A New Approach | Ben Poechman Interview

What you've done is less important than what you're doing. It’s the reality of how we consume snowboard media these days. But if talking about what Ben Poechman has done, it's a nice list: multiple cover shots, interviews, and stand-out street parts alongside heavyweights like Johnny O'Connor. Ben has produced a continuous stream of videos documenting riding off barn roofs in his early years back in Ontario, through to the pow-hounding natty resort clips he's more recently known for. But when we look at what Ben is doing today, the list is equally extensive: collaborating with The North Face design team, painting, sculpting and selling his art in a Whistler gallery, writing proposals, renovating his apartment, creating content for his sponsors, while seizing opportunities to donate his time and talents to charitable causes. 

I've witnessed his drive firsthand. Ben wakes up early, shows up ready, quickly and methodically scopes terrain, finds the angle, shovels the lip, and while the rest of the crew contemplates what to do, he has hit the feature, done the trick, got the shot, and is onto the next. Ben is laser-focused on doing. A man of action with farm-rooted grit paired with style that’s been carved from a lifelong passion for the most tasteful aesthetics of snowboarding. And his story is as distinctive as his pursuit of this life. Read on and be inspired.

By Jesse Fox | Photos by Stuart Costello

Boosting a Blackcomb side hit. Whistler, BC.

You grew up in rural Ontario, right?

I grew up in Walkerton, Ontario, on a small organic egg farm, with six kids in the family. I'm the second youngest. Walkerton is in southwest Ontario, an hour south of Collingwood. We had 6,000 chickens, 30 cows, and two pigs. My dad was the first commercial organic egg farmer in Ontario. He's been doing it for over 30 years.

Wild. The whole family worked on the farm.

The whole family, that was the deal—no employees, family run. So you started working as soon as you could. I started working at six, I was driving a tractor by eight years old—forking shit, gathering eggs. My little brother is still there, working on the farm, and it’s still running.

That’s rad. How’d you get into snowboarding then? Older siblings or…

Not the classic story. I just saw it. It was a photo of a method. That was the first memory I had of seeing snowboarding, a guy in the air doing a method. That was so cool, just the aesthetic, flying through the air, and the shape of the board. I was like, "What is that? I want to do that." And I started drawing pictures of snowboarder stick men. Straight up, I was telling my older brothers from so early on, six years old maybe, that that's what I was going to do. I was going to be a pro snowboarder.

All because of seeing a photo…

Snowboarding was it for me. That's all I thought about, cared about, straight up, from the moment I saw it. It just lasted, continued, and I never let up on it. Finally, my mom chaperoned me on a school ski trip so that I could finally try snowboarding. I was in grade three, and it was life-changing. The only time I could go for the next few years was that school trip. No one around me was skiing or going. We just didn't even know anyone who skied. And then, when I was 11 years old, I got a plastic snowboard out of the Sears catalogue, and it was game on. I was riding off the chicken barn roof in the yard, building plywood ramps off cement banks. My first “rail” was a row of bricks down a plywood ramp. I was just discovering it on my own. Then the internet started coming in, so I  started finding videos, but I was pretty alone in discovering the culture, the tricks, what was cool. I didn't have snowboard friends until I went to the resort more and started finding ways to get there.

And early on, who were you linking up with?

I probably linked up with Mark Goodall, and some of the other Ontario kids, who were riding park all the time at Blue Mountain. Eventually, we had a whole scene, and there were events, rail jams, once a month or something. So I loved going, just to see friends and connect.

Whistler’s your home mountain now. How’d you get your first taste?

The first time I went to Whistler was when I won a Westbeach giveaway. It was a video submission contest. The theme was, "How bad do you want it?" to win a free trip to Camp of Champions. Growing up, COC was a dream, this was 2009 in the heyday. My friend and I made this video. The concept was that I was a Westbeach addict, fully addicted to Westbeach as if it were some kind of hard drug. We did all these skits around town. There were 500 submissions, and I won. That was a dream come true. We never could afford to go to Whistler, period, let alone to a private summer camp like, no fucking way. Matt Belzile was my coach. And the whole time, I just talked to him about how to make it to Whistler, how to move there, what to do for work, and how to make it snowboarding.

The highlight of your high school years. Did that help set the path?

For sure. I basically hated life for a little while in my teenage years. I was listening to hardcore heavy metal music, had a lip ring, jet-black dyed hair, and was pretty lost. Just feeling like, "What the hell am I doing?" You could only snowboard for four months of the year in Ontario, and I felt misunderstood. Like having a dream, but being so far away from it. Reality cuts to being a kid, living on a farm, who wants to snowboard in the mountains but is confined to this life. I definitely lost that when I moved out West. I left home at 18, right after high school, I discovered a different lifestyle, a different set of people and a different culture. Because where I was, was just, work your job and on the weekend go to a party and get loaded. And I was lost in that for all of high school.

