A story about love for community and the ride it takes you on
Russell never sits still, and his energy is infectious. Spend a few minutes with him, and he will have already run into someone he knows from “back when,” bought a round for the whole bar, and launched into some dance moves.
Russell’s loud, East Coast laugh is as recognizable as his unique style and bright-colored, custom board seen from across the mountain. He grew up playing hockey in New York, but when he learned to snowboard at Stratton in Vermont, he was hooked. Russell looks back now, after moving across the country and riding nearly every bucket list destination along the way, and realizes he’s probably the first professional Black snowboarder.
“I remember these guys setting up the shot with their homemade cameras at night on the mountain, and just saying, ‘Russell, I want you to hit it, right there.’ And I would, and they’d get the shot. I was 15 years old, but I already lived for it.”
”Diversity doesn’t need snowboarding, but snowboarding needs diversity.
Decades later, after seeing the impact he had on the sport, his goal is now to spread this love for snowboarding into a new generation of hopeful kids and to continue merging urban culture into the sport. Currently based at Crystal Mountain, Russell prides himself on still being faster than anyone he rides with, but when traveling throughout Colorado and California, he slows it down to hang out with his two daughters or other kids looking to get into the sport. “This is it, this is the good stuff,” he says.
One child who came across Russell’s radar a few years ago was LJ Henriquez, also from New York and also a natural snowboarder. The two connected via Instagram when Russell saw that LJ was at Copper Mountain in Colorado and new to the scene. Now, at 14 years old, there’s no slowing LJ down and he is as quick and resilient as Russell and even higher in energy and airtime. Russell points out that, despite only meeting recently and being many years apart in age, their shared love for the sport and understanding of East Coast beginnings ties them together. “We both just want to ride. We just want to go down, and hit the side hits, and have fun with each other on the mountain,” said Russell.
LJ will do whatever it takes to spike his adrenaline and be on mountain. Snowboarding is all he talks about and practically all he does, in addition to keeping top grades at school and eating grilled cheese sandwiches with bacon for most meals. He hardly cares how cold it could be, what the snow may be like, how much homework he may have to do ahead of time in order to get outside, or who else is out there. He just loves being on the mountain and snowboarding has given him something to set goals around and look forward to every year. Even the potential for injuries doesn’t intimidate this teenager – he’s not phased or held back by anything. “I broke my femur once hitting a rail, but getting my hair braided hurts even worse,” LJ explains with a very serious face.
”Mentorship is important because there’s not that many people of color in snowboarding. I can help others by telling them what I’ve been through, what Russell’s taught me.
LJ was two years old when he learned about snowboarding, but he wasn’t like other kids with a lofty dream – he fell in love with the sport in a way that transformed his family’s lives. He would sit in his car seat reading Lib Tech catalogs, sneak a skateboard into the house to try tricks, and spend hours watching videos to learn all he could. At age 5, he drew a picture with the caption, “My name is LJ. I want to be a snobordr.” His Dad laughed and said, “Only if you go pro by the time you’re a teenager”. And he did. At age 13, LJ joined Team Red Bull, Burton, and Ikon Pass. Formerly a professional baseball player himself, Lenny Henriquez Sr. wasn’t new to the pro sports world but was new to the winter industry. He picked up snowboarding himself at 30 years old, to support LJ’s dream and film him when he started throwing himself down boxes and rails in the mini park.
Russell is now “Uncle Russ” to LJ, but he is also a mentor to the whole family. “Russell just wanted to make sure we were good, and we’re being taken care of. A lot of people in the industry don’t seem to care if you sink or swim, but he’s been there for us all,” explains Lenny. He and his wife, Pamela, lean on Russell to decide which brands to work with, which mountains to visit, when to let LJ do his own thing or when to reign him in. When Russell also reunites with LJ in the mountains – such as this year for iconic spring riding at Palisades Tahoe – he takes time to slow LJ down to scope out a line, show him where to spot the good side hits, or let LJ raid his closet for gear.
LJ and Russell have formed a bond based on their love for snowboarding, but it goes deeper than that. They recognize that it is not easy, or common, to be a snowboarder of Color. Both lean on each other, and the rest of their community, to work toward normalizing diversity in the mountains and encouraging others to join the culture of snowboarding that they love so much. Russell explains, “Diversity doesn’t need snowboarding, but snowboarding does need diversity.”
Russell and LJ collaborated with Ikon Pass to speak to the snowboard community, and to encourage others to follow their dreams and always do something that makes them happy. This spring, take a moment to reflect on your own ride and invite someone new into the mountains.