Marie-France Roy on Discovering Wild Places and a More Meaningful Approach to Snowboarding

For Marie-France Roy “adventure is where the unexpected lives.” After wrapping the ultra-successful “The Little Things” movie, MFR has been on a non-stop quest to explore wild places.

“I’m still unsure if fear of routine or thirst for new landscapes and cultures are the true culprits, but I have always felt this calling for situations that naturally bring unpredictable and ever-changing discoveries, no matter how small or simple they can be,” she says. “Most of all, my favourite journeys will always remain the ones spent outside in wilderness, where you feel fully submerged and connected with the beauty of the Earth.”


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For her most recent project, MFR has been working with Brian Hockenstein on “The Radicals” movie, and splitting her time between the coast mountains and her cob home in Ucluelet on Vancouver Island. We caught up with MFR to chat about the wild places, her adventures and her need to be involved in meaningful projects. —Brian Peech



Are you back home in Ucluelet these days?
Ukie is my home base. I got this little piece of land here about nine years ago. That’s where I’ve built my cobb house made out of dirt. It’s sweet. I was really attracted to the lifestyle here: the surf, the wildlife, the quietness. It’s a nice balance between the mountains and the ocean and I’ve always wanted that. It’s a good community, really nice people, good vibes.

How was your winter this year?
It was great. I was based out of Pemberton; it was a refreshing experience to be based out of Pemby. I was working on some trips and events with Patagonia, and I’ve been working with Arbor as well on a little project. But the main project I’ve been working on is my friend Brian Hockenstein’s movie called “The Radicals”.


Photo: Sean Black/Arbor Snowboards

Tell us a bit about that project.
It’s been super fun and meaningful. It feels rewarding to cover these environmental and cultural stories, and hopefully make an impact. There’s a lot stuff going on in B.C. that a lot of people aren’t aware of. I think in communities where we are connected to the outdoors and to the value of nature and the importance of protecting it, most people are educated and care a lot. But I do feel there are a lot of places that maybe don’t have the same attachment to the outdoors and nature, so it may be a bit harder for them to understand.

How important is it to you that there is a deeper significance than just highlight reel snowboarding in the projects you take on?
I’ve been snowboarding for a long time, and done it for a living for over 12 years. While it’s great to be a part of the progression of snowboarding, and it’s great to achieve your goals and go after your dreams, after a while I felt like I needed to give back. I studied ecology when I was in college, and thought that’s what I would do for a living. So, I wanted to use snowboarding to give back to something I care about, and for me that’s definitely the environment. I think that’s the most urgent issue that affects us all. There are tons of issues, but I feel it’s the biggest challenge we’re facing that affects all of humanity. I feel lucky to have support from sponsors that believe in that also, and see the value in creating content that can help bring awareness. To me, at this point in my life, that is much more rewarding than just a video part.


“While it’s great to be a part of the progression of snowboarding, and it’s great to achieve your goals and go after your dreams, after a while I felt like I needed to give back.”


What was rewarding about filming for “The Radicals”?
So much. I mean, I was with them in Haida Gwaii, and most of the segment about Meghann O’Brien and her art. It was so cool for her to finish the piece she’s been working on for so long while we were with her, and we celebrated that with the people who taught her how to weave, the elders in her community. That was really powerful. I’d never been to Haida Gwaii, and it’s such a beautiful, magical place. We also went to the Bridge River around Lillooet, and talked scientists and biologists and the Bridge River Indian Band, getting their stories and seeing how they’ve taken on restorations with their own hands. They’re basically fixing the damage from BC Hydro and the dams. They are trying to work it out.

What kind of adventures do you have planned now that you’re not snowboarding.
I’ll be in Ucluelet, getting my garden going, getting the chickens going. Unfortunately, I lost my chickens to a pine marten last fall, so I’m excited to get some new chicks. I think I’m still going to have a pretty sweet trip in May or June with Patagonia; we’re going to splitboard up Mount Olympus is Washington. I think we’re going to talk about the Elwa River and how they tore the dam down over there. My friend Kale is also an ambassador for Patagonia, and he works as a hydrologist on the Elwa, so it’s going to be interesting to see the after effects of the removal of the dam and the fish populations that have come back. It’s going to be a long, long, walk, so I don’t know if I’m going to be able to make it [laughs]. But I will try my best.


Photo: Sean Black/Arbor Snowboards

Sounds like a good trip.
Then we also have the West Coast Triple Plank, which is a snow/skate/surf event that my friend Alicia Gilmour and I started last year. It’s a fundraiser for the Central Westcoast Forest Society, which is a restoration group on Vancouver Island that does amazing work—grassroots, hands-on, fixing habitat for salmon in the rivers. They get the chainsaws out; they bring in the gravel; it’s crazy, and most of them are women, too. It’s really fun and basically just an excuse to snowboard, skate and surf in one weekend.

So, what you’re telling me is there really isn’t an off-season.
Oh, there is an off season; my whole life is a vacation. I mean, everything that I do is something that I love. It’s busy, but I can’t complain. I love all the seasons. I love being on the island because it gets me excited for the winter, and the spring always gets me excited, because I get to go surfing. It’s nice to have that balance.



