrad Anker, and skis away his North-American summer on South-American snow. A prolific writer, photographer, and social media adventure maven, he’s proud to be a self-made professional skier. And made it he has: in the last year he has traveled to Patagonia, Denali, Iceland, Romania, Ukraine, South America, Whistler, Mt Hood, and several more locations around the globe to ski and climb.

Recently featured in a Grit Visual video piece, Brody repeatedly accomplishes feats of endurance as impressive as running the Grand Teton, and he does it all with a goofy smile, approachable attitude, and seemingly unflagging energy. He joins us today to talk about how he realized his dream of going Pro and the challenges of staying fit for the mountains while traveling and whiling away weather days in an expedition tent.

[divider_line]Brody’s Sponsors:

SUUNTO Surface SkisAlta Ski ResortDynafit


GoalZeroTerramar Base LayersO'Neill [divider_line]

 Interview with Brody Leven

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] First off, you’re a fellow midwesterner. What do you think dragged you out of the Midwest and into a lifestyle of “transiency”, skiing in Romania, Denali, and South America of all places? What was the pivotal difference between you and those who are still in Chesterland?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2] To really try my hand at a ski career, I had to move to a place where a ski industry actually existed. A ski academy in Vermont, during high school, was the first step. The next logical step, as a competitive freestyle skier, was to move West. I chose to attend the most selective college in close proximity to the mountains, landing me at Westminster, in Salt Lake City, UT. But attending a ski academy and an out-of-town college doesn’t define a life of transiency. Instead, I’ve defined it during college and since graduation in 2010. Mountains are what dragged me out of Ohio, and my longing to see them is what differentiates me from those who are satisfied in the Midwest. Apparently, an obsession as strong as mine takes one around the world.

Brody leven
Toto, we’re a long way from Ohio. (Adam Clark Photo)

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] In a recent GritVisual video about your summer in the Wasatch, you say that you don’t have an off-season. What is your approach staying fit for the mountains? Do you maintain a general fitness, or are you training for specific objectives?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2] General fitness. Perhaps it isn’t the best approach, or perhaps it is. I have no idea. I get opinions on fitness thrown at me all the time, and I take them all seriously, because it’s likely that it’s better than what I know. But I know when I feel good while I’m moving: if I’m moving slower up a trail in the fall, or if breaking trail is abnormally difficult in the winter, or if a climb feels harder than it should.

Fundamentally, though, I think that I don’t have an off-season because I do the same activities year-round. I truly don’t have a ski season. I actually enjoy running, skiing, and climbing. They aren’t my means to an end as much as they are an end in themselves. Of course I push myself to go faster, harder, longer, and higher–and that is hard, absolutely–but it’s not like I’m doing that because I’m going to climb Everest next month.

Skiing Volcan Antuco
Skiing the Volcan Antuco, a slumbering geological time bomb in Chile. (Brody Leven Photo)

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] What about when you travel? You spend a lot of time abroad, on expeditions and in South American huts; what effect does that have on your motivation and fitness when you return home?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2] If I hadn’t actually been on these trips, I wouldn’t really understand this. I get in worse shape when I’m on trips. For example, a month-long backcountry ski trip to South America, climbing and skiing 5000- to 9000-foot volcanoes, sounds like it should maintain fitness. For me, though, it doesn’t. Sitting in a car while driving 5,000km down the length of Patagonia–even if interrupted to ski the occasional mountain–doesn’t make me faster. Sitting around base camp for a week after skiing Denali–doesn’t make me faster. Eating a pizza the size of a hula-hoop after running the Grand Teton–doesn’t make me faster.

Brody Leven
Brody Leven, earning his pizza high on Mt Superior’s South Ridge. Little Cottonwood Canyon, UT. (Parker Alec Cross Photo)

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] You were quoted in a recent Powder magazine interview saying that you “don’t really like skiing powder”. To most skiers, that sounds like total heresy. Is this true, and if so, what would you rather ski?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2] I’ve never thought of it this way, but I guess that I choose my ski destinations based off the potential for awesome steep lines and likelihood of safe snow, not snow quality. I’ve never chased a storm or traveled somewhere because it’s reputed to have deep snow. I’d rather ski black diamonds in bad snow than green circles in powder. I really like chalk, nevé, corn, and that late season rock-slush that most people hate. So this good snow/bad snow distinction, though commonly considered objective, is a difficult concept for me.

Rapping, but not to powder.
Rapping, but not to powder. (KT Miller Photo)

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] You’re known as a self-motivated and self-promoted athlete; you have a strong web presence, a renowned Instagram, numerous video edits, and a core twitter following. How do you balance your own needs and desires with maintaining your brand as an athlete? Does your average day, or do your expeditions and projects, look different because you’re motivated to share them?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2] My brand is entirely molded around the characteristics you referenced. I’m not the best skier: I don’t hit enormous cliffs, I’ve never skied epic pillow lines, I rarely ride resorts, and I don’t compete. These traits make it very difficult to be known, in the traditional sense to the traditional skier. Instead, my entire career has basically been built around the bustling online content pool in which I try very hard to differentiate myself. Because my ski preferences and trips lie far from the standard pro-skier-formula, that part is simpler. Difficulties include expanding my online reach; relating my style of adventure, travel, and skiing to that of the average reader; and consistently creating and dispersing my own content. It also helps drive me to do cool stuff more consistently, because so much of my brand is reliant on constant mountain pursuits.

