TETON GRAVITY RESEARCH / Written by MacKenzie Ryan
Marie-France Roy is changing the way the world looks at women's snowboarding. Like many of the stars of the upcoming all-female shred flick, Full Moon Film, Roy calls Whistler home and spends many of her days throwing huge spins off huge features in the BC backcountry. Now she opens up about how she's progressing her backcountry freestyle prowess - and how you can too.
How do you line up or size up a hit? How does it speak to you and how do you decide what you'll throw off it?
"Lining up a hit and assessing the size properly is so important and something I still learn and struggle with all the time. That's the beauty of backcountry riding though! Every feature is so different and ever-changing. So it takes time and experience to figure it all out, avoid injuries, and simply to be able to ride them properly without tumbling down the whole landing.
The number one rule I learned is that if you can, unless it's a line or a fully natural hit, go scope out your landing from the top. The more angles you scope it from, the better. But scoping from the top is the most important.
A feature can look so sweet and doable from the bottom or side, and then you get up there and realize the landing is way too flat or doesn't line you up properly from the run-in to the landing.
This is why I hold so much respect for the guys who ride natural lines and don't get tricky in them every time. They don't actually get to scope at the top of their hits first, and that takes not only balls, but way more skill. So start by scoping your hits first for a long time, and slowly after a while, you can try a few natural hits that you feel confident on."
Can you talk about what it's like to throw off cliffs, cornices, wind lips, whatever else, respectively? This is, what's your trick preference for each?
"It all depends. Sometimes, your run in will come from a certain direction where it would be more natural to spin either backside or frontside. Sometimes, if there are trees close to your landing, you may want to do a trick you feel confident you can land first.
If the landing is really long and steep you may want to consider that if you fall, you will tumble for a while, too. Are there rocks in the landing? Where is your safest exit if something was to slide? All stuff to consider.
Also some features like cornices and some cliffs tend to be more overhanging than you think, therefore sending you way further than you expected. So it's hard to decide what trick you want to do before you take in all these factors I find. Everyone has their personal taste and inspiration of tricks they want to do on certain features too which is why the backcountry is so amazing. It allows for so much creativity!"
Can you walk the reader through your ideal feature: Run-in, approach, take-off, landing, and run-out?
"I love so many different aspects of the backcountry. I still have so much to learn, but I guess the perfect feature is a run that isn't so scary but instead offers a lot of cool, fun features to hit where you can feel confident to ride faster and charge harder. That's when the flow is the best and you get to progress, I find.
This year I was in Haines for my first time. It was all so new and intimidating that all I wanted to do was get to the bottom in one piece.
Slowly, as you get more comfortable of the conditions and terrain, you can work your way up, but I always take the safer approach first. I don't want to put myself or my crew in avoidable dangerous situations, either. Especially when the avalanche danger is high, you have to know when to make that call and walk away."
Can you talk about different places you love and the types of cliffs/natural hits characteristic of each place?
"One of my favorite places on Earth to ride is BC because the climate and the snow are more humid, and it creates awesome features like pillows and the gaps and rocks get covered way better than in dryer, colder climates. It also brings the avalanche risk down considerably. I love the Whistler backcountry because it offers a bit of everything. You can find the best jump spots, sweet pillow lines and freeride lines that look pretty much as gnarly as AK. We truly have the best playground and that's why it brings so many amazing riders."
Can you provide tips for a reader who wants to learn to spin and grab off natural hits?
"I think that it's all about progressing your way up. Start on mellower slopes where there are no dangers, and slowly try to go bigger, and eventually try smaller spins.
Each slope and feature is different though, so with time and practive, you will get better at reading the terrain. That's half the battle.
Even on a powder day at the resort is a great place to start practicing spinning off sidehits that have no run-ins or that are buried in pow. It's the best practice!"