While there’s no formula for success when it comes to going pro, following the competition route does seem to give aspiring riders a greater chance of making it. Big-mountain rider Marie-France learnt this from her own experience. “Without contest visibility, it’s so hard. You have to put in years to convince film crews you’re good enough to go out with them. Crews are tight. They can’t really bring you in unless your sponsors have paid a lot of money for you to be there.”
Marie-France spent years riding in local competitions in her home province of Québec. “I loved snowboarding but I never thought I was good enough to make it my career.” Like Robin, Marie-France moved to Whistler after she finished education. “I thought I’m young, I should go to Whistler now before I get a real job and live out my youth.” However, her skills in the park soon caught the attention of Oakley, Red Bull and Rome.
I thought I’m young, I should go to Whistler now before I get a real job and live out my youth.
After securing sponsorship, Marie-France went on to dominate the slopestyle scene, competing in the Burton US Open, Abominable Snow Jam and X-Games, while simultaneously pushing boundaries in backcountry filmmaking. It was Rome that introduced her to this alternative side to snowboarding. “Rome were sweet. They said right away they wanted me to have a full part. They told the guys, ‘Marie’s going to have a full part too. She’s just as important as you, so help each other out here.’ They involved me fully, even though I was a girl. Not many brands would do that.” Ten years in and she’s won numerous accolades including Transworld Snowboarding’s Woman Rider of the Year, Women’s Reader’s Choice, and Women’s Video Part of the Year for her freeriding skills.
Keeping a good attitude is so important in snowboarding. If you’re positive, patient and work hard enough, it will eventually pay off.
To an outsider, it may seem like a relatively clear road to success but none of this came without Marie-France putting in years of determination and personal investment. “I worked hard, saved up my money for winter and went riding with friends. You end up meeting people that way.” She empathises with women who are pushing their riding but naturally feel frustrated with their lack of progress. Without connections, it’s particularly challenging for unsigned riders to get their first break in the backcountry film industry. “It’s hard because you feel like you’re not really getting the support you deserve. But I’ve learnt it’s about being appreciative of what you have. Keeping a good attitude is so important in snowboarding. If you’re positive, patient and work hard enough, it will eventually pay off.” Even rippers like Jess Kimura faced huge setbacks in their early careers. At 29 years old, Jess once told Marie-France that she thought she was just too old to make it. “She felt she had to lie about her age,” says Marie-France. “But I feel age isn’t as important for women as it is for men. If you’re riding is there, it doesn’t matter how old you are, you should still get the support.”
Given that she can put down 900s on giant park kickers as well as send it off gnarly backcountry drops, it’s clear Marie-France could have a stellar career pursuing either discipline. But the Québec native admits she struggled filming full-time while also trying to perform her best at slopestyle contests. “I’d go to contests after a week of filming and all the other girls were hitting huge park jumps or filming rails. I just wasn’t prepared at all. It sucked.”
I’d go to contests after a week of filming and all the other girls were hitting huge park jumps or filming rails. I just wasn’t prepared at all. It sucked.
She gives her sponsors credit for letting her ride the terrain she wanted to. “At one point when I started filming for Absinthe, I asked Oakley if it was OK to skip a contest because it was taking away time from filming. They said as long as I got a good segment and focused on what I really wanted to do, I had their support.”
Even with a string of full parts under her belt with Rome and Absinthe, people still ask why she didn’t put herself forward for the Winter Olympics in 2014. “Why would I want to put myself back into a series of contests to get points, then qualify?” She sighs. “It would just be against everything I’ve loved about snowboarding for the past few years. Come February I’m sure a small part of me will wish I was there, but it wouldn’t really be me following my heart.”
I love freeriding because it’s never a set course. Filming is different. You have to wait for the good weather but you also get to ride some of the best pow ever.
So what was it about freeriding that really got under her skin? “I love freeriding because it’s never a set course. When you’re competing, it can be icy, shitty weather and you still have to perform. Filming is different. You have to wait for the good weather but you also get to ride some of the best pow ever. I still love riding park and learning new tricks, but I also enjoy the creativity involved in riding backcountry. When you splitboard, it’s even more quiet than normal. There aren’t a lot of people around. You can reconnect with nature. You get a similar connection in a resort, but backcountry is just the ultimate, you know?” Marie-France is now midway through a two-year film movie project called The Little Things. It focuses on inspirational snowboarders who carry a passion for sustainability and the environment with parts from the likes of Jeremy Jones, Nicolas Müller, Gretchen Bleiler, Mike Basich and Meghann O’Brien.