One of the first times your riding caught my attention was with the Selfiestickman edit. Finding pow and natural terrain—you were riding Ontario like nobody had before.

That happened by absolute chance. Leading up to that, we had a crew called Trash League, and we were filming street riding. It was Mark Goodall, Gordon Bernie, Chris Fellner, Mike Chmil, and we were loving it. I think we did two seasons where it was going good, everyone was stoked. Midway through the third season, it just fell apart. I remember during a family Christmas, we played Gag Gift Roulette. So everyone buys a joke gift. I got a Selfie Stick, and I was like, this is ridiculous. I'm never going to use this. But I realized maybe that if I wasn't filming with a crew, what would I do? Probably just hike around and try to ride fresh snow. I started doing that, but having the Selfie Stick was like, “Oh, I'll just shove this in the ground.” It was a reason to go a bit further. I guess being left to my own devices, I was going to go do all the shit that I wanted to do. Yeah, weird to think that I just fully switched genres of snowboarding.

Fresh tracks front 3 melon. Mt. Baker. Washington.

That video got some shares. Were you stoked? Or were you thinking, "Oh, no, am I going to be Selfiestick Man forever?"

It was a shift in my own thinking. Because in the street, I felt pressured to do the gnarliest thing before the guy before me. Then there were some comments on the [Selfie] edit that were sayin’ that it was something unique and different. But to me, it was just messing around and not taking any big risks. I just rode from my heart, I wasn’t trying to impress anyone. And that felt good. I remember taking a mental note about that. Okay, do what feels good, and people will take notice. I could do something different, and people would still be down.

When did you start taking your freeriding more seriously?

I think I moved to Whistler in the fall of 2012. Still a park kid wearing sweaters on a powder day. And then I just slowly started getting uninspired by terrain parks. Street riding stopped being as appealing. I just started looking at what I had access to—the mountain—and started looking for features. It was very linear [before], where I saw snowboarding as very free. There's no line to follow. You generate your own line. And I found the experience of applying freestyle to natural terrain more enjoyable.

You do a damn good job of finding the gem hits and features out there. Do you consider yourself a professional snowboarder?

I don't know. It's such a grey zone these days. What I do to put food on the table is snowboard and make art. I'm still not technically a “pro”, but the moment that things started changing was the moment that I assumed myself as a professional. If I act as a professional, then it will just happen naturally, as opposed to expecting it. And acknowledging that, to make a project or something happen, you have to put some effort in. It's really easy to look at professional snowboarding and assume it's just for fun. There is that. But to turn that into a profession, you have to treat it with some work ethic.

When talking with your sponsors, it is always mentioned how good you are at putting together a proposal and executing a plan.

One of the biggest things I learned was that sponsorship agreements are relationships, personal relationships that you build. It's a really human experience. It doesn't feel like we're just pushing these products. It feels like we're working together, collaborating, creating inspiring visual pieces… and I’ve learned to not be afraid to come up with an idea, or to think about something interesting and fresh. And the way I approach snowboarding is, what if this was my job? And I had to show up Monday to Friday, from nine to five, and put in a solid effort. 

Did you take that with you from the farm?

Maybe I learned a bit of that growing up on the farm. If you're the weakest link, people are going to notice.

Two winters ago, you, Adam Franks, Nick Elliot, with Alex Biel made Rendezvous. It was a phenomenal showcase of accessible snowboarding. This year you rode without a crew and took a totally different path.

For Rendezvous, I was at the production end of it, in a group setting, and doing all the planning and organizing, and I realized how much work that was. I was excited for the following season, to do my own thing, returning to the energy I had with Selfie Stick Man, where I could wake up in the morning and say, "Okay, where do I want to go today.” For this past season, I thought it would be cool to focus on getting photos. I’ve always had a real deep appreciation for photos. The first media I consumed, when I was discovering snowboarding, was photos, photography and magazines. I wanted to look at the mountain like, "What's the frame? Where's the photo?" And if I can do a trick within that, great. That was the guiding light for this past season, wanting to focus on the collaborative effort of creating photos.

You got great images but also a ton of iPhone clips that went straight to the gram. While others are filming parts, you didn't even film anything landscape. How do you see snowboard media right now?

The landscape is definitely changing. I was always intrigued by not following the unwritten laws: this is what a video part is, this is how long it should be, and this is the format. I was like, screw the format, let's just do what we want to do. I thought it would be cool to release everything as it happens and still maintain the photos to have something to show at the end of the season. I like the idea of just sharing off-the-cuff, moment-by-moment. That's what Instagram is, really.