Where do you think your passion for sustainable living comes from?
Maybe it’s because I grew up in the country. My dad bought this piece of land when he was younger. It was beautiful, in the forest, there were lakes and I spent my days fishing in the creeks with a rod made from a stick. I just loved being outside. And I’ve always been fascinated with ecosystems. I feel like I knew what pollution was before I even knew the word. I could see it even as a kid. By the main road there was a lot of litter, and I could see how it would affect the ponds nearby, and how there wasn’t much life in them compared to the other little ponds. It sounds silly, but I could just see the effects of human activity on the natural world at a very young age. I’ve always been passionate about the environment, and wanted to work in that field. That’s why I went to school for it. But I decided to take a fun year in Whistler after college, before I became an adult. I’m really doing a good job with that, aren’t I? I guess snowboarding got in the way.

But you are able to get a positive message out there through snowboarding.
I try my best to be involved in projects that make a difference, and align myself with brands that are doing things the right way when it comes to sustainability. It’s a group effort, and I often feel that I’m not doing enough. I feel super guilty and I wish I could do more. Things are changing in the right direction slowly, but there’s just so much that needs to be done.


Photo: Sean Black/Arbor Snowboards

How do you stay positive when it’s all so overwhelming?
For me the hardest thing is the haters. What we’re facing with the environment is already such a big challenge, and so overwhelming and sad when you look at all that’s happening in the world right now. And I care so much. I try to raise money and try to help, and then there are people who will call you out, shut you down, criticize your footprint and try to take your credibility away. For me, that’s the hardest part. Because nobody’s perfect, and we’re all guilty from the time we’re born, to be honest. Whether you wanted it or not, you had a diaper put on you that was made from oil. You can always find something to blame someone about. But this criticizing and finger pointing is really slowing down the process of evolution, because we’re like sheep, one comment can influence hundreds of people, and can make those working to find solutions look bad. And that can stop other people who care about the environment from speaking up, because they don’t want to get thrown under the bus.

In the greater athlete community, is there a reluctance to speak out on the topic?
Oh, absolutely. I would say the majority of people in the snow sport world believes in climate change and that the environment is a big priority. But I’m sure they’ll admit to you that they don’t want to talk about it publicly because of the critics. I honestly don’t speak up nearly as much as I would like to, and it’s really sad to admit that. I’m not strong enough to handle people’s criticism. It’s human nature. And a lot of people are just surviving; they’re barely getting by, and don’t have the extra money to donate, or extra time to pay attention to this stuff. We live in such a crazy consumer world right now; it’s a rat race. We’re lucky if we have time to put into a cause. That’s why I feel like it’s my duty almost—I have this amazing life and career, and in my free time I get to enjoy these beautiful places—so, to me I’d feel guilty to not do anything about it. I feel guilty for everything [laughs].


Photo: Sean Black/Arbor Snowboards

Guilt isn’t the most positive emotion.
It’s true. I do think people need to stop feeling guilty for their footprint. We all want our footprint to be smaller. I think we need to focus on solutions instead of pointing the finger at each other, comparing each other. Especially at the individual level. The big changes will happen at the political and corporate level, but in order for that to happen, we do need the individuals on the same page. It’s not going to happen until people all agree that the environment is the most important thing right now. We all want to live in harmony and give our kids a good quality of life. We want jobs and for people to be able to afford a house. It’s not about being against development and industry; it’s all about how we do it. We are so smart, but we’re just putting the money in the wrong places.

You’ve been on some pretty big expeditions, but what are some of the smaller adventures you’ve been on lately?
Oh, there are tons. This year, I made a point to stay in B.C. more, because it really is one of the best places on earth, and it does reduce my impact more than getting a flight to Chamonix. I will still do that once in a while, but over the last few years, I’ve loved being close to home. I love the small adventures. In B.C. we have the best snow and terrain in the world. This year we did a few trips to the Duffy Lake cabin, and explored around Bralorne. We did use snowmobiles a few times, for sure, but I’ve been doing a lot more splitboarding in the last few years. I don’t have anything against snowmobile or trucks; it’s a tool to get the job done. But for me I just felt touring and going about all these adventures differently is a better opportunity for me. It’s been a way for me to explore other opportunities that mean more to me than going out on a sled to film video parts. There’s more to life than that.


Photo: Sean Black/Arbor Snowboards

You said once that “adventure is where the unexpected lives.” Can you elaborate on what adventure means to you?
I personally prefer going to new places, or riding a new zone. Even though the zones I know already are so good, with perfect features and snow, I just love the unknown. I’m not a fan of routine, although sometimes I know it’s healthy. I just love discovering new places, new landscapes, new environments. I mean you can walk behind anyone’s house in Pemberton and be in this amazing forest, or by a creek where you might see a cougar. It’s amazing and I feel that not everyone has access to that. I just love exploring and going somewhere I don’t know. It’s putting yourself outside of your comfort zone. There’s a fear, but when you look backafter going through something you weren’t initially comfortable with, it’s so rewarding.



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