words :: Feet Banks.
Exhibit A: Roots
She’s a bit younger than most “Mountain Lifers” but the fact that Lisa Lefroy is not-so-discreetly smoking pot during the phone interview for this very article is the first argument for her inclusion to the club. “*Cough cough* Sorry,” she sputters. “*Cough*, that’s not the COVID, I swear.”
Not everyone would be so cavalier when recounting their life story to a magazine published out of their own hometown, where their parents, clients, peers and cohorts will undoubtedly read it. Interviews can be a bit invasive, there’s always the fear you’ll say the wrong thing or come across the wrong way—a Mountain Life interview is big deal! Not everyone would be so relaxed…
But after a lifetime in the Sea to Sky Corridor as an athletic and cultural pioneer, a powerhouse event manager, a business owner, and one of the happiest people to ever ride a mountain bike, Lefroy (as she’s known) is a relaxed media veteran with near-bulletproof street cred. And besides, her parents met in Whistler in 1972… a little pot is nothing new.
“My mom came from Ontario to visit her sister who was living in Alta Vista with a bunch of ski bums,” Lefroy says. “And one of those bums was my dad. They went to a party at Dusty’s, hit it off, and the rest is one of those awesome Whistler stories—they got married, lived in a bus, my dad tuned skis and my mom was a liftie at Creekside. “
The Lefroy family eventually ended up in Tsawwassen and grew to include three children, but they kept a cabin in Whistler for holidays and weekends. “We went every single weekend without fail,” says Lefroy, who grew up racing (“not very well!”) for the Blackcomb Ski Club. “I remember wanting to hang out with my friends from school, but that wasn’t an option. We were going to Whistler.”
In the mid-90s, the family moved back full time.
“I was 18, so I got kicked out of the house pretty quick. I was snowboarding, dating a pro snowboarder, working as a shooter girl, and going to Food Plus for late-night snacks. I rode in a few contests and boardercross, that lifestyle was so cool at the time.”
In those days, snowboarding’s mix of fresh energy, bad attitude and incredible riding was revolutionizing Whistler. Lefroy’s friends were making movies, magazines were riddled with shots from her hometown, and Whistler nightclubs were suddenly playing hip hop and rave music while selling two-dollar drinks all night long. An entirely new facet of winter sport culture incubated, then exploded.
Which is right around the time Lefroy discovered mountain biking.
Exhibit B: Love Hurts
“I’ve broken both collar bones,” says Lefroy, “and taken a lot of stitches. I broke my leg in three places once, then again because I was 20 years old and I sawed my cast off way too early. The third time I broke that leg, in the same three places, my doctor confiscated my snowboard and kept it in his office for six months. That worked.” There’s also that time in Vietnam when she peeled back a quarter of her skull and severed all three arteries in her forehead. “I left the country with 13 staples and no feeling in my forehead. My neurologist says he’s surprised I didn’t die. But that was a moped accident, so that doesn’t count.”
Exhibit C: The Dirty Girls
“Katrina and I were tired of wearing dudes’ clothes for photo shoots and we thought—hey maybe we should get sponsored so we can have clothes that fit. We put together a poster of ourselves after a day in the bike park—covered in mud like always—and called ourselves ‘The Dirty Girls’, because Richie always used to call us that.” With photos of Lefroy and Katrina Strand’s undeniable riding skills (plus Richie Schley’s characteristically marketable tagline), The Dirty Girls brochure shot into the sausage-party world of freeride mountain biking like a Roman candle.
“The pro dudes we rode with helped make sure companies noticed us, and we started getting stuff in the mail—clothes, shocks, then bikes,” Lefroy says. “Then all our mechanical needs started getting covered so we rode more, submitted videos and entered comps. NSMB.com hosted the Race Face Ultimate Freeride Challenge video contest and Katrina and I were the only females to ever make the finals in the five years of the event. That got us good coverage.”
After years honing their skills, taking their hits, and riding as some of the only women surrounded by dudes, The Dirty Girls carved out a niche in the rapidly evolving mountain bike industry.
“There were women on the racing side, but it was still kind of stiff and masculine,” Lefroy says. “We were just girls who wanted to ride bikes. Our tent when we camped at competitions was called the Babe Bungalow, it was huge so we could sleep with our bikes. We didn’t want to be called tomboys. I never understood the term—just ‘cause I am good at sports why do I need the word ‘boy’ in my name?”
Such sentiments proved influential when, while riding the Whistler Mountain Bike Park with Strand and the owner of Marzocchi, a suspension manufacturer and industry powerhouse, Lefroy suggested some marketing upgrades to the company’s image.