What about art? Did that exist in your family? How did you discover it? 

Art did exist in my family, but it may have deterred me in the beginning. My oldest brother was a very talented sketch artist. He could draw with a pencil to perfect detail. He loved basketball. He would draw these Kobe Bryant pictures out of SLAM magazine, and they would just be perfect detail as if it was just a black-and-white photo. I always compared myself to him and his work and thought I was dog shit at art. I felt, "There's no way I'll be as good as my brother.” So why should I even bother?" So I let it go. Snowboarding was all I had, as far as my artistic expression, until maybe five years ago. I was living the seasonal hustle of landscaping in the summers and then taking the winters off to try to film. I was getting burned out, I started to look for something different and stumbled on this Craigslist ad for a stone carving apprenticeship in Whistler. I got the gig and was carving these little inukshuks for a gift shop in Whistler. I liked it. It was different, and it gave me some artistic freedom. The guy who hired me, the owner of a gallery, allowed me to utilize the tools, the space and the stone to make some pieces of my own imagination. I started messing around and carving trees. I carved a big piece out of marble; it's called Chili Tree, and it sold the next spring. I realized maybe I could do this. And that led to painting. Now, it's been maybe five years, and I haven't really looked back, just been creating ever since.

How do you view your art? Is it a side hustle, a passion project, or a bit of both?

It's just connected to all of my experiences, snowboarding, and life in general. Whenever I'm out, if I get inspired by something, I instantly look to take that home and start a new piece. So yeah, it's a passion project, but it pays bills as well. So I'm really thankful for that, and thankful people have been liking what I've been creating. I feel I'm just getting started and figuring out how to paint. I didn't go to art school. I'm fully learning it on my own.

Up and off, back 180 tail on Blackcomb. Whistler, BC.

You've been snowboarding for a while, but it seems like you're just reaching your potential. Is that fair to say?

I feel I'm just discovering who I want to be. And what I want to put out in the world. It's always changing, but I'm just discovering that now. It's becoming really clear and feels really natural. But yeah, I definitely took the long road to getting to this place. But it's funny, it does feel like I'm just beginning, just starting to live a life that maybe I was pursuing for so long, and I've just discovered the algorithm for how it's going to work for me. 

What does that look like? 

That looks like painting and stone carving, snowboarding, coming up with projects, being interested in product design—all of it. Being a snowboarder these days, I think it's important to be able to clearly define who you are, what you're about, and share that with the world. Having something beyond snowboarding that you're passionate about, is equally as important as it is to be a really talented snowboarder in the industry today, I think. And it gives us all an extension of our personality, beyond our specific tricks and our style on a board.

Is that advice you’d pay forward to the next generation?

Absolutely. Figure out what you're about, even off your snowboard, and develop that part of yourself as well. 

Plans for next season?

Yeah, I made a down payment on a snowmobile. For a lot of years. I was, "Oh, I'm never going to get a sled." Maybe I like to break the rules, or not do the common thing.

Come on, just because everyone else had one, you didn't want one?

It seemed like the thing to do in Whistler was get a truck and a sled, and become a backcountry guy. For some reason, that trajectory just seemed already written. Like, someone already lived that, and I saw it. I don't want to follow in anyone's footsteps. Now I feel it's time. I feel like there's a new approach that I could have in that environment. Whereas, if I had bought a snowmobile earlier, I don't think I would have the same approach, and the same outlook on snowboarding, and features and terrain, as I do now. It took 13 years of living in Whistler to develop what I feel, to be my own unique approach to snowboarding.

Do you want to follow in the footsteps of those before you and thank anyone at the end of this? 

My parents, my siblings. My incredibly supportive girlfriend Megan-Anne Perrin. Shoutout to one of my only riding buds from my rural area growing up, Clayton Fritcsh. My first sponsor Mark Strang at Vert Agencies. Andrew Wyton for giving me a chance to film my first video part in Hardly Winter. Shoutout crews over the years Trash League, Footy Fiend, Pocket Figures, Mount Mountain. All the filmers and photographers that I've worked with. And a special thanks to everyone who has supported my journey in snowboarding: Alex Forbes, Stu Cameron, Drew Williams, Gio Vacca, Dylan Fulford, and everyone at Vans. Max Turcotte, Alex Desjardins, everyone at The North Face. Marie-Eli and Alex Pashley at Smartwool. Taylor Ricci at K2 and Brad Alband at Autumn.

Frontside 180 amongst twisted old growth. Mt. Seymour, BC.
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