Mica Heli, Marie-France Roy & Leanne Pelosi

Date: April 24, 2016 Author: King Writer Categories: features
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By Andrew Hardingham. All photos by Robin O’Neil.

Mica lodge, although the youngest of the three women in this story (rebuilt in 2012, I think?), takes up a lot of space and it could be said that she has the largest appetite for men.

Mica lodge is the product of her surrounding terrain—born as an idea that could only have been sparked by the area’s incredible vistas and intriguing geography, deep in British Columbia’s interior. Located north of Revelstoke, this secluded lodge sits in the heart of not one, not two, but three mountain ranges and their entire splendor. Because of this, Mica lodge and heli-skiing operation is a very unique facility in a very unique place. It’s situated in the Canadian Rockies, at the convergence of the Selkirk and Monashee mountain ranges. This is one of the operation’s best and most unique attributes. Although Mica Heli’s tenure is in the Rocky Mountains, you get the viewing pleasure and energy of all three. Trying to wrap your head around the diversity of the terrain here is a skill of its own. The operation can cater to many weather situations because of its location and diversity, such as steep gladed trees when it’s cloudy or snowing, and wide-open high-alpine glaciers when it’s sunny and bluebird. To have this dramatic Rocky Mountain alpine at your back doorstep, mixed with the cold champaign powder the range is known for, is all you could ever ask for. This location strangely has the never-ending and extremely deep snowfall of the B.C. interior, which helps to create some incredible low-altitude terrain, like playful pillows. Combine that with the source of helicopter dropoffs to the lodge, and you might just have one of the best places in Canada (or the world) to be a snowboarder. Take it from me, this is a combination rarely found anywhere. Checkmate!

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Leanne, aka “Black Eye,” Pelosi... I always thought she was one of those sexually creative girls who just enjoyed abusive relationships because she had more black eyes than Mark Messier. But, after hanging out with her in the late ‘90s and early 2000s, I realized she just loved pushing herself to the edge or her own abilities—finding that place where she could do as much as her ever-growing talents would allow her to. The black eyes were always a big deal to the “tough guy world” and that was a trademark for Leanne’s early career. We admired a black eye back then. It meant that you did something with your life and call me crazy, but it also symbolized that she was an interesting person because of here “give’r bullets” attitude. More than that, a black eye really meant you were badass! I often remember using Leanne’s name to manipulate my less-than-willing guy friends into doing stuff that was above their personal ability level. She was the motivation beneath my wings and I was the Nazi propaganda machine that literally broke so many talentless men. I’d bring her name up often, letting a person know that Leanne had already done that trick five years ago. So often snowboarders love talking themselves out of doing things. This “she did it” approach always helped the men build up the courage. It also provided me with hours of entertainment, but all assholes aside, the truth was that Leanne really did do it, and she nailed it, and the most memorable part about it was the smile on here face every time she did.

Marie-France Roy, aka “MFR,” used to be a name I loved saying. “M... F... Arrrrrrrr.” Not saying it like a pirate, but more like I’m Spanish or a tiger. MFR was the girl I used to compare to Elissa Steamer, the most badass female skateboarder in the world. She was always calculated and ready to try anything that looked like a “maybe.” Her small frame made her seem even more serious and she had what so many men never contained: Balls. Balls were never just an appendage, hanging below your spring-loaded fence jumpers. They’re also not the first things you eat immediately after shooting a trophy sheep. Instead, they are the metaphorical entity that identifies someone as a risk-taker. MFR seemed to understand the value and reward of athletic success over the potential risk of failing, and she held a true understanding of the mathematics of snowboarding. She was and is still a calculated genius. I think she convinced her brain that snow was 95 percent soft and those odds were pretty good! That attribute was how she grew to be one of the best snowboarders that ever strapped a board to her feet. That, and she’s also an interesting person. You can tell by her line choice, snowboard style, and what she has taken from her long career, that she thinks about it and truly loves it. I think that a person who understands a sport understands that it’s as much about performing the sport as it is about where the sport takes you. Watching MFR in her films and online, you can see that she really cares about the life that snowboarding has provided and the people and places it has taken her to. Thank god she’s here.

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When I first went out to the backcountry, I was terrifed of the big slopes, but that’s since changed to excitement for me.” —Leanne

IT’S EASY TO GET CAUGHT UP IN THE GLAMOR OF A HELI LODGE LIFESTYLE AND MICA LODGE IS NO EXCEPTION.

