Home Interview The BASE Interview #03: Marie-France Roy
Feature type Interview
Read time 20 min read
Published May 21, 2020
Author Hannah Bailey
Marie-France Roy grew up in Quebec, Canada, and since she was 11-years-old snowboarding has been a major part of her life. A love for snowboarding influenced her move to Whistler, British Columbia, and she has been living the life of a professional snowboarder for over a decade. Known for being one of the most stylish and versatile riders in international snowboarding, Roy is also recognised for her humble character and concern for wider issues beyond snowboarding itself, such as environmental activism. When not up a mountain on a snowboard, she is firmly down to earth, living in the eco-friendly house which she built herself on Vancouver Island
If snowboarding can help people fall in love with nature and stand up to protect it, that is a small but important victory
So, what have been the highlights of the past year?
So many, really. Touring with The Radicals, a movie I feature in, going on a beautiful trip to Patagonia, Chile, and we hosted the third Annual West Coast Triple Plank here on Vancouver Island [a snow-skate-surf event]. Through the event we managed to raise $13,000 for salmon stream restoration work. And some great powder days and splitboard adventures around home in British Columbia. I feel very lucky to live the life I lead.
Have you always been engaged with environmental issues?
I have always felt a strong connection to nature since I was a kid. I grew up in the countryside in Quebec, playing outside a lot and going on camping trips with my family. I think that by spending so much time outside in nature when I was young, I became aware of the human impact on the environment at a very young age. It felt apparent to me, even as a kid, that we were destroying a lot of natural habitats at an alarming rate.
How did you get into professional snowboarding?
I was studying Applied Ecology, and completing my final internship at The Vancouver Aquarium. Since I loved snowboarding so much and was already out west, I decided to go spend one season in Whistler working in restaurants to be able to snowboard and experience real West Coast powder before getting a real job in my field. I entered a few contests that winter, and did well, and soon got offered sponsorship that helped me get to bigger contests, and helped pay for travel. I have been snowboarding for a living ever since. It was amazing to suddenly live a dream that I had never expected to come true. It’s great to be able to do something you love, constantly pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, and to achieve goals you never thought you could reach.
Was there any tension between your career as a professional snowboarder and your interest in environmental issues?
Snowboarding entirely changed my life. It didn’t take too long, though, before I started to feel conflicted about my initial aspirations to work in the environmental field. I felt like I couldn’t possibly claim to care about the environment whilst my carbon footprint as a snowboarder was only getting bigger and bigger from traveling all over the place, and from promoting consumerism through my sponsorship deals.
Although some people have much bigger carbon footprints than others, it’s unrealistic to ask everyone to stop travelling and doing what they love for the sake of the environment. Anyone who lives in a developed country and claims to be an ‘environmentalist’ is hypocritical to some degree. The West, China and India are all huge consumers of fossil fuels. So instead of wasting our time and energy pointing the finger at who is more guilty than others, we need to come together and work on finding solutions before it is too late. This is what inspired me to produce The Little Things movie in 2014, and I have been trying my best to use snowboarding as a messenger for environmental activism ever since. You should fight to protect something you love. If snowboarding can help people fall in love with nature and stand up to protect it, that is a small but important victory to me.
To you personally, how obvious is human impact on the environment on a local and global scale?
If someone pays the slightest attention to their surroundings – whether a skier, snowboarder, or any adventure sports enthusiast – you can see the devastation everywhere. I personally don’t need a scientist to prove to me that we are having a massive impact on the environment, it is obvious all over the globe. But the science has been essential to prove it on paper and to give us predictions on what types of consequences we are heading towards worldwide and how it will affect us. It is already happening, and it will unfortunately only get exponentially worse if we don’t immediately commit to some drastic changes towards a more sustainable future. These next few years and decades are really are going to be crucial in determining what our future will look like.
Climate change and environmental destruction is arguably the most important issue that humanity is facing today. It affects everything. And it affects everyone on the planet. To say that I am worried for the future of snowboarding and the snowsports industry is an understatement. If we keep going at this rate, there will be much bigger issues to worry about than not being able to snowboard, which is why I think it is important to stand up and do something now.
What steps do you take personally to reduce your carbon footprint?
There are so many steps everyone can take and the answer will be different for everyone. I’ve tried many different things, and I’m learning and trying to do what I can. I built my small cob home out of as many natural or recycled materials as possible, I organise events such as The Triple Plank to raise environmental awareness and funds. I am on the board for Protect Our Winters Canada, for which I do speaking events. I put solar panels on my house, I produce compost. I even sometimes take my friends and local businesses compost! I buy carbon offsets for my flights but also for my whole yearly carbon footprint (including power, food, car, heating, etc).
I also try to reduce the amount of travelling I do. I got rid of my snowmobile and truck, and committed to do more foot-powered splitboarding. I make sure my funds are invested in ethical companies, and I volunteer for beach clean ups. I am starting to make my own cooking gas at home from food waste. I still sometimes forget to turn the lights off, and I don’t have an electric car yet. I still get on snowmobiles and helicopters to do my job, and if my dad – who I see about once a year – grills a steak for me, I will eat it! But I am proud of the several changes I have been able to make. It’s not about being perfect, it’s about being conscious, and reducing our carbon footprint in whatever small ways we can.
What should the snowsports industry do to try to address environmental issues?
I think the gears are turning in the right direction. If you’re a outdoor industry professional – an athlete, guide, or part of the industry itself – you should be on the frontline even more; our livelihoods depend directly on an industry that relies on stable climate, good air quality, protecting our public lands for recreation, and so on. To be honest, I think it is unacceptable for any company involved in the outdoor industry not to attempt to offset its own carbon consumption. That is why we must invest our money in the ones that do work on bold and innovative initiatives.
I don’t need a scientist to prove to me that we are having a massive impact on the environment
What are the main ways in which the snowsports industry can improve its environmental standards?
I tell everyone in the industry to look at their current situation: what are you passionate about, or what issue concerns you the most? What skills and resources do you have? I am a bit jealous of climbers, as they don’t require as many gas guzzling tools as skiers and snowboarders often do to access the mountains. But one of the main reasons I speak up is to change that. Electric helicopters are now in development, and I will be testing new electric snowmobiles made in Canada this winter.
However, electric vehicles have a great deal of captured carbon from their manufacturing processes, particularly the batteries, and they will only be truly ‘zero-emission’ vehicles when the electricity they are powered by comes entirely from renewable energy. That’s another important thing to consider. But humans are very smart. We can do anything we really want to: it is a shame , that instead of using foresight, we often only commit to change once we are faced with absolute disaster. Technological solutions to the environmental problems caused by industrialisation are surely possible though, if there’s a collective desire to change.
Why is the move towards producing outdoor clothing with recycled materials important?
We live with the illusion that waste magically disappears. Recycling still isn’t as efficient as it could be. Waste material is a gold mine, and needs to be used as a resource. To make products from waste saves it from going into landfills, and reduces the need to extract new resources. This should be prioritised as the norm whenever possible across all industries. Many argue that green initiatives are too expensive, and obviously the economics of the green revolution are very complex. Yet green initiatives will greatly increase our quality of life in the future, in my view.
What’s up next for you?
I have some Protect Our Winters school presentations coming up in Quebec soon, I am excited for an upcoming surf road trip from British Columbia to Baja, Mexico this fall, and I am looking forward to another winter here in B.C. There will be splitboarding adventures, some video projects, gear testing, events, and working with Protect Our Winters. Lots of good stuff!
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