“At the time, they were using porn stars in their ads,” Lefroy says, “and I was making fun of him for selling bike shocks by putting them in between boobs. He listened and asked what he should do. I suggested—use us! And he said okay. It was a conversation on a chairlift… but it happened.”
A Blake Jorgenson photoshoot later, and the market responded. Apparently, an entire segment of the earth’s population had been waiting for a freeride mountain bike ad campaign featuring women actually mountain biking. “Next thing you know, we are flying to Germany, Vegas—all the trade shows, to sign posters. Mothers kept coming to the table with their daughters saying what a positive influence we were, or how they hadn’t wanted to let their girls mountain bike until they saw us. Porn stars will never go away, but it was time for biking to move on.”
Exhibit D: The Pivot
Lefroy was finishing her Recreation Management program at North Vancouver’s Capilano College when she fell in love with a professional mountain biker and moved to Europe. “I was off—22 years old and living in Andorra: skiing all winter, biking all summer and riding for the Commencal pro team doing mass start long distance downhills. It was awesome—elbows up, my kind of riding—and I was winning.”
In Andorra, Lefroy and her boyfriend started a business managing athletes, which led to event endorsements, which led to a massive, multisport event in Panama. “That was totally the ‘fake it ‘til you make it’ tactic,” Lefroy says. “I had no idea what I was doing, just figuring it out as I went. I brought down 23 riders, skateboarders, filmers and photographers and had a local construction crew in Panama City building a slopestyle course I’d sketched out. I did every other job myself because I was afraid of coming in with too-high a budget.”
It was a massive success, leading to more events (including, reteamed with Strand, the first WomenzWorx at Crankworx Whistler) and a move home to Squamish in 2007—just in time to get hired as production manager at the Whistler Medals Plaza during the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. “The woman above me was from New York, she’d been the executive producer for Radio City Music Hall. I was working with the bigwigs, in the town I grew up in, for an event it was destined to host. It was the hardest I’d ever worked but I loved every second.”
As she dove into event production, Lefroy eased her grip on the mountain bike industry, stepping back to focus on a “real” career and riding bikes just for fun. But when her main gig as operations manager for the annual Squamish Valley Music Festival evaporated with that event’s cancellation in 2016, Lisa decided to return to her roots.
“I bought five bikes and decided to rent them out,” she says. “My niche was to drop them off—at the trailhead, the hotel, anywhere—and pick them up at the end of the day. I told all my friends in the bike shops and figured, if it didn’t work out, I’d sell the bikes at the end of the year.”
But it did work, and Bikinginsquamish.com was born just as the town matured into a biking destination in its own right, with plenty of fresh-faced mountain bikers more than happy to forgo the challenge of fitting four bikes into a hatchback. Having a friendly face at the trailhead proved an added bonus and warm reviews rolled in. Lefroy bought more bikes, doubling her fleet from summer to summer.
“I have all the bikes: e-bikes, kid’s bikes, hardtail, everything. It’s crazy how many people here rent bikes for a week and stay in an Airbnb—when I ask when they are going to Whistler… they aren’t. They came just for Squamish. That’s never happened in my life—people used to just stop here for McNuggets. Now, I meet riders at the end of the day and their eyes are so wide and they’re blown away, telling me it really is as good as everyone says.”
In spring 2019, COVID-19 decimated tourism across British Columbia. But as things opened up, the demand for bikes began outpacing the disrupted supply chains. With gyms, pools and fitness classes still closed, people saw mountain biking as a safe option for fitness, with a bonus bit of fresh air and fun. Lefroy’s one-on-one delivery model fit the new distancing and safety precautions perfectly.
“I used to have a high-five rule, where everyone high-fives right before they head out on my bikes,” she says. “Obviously that’s on hold these days, but otherwise, people seem to appreciate getting their bikes delivered, sterilized, to the trailhead and dealt with at the end. I enforce a six-foot rule, I put the bike on the ground and walk away, you come in and pick it up. It’s simple and it works.”
The added bonus is Lefroy is back in the saddle, and the industry she loves, and helped establish, is once again part of her daily life. And so are the mountains of her youth.
“I love the terrain here, it’s unrivalled. I love the people and the sense of community and that new people want to come to this area and explore. I’m supportive of anyone getting outside more, and I’m supportive of everyone being nice to each other. I stop and say hi if people look lost. My friends laugh and call me ‘the happiest person on a bike,’ but I feel like I’ve been lucky and this has been a great life and those kinds of things are reciprocal. If you are nice and pleasant to be around, good things will happen to you. Case closed.”
bikinginsquamish.com has a sister coming this summer: bikinginwhistler.com
Article excerpted from Mountain Life Coast Mountains Winter/Spring ’21.