ITS 1:1 RATIO OF STAFF TO GUEST HELPS THEM FOCUS ON THE DETAILS OF PROVIDING THE BEST EXPERIENCE IN THE INDUSTRY. THE SECLUDED, NO ROAD ACCESS LOCATION IS THE KIND OF PLACE YOU COULD SAFELY LIVE OUT A ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE WITHOUT EVER KNOWING IT WAS HAPPENING. BUT MANY LODGES HIDE BEHIND THEIR LUXURIES AND A TRUE HELI LODGE EXPERIENCE IS SO MUCH MORE THAN A LODGE. WHAT SETS A REAL LODGE APART IS THE ACCESSIBLE TERRAIN IN A CLOSE PROXIMITY TO WHERE YOU’LL BE EATING AND SLEEPING AND WHERE YOUR HELICOPTER TAKES OFF EACH MORNING. SO, FROM A SNOWBOARDER’S POINT OF VIEW, WHAT’S THE TERRAIN REALLY LIKE AT MICA HELI?

MFR: I’ve never seen so many pillows in my whole life. We were like kids in a candy store, staring at all the different options from the windows of the bird—just full walls and peaks, covered with pillows. It would take years to even try to ride them all. That’s my favourite kind of terrain and that was like the Bed Bath & Beyond headquarters. Also, I had never really experienced powder to that level, and for sure had some of the most epic runs of my entire life. It was ridiculous! It was so deep that sometimes we would fully disappear under the snow after landing and just pop out a bit further, like a whale trying to breach.

Leanne: I agree. It was really deep and the terrain was vast. Another thing that I absolutely loved were the trees. The tree riding is spectacular there. It’s perfectly spaced trees with a really amazing slope, and a lot of things to jump and pop off. It’s every snowboarder’s dream. The runs are enough to get your legs burning by the bottom. One of the amazing things is that you can ride all the way to the lodge if you want, which is a super long mellow run, and fun if you still have the legs at the end of the day. We were actually so tired every day that we forgot to make use of our private hot tub that overlooked Mica Creek. It was quite a shame. Surprisingly, we were there on a low snow year, but you’d never know the difference.

HOW IS IT RIDING IN THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS, WHILE BEING SURROUNDED BY THE MONASHEE AND SELKIRK MOUN- TAIN RANGES? IT MUST OFFER A UNIQUE PERSPECTIVE AND VIEW.

MFR: I truly believe that this place has some strong and powerful energy. The mountains are breathtaking. And they have it all—insane tree runs that go forever, crazy pillow lines, and lots of alpine terrain. That is hard to find. I can honestly say that it’s my favorite terrain in the world and it was as if it was custom made for us. It felt like such a privilege that we actually got to ride there. We pretty much won golden tickets from the gods to go to heaven for four days [laughs]. Who knows... maybe heaven is actually on Earth, right here. We kept pinching each other and saying stuff like, “We sure must have done something really nice in our past lives to get to be here right now!”

Leanne: It’s great to be at a place where you can stay so close to the lodge and get everything you need. We were quite happy just to get to the pillows, which were within an hour away, but the farther you go, the more you experience. The Rockies are such a unique riding experience and we loved every minute of it.

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"We pretty much won golden tickets from the gods to ho to heaven for four days." - MFR

IF YOU DIDN’T ALREADY KNOW, LEANNE, MARIE, AND SEVERAL OTHER WOMEN ARE WORKING ON A NEW FILM PROJECT, CALLED FULL MOON, FOR RELEASE IN 2016. THE PILLOWS AND POWDER OF MICA CREAK WILL BE INCLUDED IN THE FILM, AS WELL AS MANY OTHER UNIQUE AND INTERESTING LOCATIONS. FULL MOON IS ONE OF THE LAST INDEPENDENT FILM PROJECTS BEING MADE IN NORTH AMERICAN SNOWBOARDING, AND SO MUCH HARD WORK AND CREATIVITY HAVE ALREADY GONE INTO THE PRODUCTION. IT’S A TWO-YEAR PROJECT, WHICH IS NEW FOR THIS CREW. I ASKED LEANNE TO TELL ME MORE ABOUT THE PROJECT AND HOW IT’S DIFFERENT FROM PAST PROJECTS SHE’S BEEN A PART OF.

Leanne: We really wanted to focus on the positive things that have happened to us and the sport over time, and we also want to send a message to whoever wants to listen, saying, “Hey. You can go out and do all this shit, too! Everything we do is absolutely accessible.” We don’t have a crazy budget, at all. I think people would be surprised how far we make our dollars go to get to these beautiful locations. It’s been a lot of hard work, determination, and dedication to pull it off, but we do it because the pull of being outside is so strong. You learn so much more from being connected to the outdoors and nature. People need to spend more time outside. It’s rejuvenating for the soul.

