This season, while Kelly Clark, Gretchen Bleiler and Torah Bright were out-spinning, out-teching and out-boosting one another on the pipe circuit, Marie-France Roy was filming with dudes who throw each other through ping pong tables and go on tours with names like "I Heart Box" and "Premature Jibulation."
"That crew knows what snowboarding's all about," contends Marie-France.
Giant cardboard paychecks, retail chain sponsors, mainstream mag covers and agents aside, what is snowboarding all about? Is it about getting first chair after a 2-foot dump? Is it about getting your ass handed to you on an 80-foot tabletop or a double-kinked 30-stair? Is it exploring new places and meeting new people along the way?
"For me, snowboarding is just something that I do. It's a passion. It's something I fell in love with when I was 11. Attitude, money and politics go against what snowboarding's really about. I just love to ridefor myselfto push my own limits," explains Marie-France.
So how'd a 24-year-old French-Canadian she-ripper find herself a welcomed member of a boy's club that works out of a barn in Vermont?
Like most snowboarders, Marie-France Roy didn't always call Rome her crew or Whistler her home. She was raised mainly by her dad, René, and her two older brothers in the small town of Les Éboulement, Quebec. MFR's mom, though still in the picture and living in Quebec City, "went her own way" when Marie-France was 9. René ran his own construction company and, though he still lives in Quebec, he recently built a camper for his van, drove it to Mexico and, at age 60, started to surf. He hasn't been home for six months, and MFR doesn't anticipate his return for a while.
Marie-France's home mountain was Le Massifa 2,500-vertical-foot resort overlooking the Saint Lawrence River, 40 miles northeast of Quebec City. She credits her snowboarding career to her older brothersAlexandre and Jean-Francois ("Yes, we're a hyphenated people").
"When I was 11, I went skiing with my dad, and my brothers were snowboarding. It looked fun, and I thought, 'Dude, what am I doing? That's waaay cooler.' I became the little sister who tagged along. I was shy and quiet, and they always had their guy friends with them. I'm sure they weren't always stoked I was there, but they pushed me."
After finishing high school, MFR moved across the St. Lawrence River, to La Pocatiere, to go to college for Applied Ecology. "As a kid, I was really into naturealways playing with bugs," she says. "College was a really good time in my life. When I'm done snowboarding, I want to work outside and not be in an office doing research."
During college, Marie-France decided to try her hand at a few contests around the Northeast. In 2003, the US Open was the baddest and closest thing going, so she got in the car. "I didn't have any money, I was in school, I was like, f--- itI'm going to drive there, sleep in my car and see what happens. I woke up all wet, but I got best trick in the rail jam and fifth in slopestyle. I was so happy."
ThirtyTwo teammate Leanne Pelosi recalls the contest. "I remember seeing this girl hucking her ass off jumps, trying 900s. I was standing next to Snowboarder Magazine's Pat Bridges and we agreed: This random girl doing 900s would probably do really well in the future. It was MFR."
After finishing school and paying her way through various contests, MFR wondered what to do next. She thought, "Do I just start working, or do I try to snowboard while I'm young? I wasn't trying to go and make it. I thought I could, maybe, but my move to Whistler was just for fun. I never thought anything would happen with it."
She already had the skills; all she needed was a venue to showcase them.
At age 20, everything fell into place. Within a year of moving to Whistler, MFR was speaking English, sponsored and kicking ass on the slopestyle contest circuit. Soon, she had her first summer off of work since she was 11. She was getting paid to travel to Iceland and China to snowboard. She would become the only pro woman on both Rome SDS and Red Bull Snowboarding.
But success in snowboarding doesn't come easy. After you've hustled to achieve that fine balance between talent and self-promotion, you still have to put in work to stay on top. "It's tough sometimes," she says. "It becomes a job. I'm a hard worker, I do my best and I know it's all part of the game, but I've realized I'm not good at contests and it sucks when conditions are sh*tty. It's not like doing landscaping when it's raining. You have to risk getting really hurt on icy, sketchy jumps. I want to be able to ride my whole life."