My days, though, look different than someone who is out there 100% for themselves–I’m taking photos, writing down quotes and details, posting realtime updates, and trying my very hardest to share the experience with those behind desks, laid up with injuries, or stuck in a rut that life has thrown them.

brody leven
Brody’s particular brand of adventure might not be for everyone, but for a group of core followers, adventure monkeys, and aspiring ski mountaineers, it resonates. (Adam Clark Photo)

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] How did you make the transition from Unknown-Ohio-Kid to professional athlete?  Was it intentional?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2]  I am a professional skier. I’m proud to say that because I worked so hard at turning that dream into a reality. After graduation from Westminster, my entrepreneurial mindset didn’t flounder. Instead, I’ve worked to create a brand–a brand that pushes me into difficult mountain scenarios while encouraging others to do whatever the heck is hard for them. This could be anything they’re hesitant to tackle: running to the top of a mountain or designing a new website for work.

Every person on this planet struggles in some way and needs something to push them past their barriers. By exposing my struggles to anyone who wants to hear about them, I hope to inspire at least a few people to stop being comfortable and to instead live the life they dream of living. Showing my meager living situations, ripped climbing shoes, broken ski boots, and life-lived-out-of-boxes is an integral part of this transparency.

Sometimes, it is about the powder.
Sometimes, it is about the powder. (Jason Eichhorst Photo)

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] You’re inspirational to a lot of people, myself included. Who gets you psyched and motivated to go bigger and further in the mountains?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2] Each week-ish, I post a roundup of inspiring content from the internet on It’s truly the stuff that inspires me. I’m such a big consumer of online climbing, skiing, biking, running, and traveling media. I love learning how other people “suffer”–how they learn to tolerate extreme situations that most can’t. in fact, your stories are frequently included. And you say that I inspire you? Simply, I’m inspired by people who live once-in-a-lifetime experiences…all the time.

Brody Leven, summoning all of his sources of inspiration in Romania's Transylvanian Alps. KT Miller photo.
Brody Leven, summoning all of his sources of inspiration in Romania’s Transylvanian Alps. (KT Miller photo.)

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] For some, it’s beer, or the draw of the sofa…family, work, or another sport. What’s the biggest enemy of your motivation and goals?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2]  DNA? Work? Opportunity cost? I’m no genetically-gifted freak-of-nature athlete. If I don’t exercise, it’s obvious. If I don’t exercise HARD, I struggle. ‘But this is your job’, I tell myself, ‘You should be fitter’. And it’s difficult to always exercise when, for me, being a professional athlete requires so much more than just skiing or training. Because I’m not the best skier in the world, I have to do a lot of other work in order to make a living as an athlete–whether that’s content creation, meetings, sitting in front of my computer, etc.–but the Catch-22 is that, perhaps, this is also something stopping me from becoming a better skier–the kind of skier that makes a living by only skiing.

For me, though, I’m happier the way it is. I want to use my brain, not just my body. Oh, and I have a distinct lack of vices–I don’t drink or do drugs or anything else that I can use as an excuse for failing at constant self-improvement.

Brody leven
Always up. Until the down. (Adam Clark Photo)


The Quick and Dirty

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] How about 7 recent lines that got you psyched?

Brody’s Recent Ticks

[list_check][li]NW Couloir of the Pfeifferhorn, Wasatch Mountains, Utah[/li] [li]Novocaine Couloir on Sawtooth Peak, Beartooth Mountains, Montana[/li] [li]NE Couloir of Lanin, Andes Mountains, Argentina/Chile border[/li] [li] Orient Express Couloir on Denali, Alaska[/li] [li] Troll Seat, Isafjordur, Iceland[/li][li] Albisoara Crucii, Transylvanian Alps, Romania[/li][li]Cerro Creston, Fitz Roy Massif, Argentina[/li][/list_check]

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] What lines sit at the top of your tick list but never get done?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2] Skiing is much like my climbing in that I don’t have “projects.” In climbing, I’m never one to set some lofty goal and then work to achieve it. Instead, I rely on self-motivation to bring me toward compelling lines in a reasonable manner. In skiing, I don’t have lines that are taunting me or anything. Instead, I choose my day’s ski tour based around conditions, motivation, partners, and time.

brody leven and robin hill
High on Denali’s Fantasy Ridge, Brody Leven and Robin Hill consider conditions on America’s biggest ski hill. (Brody Leven Photo)

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] If you could only tick one project on your list this winter, what would it be?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2] No ski magazine has ever run a print photo of me. Like I said, Because I know myself well enough to understand that I will be consistently pushing myself to ski cooler and cooler stuff this winter, I think that’s a reasonable project to achieve: doing something tubular enough for other people to want to look at.

[dropcap_2]Q[/dropcap_2] Where is Brody Leven at age 45?

[dropcap_2]A[/dropcap_2] Goals aren’t for me. I work as hard as I possibly can every day, and truly believe that if my self-motivation does not lapse, it will take me where I want to go. Even if I don’t know where that is.

[blockquote_with_author author=”-Brody”] To paraphrase my mom, You can’t be asked to give more than your very best.[/blockquote_with_author][divider_line]

You can find more of Brody’s stories, writing, and photographs on his Blog and on his ever-entertaining Instagram and Twitter.[divider_line]

One year, 42 posts, 25,000 visitors, 72 countries, and one way we stay afloat: When you shop through a link on Mountain Lessons, you help to keep the lights on.

Have questions, thoughts, or reactions for Brody? Let’s hear it in the comments.

Category: InterviewsSkiing


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