David Lesh enters the Federal Courthouse in Grand Junction, Colorado. (Photo: (McKenzie Lange/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel))

The Trolling of David Lesh

The outdoor doofus was recently convicted of crimes he bragged about to ‘The New Yorker.’ So what’s an appropriate punishment?


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Two things stuck in my brain after I read The New Yorker’s 2020 profile of David Lesh, the founder of an outdoor apparel company called Virtika and, from the looks of it, a nineties Mountain Dew commercial come to life.

The first was the laundry list of crimes Lesh allegedly committed against protected public lands in Colorado as part of his indomitable pursuits of Instagram notoriety and stickin’ it to The Man.

The story described in great detail an incident in 2019 when Lesh and a buddy ripped their snowmobiles over grassy high tundra on Independence Pass in federal wilderness, where motorized transport is explicitly banned. Before this he had zoomed his snowmobile up the state’s highest peak, 14,439-foot Mount Elbert, which is also protected from motor vehicles. And when Keystone Ski Resort closed its doors early in 2020 due to the pandemic, Lesh vroomed through its terrain park and caught mega air on the snowy jumps, another violation of federal laws.

Lesh kicked Mother Nature in the teeth with the same adrenaline-fueled zeal that powered Patrick Swayze to shred monster waves in Point Break.

Now, the snowmobile stuff was far less gross than some of the other photo-op stunts Lesh apparently pulled. In one photo, Lesh appeared to wade across the delicate Hanging Lake, where swimming and wading are strictly forbidden. In another he appeared to drop trou and poop in the lake adjacent to Colorado’s Maroon Bells. More on this later.

The writer of The New Yorker profile, as well as the authorities, knew about Lesh’s offenses, of course, because he documented every single one them on his Instagram page, along with all manner of bro-brah content, like hucking cliffs and riding a giant Galápagos tortoise like a rodeo steer. Rather than fear punishment, Lesh flaunted his rule breaking for the most 2020 reason ever: to own the haters. His sole motivation was to dunk on those uptight outdoorsy types who, you know, don’t want fragile ecosystems ground into sawdust by snowmobile treads and would like to keep mountain lakes as poop-free as possible.

That’s right, David Lesh just wanted to troll people like you and me, and he did so with glee. The story’s title, of course, is “Trolling the Great Outdoors.”

To be fair, Lesh had another motivator: greed. His antiestablishment, trigger-the-snowflakes marketing strategy was seemingly all part of an evil-genius plan to sell his tacky outerwear to a very specific demographic—and folks, here’s where I’m guessing—of frat-rush rejects and commenters on your uncle Ron’s Facebook posts. In Lesh’s eyes, Virtika was the antidote to the hollow wokeness of the outdoor industry, and he bragged that Virtika sales skyrocketed after his Hanging Lake photo caused a public uproar.

In total, the piece painted a portrait of a spoiled and rich white dude living fast and getting gnarly, all at the expense of our public lands. Throw Marjorie Taylor Greene, a case of Natural Light, and a pair of Pit Vipers into a blender and you’d get David Lesh. The story’s author, Nick Paumgarten, seemed to view Lesh with the sort of whimsical fascination mainstream writers often had for Trumpian behavior in those halcyon days before January 6, 2021. Full disclosure: five minutes into the story and I hated Lesh’s guts.

OK, onto the second thing that stuck with me from The New Yorker story. Eventually, the government caught up with Lesh and charged him with multiple misdemeanors stemming from his snowmobile antics and shenanigans in beautiful lakes. In one scene, Lesh pulled the reporter aside and disclosed his brain-genius plan to beat the rap. He would show the judge that the Hanging Lake and poop pictures were Photoshopped.

Yep, it was a deepfake poop pic all along.

Killer legal defense, right? This is pure Walter Sobchak I’ll-beat-it-out-of-him strategic thinking and proof that, no, David Lesh is not an evil mastermind. In one of the story’s final scenes, Lesh tried to present his poop-Photoshopping defense before a judge, and he biffed it in spectacular and hilarious fashion—bummer, dude! Save yourself the 20 minutes required to read the entire story, and just scroll down to this scene and soak in Lesh’s mighty fail.

Well, legal fails like this one are back in Lesh’s life, and in October he went to court and lost in spectacular fashion once again. On October 22, a court in Grand Junction convicted him of two of the federal charges he faced from his antics, finding him guilty of illegal snowmobiling, and—here’s the poetic justice—of undertaking an unauthorized commercial venture on national forestland. Turns out you can’t promote your niche ski brand by acting like a dimwit on public land, even if your photos are doctored. What a buzzkill.

Lesh must now wait a few weeks before the courts decide on a sentence. According to the Aspen Times, the punishment could be as high as six months of imprisonment and $10,000 in fines. The newspaper’s editorial board noted that it will likely be far less severe. The paper came up with a punishment that I think is appropriate, which is for Lesh to scrub the trailhead toilet where he was caught ripping up the tundra on his snowmobile back in 2019.

My take: Lesh is currently banned from entering national forests, so why not extend that indefinitely? That, and make Lesh work as an unpaid marketing intern for Patagonia or the North Face or any of the other progressive brands that he clowned in his interview. Or, in keeping with the dung theme, put him on poop patrol on the fourteener trails for a few summers.

And please shut down his Instagram.

Of course, that final request is not going to happen, and Lesh’s publicity-seeking behavior is likely to continue. But the next time he breaks the law, he may think twice before bragging about his crimes to whichever magazine writer is bored enough to listen. When making his final ruling, the judge in Lesh’s case noted that convicting him was made far easier by his decision to boast about his crimes in The New Yorker story.

“Defendant assisted the Government in proving his motive, opportunity, and intent when he stated in The New Yorker article, ‘[t]he more hate I got, the more people got behind me, from all over the world. It was an opportunity to reach a whole new group of people—while really solidifying the customer base we already had,’” wrote judge Gordon Gallagher.

I realize this statement is written in the anodyne legalese that judges must employ, but I’m convinced that Judge Gallagher is letting his true feelings shine here.

I think he’s trolling David Lesh, and doing so with glee.

Lead Photo: (McKenzie Lange/Grand Junction Daily Sentinel)

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