I’ve said it before. And I’ll say it again. Whistler women kick ass. Bold, confident, intelligent, funny — and totally unconcerned with societal expectations of female behaviour — the women of Whistler have always managed to march to the beat of their own drummers.
No matter that most of the men in this valley don’t get it. No matter that mainstream media still struggle with the concept. There is an estrogen-fuelled energy in Sea-to-Sky country that defies all explanations. And as the French say: Vive la difference!
Take the story of Lisa Lefroy. I mean, how many young women would willingly choose a tag like “The Dirty Girls” and proceed to promote herself and a friend to the mountain biking industry as “two fun-loving girls who love to ride and love to have a good time” (and do it successfully!)? How many females would accept the challenge of travelling to Central America to develop a mountain-bike-and-skateboard show with virtually no event management experience (and still do it successfully!)? Finally, how many could manage to go shopping for their own home before they turned 30 (and again, do it successfully)?
While she’s definitely raised the performance bar for those who choose to follow in her footsteps, Lisa’s story is not all that different from a lot of other young women who learned to ski and ride on the slopes of Whistler-Blackcomb. “I grew up in Tsawwassen,” says the 29 year old, “but Whistler was definitely the family’s home-away-from-home.” She laughs. “My parents were part of the old-school ski network here,” she adds. “In fact, Whistler is where my mom and dad first met…”
Introduced to skiing at the age of two, Lisa’s mountain credentials are gold-plated. “My godfather is (legendary national ski team coach) Glen Wurtele and my “uncles” were people like Dave Murray and YP (W/B event guru Peter Young). “Skiing was always a reason to leave the town that I grew up in.” she says. “But as a teenager, I started resisting it. I didn’t want to go to Whistler anymore. I wanted to stay in town and hang out with my friends.”
A bit of a rebel — OK, maybe more than just a “bit” — Lisa admits the lifestyle she was leading in Tsawwassen wasn’t all that healthy. “A lot of the kids I hung out with were bad apples,” she explains. “And I was right in there with ’em. You know — doing the full suburban thing. Hanging out with rich little white boys driving their low-riders that their dads had bought them…”
When Lisa turned 18, her parents decided to move the family full-time to Whistler. “It was a totally positive move,” she says. “We left a place where kids were openly hostile to adults — it was really an Us-and-Them thing — to come to a place where different generations mix it up all the time. I mean, if you meet your dad on the hill, you’re not going to ignore him. You’re probably going to go for a run with him.” Another happy laugh. “Honestly — it affected our family in such a healthy way. We started getting along so well. After a few months here, my dad told us: ‘We should have done this five years ago!’”
While her brother and sister became part of the first graduating class at the new high school, Lisa got a job at the IGA — in the bakery department. “It was great. I used to work with a cookie in my pocket all the time.” A knowing grin. “But seriously — the staff was really fun there. It was a totally positive experience.”
Like so many other kids in her generation, Lisa wasn’t just a “skier”. “I got turned on to riding when my J2 ski coach decided to take us all on a snowboarding lesson,” she explains. “My parents were sitting at Merlin’s that day. After my lesson, I came up to them and said: ‘I’m selling all my ski gear. This is the sport for me.’”
But though snowboarding became her passion, it was another sport that really opened her eyes to the wider world. One of only a handful of young women to immerse herself in the wild and crazy world of freeride mountain biking — “we got into it at a time when there were no other girls doing what we were doing,” she says. “So we’d go out riding with guys like Ritchie Schley and Brett Tippie” — Lisa got a terrific response from the industry when she and Kterina Strand started promoting themselves as “The Dirty Girls”. “It’s funny, you know,” she says. “We now have longstanding relationships with companies that, literally, saw us grow up. So now they’re looking to us as ‘experts’ who can help them develop the women’s freeriding market.” She smiles. “And that’s pretty cool…”
In the summer of 2002, Lisa met a young French rider at Whistler by the name of Cedric Gracia. One of the biggest names in mountain biking, Gracia was obviously intrigued by this Coast Mountain warrior girl. “We pretty much hit it off right from the beginning,” says Lisa. “We just seemed to get along really well.”
There was more to it than that though. “Cedric had never had a girlfriend before who could chase him down the mountain,” she admits. “I think I really kept him on his toes.”
It must have been one heck of a strong connection for both. For two weeks later, Lisa had jumped on a plane and was headed to Europe…
For the next few years, Lisa moved back and forth between Andorra (where she and Cedric set up house) and Whistler. “It’s funny how small the world becomes when you live out of a suitcase,” she says. “Suddenly everywhere is just a plane ride away.”
It was while living in Andorra that she and Gracia set up a small athlete and event management company. During a promotional tour of Panama in 2004, Cedric managed to convince his hosts to put on a mountain biking show to go along with a big music festival they were promoting. “So they called me up and asked if I would be interested in managing that part of the show,” says Lisa. “And I said: ‘No problem. I do this all the time’ Meanwhile, I’d never put on a show in my life!”
No matter. Three weeks later, Lisa was boarding a plane to Panama with a power point presentation and a proposal for a fast-moving bike and skateboard show. “So there I was,” she says, “a blonde, 26-year-old girl sitting in a boardroom with 12 Panamanian businessmen all speaking Spanish. I admit it — I was definitely sweating …”
The festival promoters must have liked what she had to say. Less than a month after her meeting, she got the contract — and the budget she asked for. “It turned out to be quite a show,” she says. “I brought 25 guys down with me — 13 bikers, five skateboarders, two photographers, five builders — and a whole film crew. And we crushed it!” She pauses for a moment. “You know, you forget sometimes that people in other countries don’t always get to see these kinds of things. I mean, if you’re in California or B.C., watching somebody go upside down on a bike is no big thing. But in a place like Panama — well, let’s just say the response was overwhelming. It was the best thing I’ve ever done in my life!”
Ironically, it was also the beginning of the end for her personal and professional relationship with Cedric. “At the start of this thing, I was feeling quite overwhelmed and was looking for help from my ‘business partner’,” she recounts. “So I went to Cedric and said: ‘Stop flapping your lips and help me.’ But he was too busy. So being the strong, independent-minded Canadian girl, I said: ‘Screw you, I’ll do it myself…”
She sighs. “We built a house together. Built a company together. It was probably too much too young....”
That said, she’s still very much involved in the event management business. “It’s so much work,” she says. “And surprises crop up all the time. But I love it. It’s like doing a performance. You rehearse and rehearse and rehearse. And then the curtain goes up and you’re on.” She giggles. “And that’s when the adrenalin kicks in. That’s when you realize just how much fun this business can really be.”
Not to mention the monetary rewards that can come of it. “The first year of the Panama event, I was able to pay off all my student loans,” she says. “After the second year, I was able to pay for a down payment on a house in Squamish.”
And that’s where she lives today — with her new boyfriend, up-and-coming extreme skier and professional engineer Joel Jacques (another homegrown Whistlerite). So why Squamish instead of Whistler? “We have an absolutely beautiful property — our house backs right onto the estuary. It’s incredibly peaceful, incredibly gorgeous. You know, for the price we paid here, we’d be living in a condo at Whistler. And I don’t want to live five feet from my neighbour…”
Besides, she feels like she’s outgrown Whistler. “I’ve embraced living in Squamish 300 times more than I thought I would,” she says. “The diversity of activities here is amazing. And having someone so special to share it with has been a great part of the next chapter of my life. For me right now, Squamish is a perfect fit!”