So what's a pro shred have to do to maintain industry cred? And, what's equally important: how can they ensure a career spanning a decade or two, assuming they stay healthy? Grab your passport and Ambien, because this isn't your average 9-to-5.
MFR's '08/'09 early season began in Whistler, but quickly moved to Montreal for a rail mission with Rome to film for next season's film, No Correct Way. By January, she was in Aspen for Winter X. For the second year in a row, she finished fifth in women's Slopestyle on the Saturday of Winter X. Two days later, 36 inches of fresh snow had fallen in Aspen. MFR was one of the lucky ones whose flight didn't get cancelled that day, so she got to dance down a couple leg-burning 1,700 vertical foot pow lines at Highlands before heading to Vegas for SIA and the TransWorld Reader's Choice Awards.
Before she had to be back in Colorado for the Vail Sessions, she had two days at home. Then it was off to Japan to film for two weeks ("powder paradise on the North Island"), a brief trip to Tahoe for the Vans Cup, a week of filming in Krasnaya Polyana, Russia ("Big mission: visa troubles, missed flights, pissing rain to the top, sick terrain"), Revelstoke for a month with Red Bull and Oakley ("The new resort is going to be amazingkind of sad, actually, that it's going to be so big"), a Red Bull photo shoot at Mt. Seymour, Superpark at Mammoth in early May, a Rome shoot to intro next season's video, then home to Whistler to coach at Camp of Champions in June.
Come summertime, if she hasn't had enough jetlag, she may still scoot down to the southern hemi for a little late season hoorah (not that "seasons" exist for her anymore). "I want to go somewhere that's warm, cheap and has mellow waves to learn to surf better. I think I'll be home for a while, too, so that's good."
For a rider whose bread and butter isn't contests, contests, contests all season long (though she does pretty well at those she chooses to do, despite what she says), MFR has to prove her mettle elsewhere. At this year's TransWorld Awards, she showed she wasn't effing around. Pitted against girls like Torah Bright, Hana Beaman and Jamie Anderson, MFR stole three titlesRider of the Year, Reader's Choice and Video Part of the Year.
"It's easy to say that Marie-France Roy rips it harder than every girl out therewith good style, too," says snowboarder Simon Chamberlain.
It's a sentiment that's common among the dudes, and it's due, in large part, to her video segment in Rome's Any Means. From the video's inception, Team Manager John Cavan wanted MFR to have a part, and he pushed the team's all-dude lineup to help her out. "I never felt left out," she says. "It's awesome to be on that team. They don't care if I win an Open or an X Games. The guys are super cool, they pushed me hard for my part."
ThirtyTwo team manager Eddie Lee was more to the point. "MFR has raw talent, can ride anything and she's always in a good mood," he says. "When I saw her video part, I claimed she was going to win best female part. That's rightclaimed it!"
Pelosi agrees. "It was sick. Props to her for stepping it up and hanging with the Rome boys 24/7. That's a feat in itself. It's hard to film a full video part while you're getting pulled in different directions by sponsors and contests, but Marie-France is determined," she said. She should know: she's the 2005 TransWorld Rider of the Year and founder of all-girl film company Runway Films, whom Marie-France also films with.
So what's next for Marie-France? You won't see her riding pipe any time soon ("I have no interest"), and you won't be riding on her pro model board ("It's never been one of my goals"). If you do catch her between flights, she'll probably be riding pow with her skier roomies or her brothers in the Whistler backcountry, trying to learn 1080s on salty spring slush, or taking a break from the scene, surfing off Vancouver Island, skating or eating the occasional poutine with her "French-sounding" boyfriend.
After that, who knows? She'll be keeping it simple: working in her big garden at her little house, somewhere in BC. Working for the environment. Being happy. Living the dream.
Because after all, she says, "It's only snowboarding."