I’M SURE THE GIRLS GET TIRED OF PEOPLE DRAWING COMPARISONS BETWEEN AN ALL-FEMALE DIRECTION AND THE USUAL RUN OF MALE-DRIVEN MOVIES, BUT AFTER SPEAKING WITH LEANNE AND MARIE, I FELT LIKE THAT’S ALL BEHIND THEM. FROM AN OUTSIDER’S POINT OF VIEW, THE FULL MOON PROJECT FEELS LIKE SOMETHING I’D WANT TO SEE IN A FILM FESTIVAL, ON A BIG SCREEN, SO I CAN CONNECT WITH THE ACTION AND LIFESTYLE BEHIND ALL THE AMAZING RIDING IN THE FILM.

Leanne: We don’t really consider it a “girl power” kind of movie. I do hate when people ask me, “Oh, well, what’s it like with this vs. the boys?” It’s more of a celebration of what these women have done in snowboarding and it has nothing against any guys. We’re just highlighting some amazing people in our sport—people who have taken charge of their own path for so many years. I think everyone will really enjoy the movie for what it is: A reflection of our incredible lives, and the people and places we’ve visited on this journey.

I LOVE THEIR STYLE OF ATTACKING THIS AND MANY PAST VIDEO PROJECTS. THEY TAKE THE BULL BY THE HORNS AND DO WHAT THEY WANT WITH IT. THAT’S RARE IN OUR INDUSTRY. THE NORMAL PROTOCOL IS TO HAVE THE INDUSTRY TELL YOU WHAT TO DO AND BUY YOU THE TICKET. YOU GET ON THE FLIGHT, CLOSE YOUR EYES, AND WAKE UP WHEN YOU GET HOME. BUT THERE ARE A SMALL GROUP OF FILM CREWS, FULL MOON INCLUDED, MAKING THEIR OWN DECISIONS. THEY READ THE MAPS AND THEY CHARTER THEIR OWN COARSE. THE FULL MOON CREW MIGHT BE ONE OF A HANDFUL OF CREWS WHO WORK ON AN INDEPENDENT LEVEL.

Leanne: Well, I think we were going to make this project whether the industry supported us or not. It turns out they did and everyone is very supportive. I think they like when you do it yourself. We make these films for ourselves, and more importantly, our supporters. We are very fortunate to have so many.

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Leanne catches her tail

MOST OF THE FULL MOON CREW HAS BEEN PARTICIPATING IN SNOW- AND MOUNTAIN-CULTURE FILM PROJECTS FOR A LONG TIME. I REMEMBER LEANNE FILMING FOR LAUREN GRAM’S SHOT IN THE DARK, THE FIRST GIRLS SNOWBOARD FILM IN 2001. FOR MANY YEARS, SHE’S STAYED STRONG AND KEPT PUSHING FORWARD IN THESE FILMS—ESPECIALLY IN THE TERRAIN DEPARTMENT.

Leanne: Pushing the terrain we ride is the next level for us. It’s all calculated risk. We’ve been out there now for about 10 years, day in and day out, and you get into a comfort zone. You educate yourself and start knowing what’s likely to slide and what’s not... What dangers exist and what dangers are minimal, manageable, and avoidable. It’s just natural to start to feel more confident when you put yourself up on top of these peaks. When I first went out to the backcountry, I was terrified of the big slopes, but that’s since changed to excitement for me. I just want to keep going back there forever. I don’t think I’ll ever get sick of being out in the pristine backcountry. We are so lucky to have this at our fingertips and to have access to this level of accessible terrain here in British Columbia. It’s insane and the best snowboard terrain in the world in my opinion. I think as we get older, staying in shape is the most important thing now. I’ve changed my eating habits over the last five years and I feel better than I ever have. That, and incorporating yoga, meditation, and running into my program. I never thought yoga would bring such a benefit to me, mentally.

LEANNE AND THE OTHER PARTNERS IN THE FULL MOON PROJECT HAVE A GOOD THING GOING. I WISH THEM AND THE PROJECT ALL THE BEST.

Leanne: Working with these girls is as good as it gets. Helen, Robin, Annie, Jamie, Hana, and MFR are the perfect crew. I can’t wait for another season.

MICA HELI WAS JUST ONE OF MANY INCREDIBLE LOCATIONS AND STORIES THE FULL MOON CREW WILL BE DOCUMENTING IN THEIR NEW FILM. IT’S A SAMPLE OF THE KIND OF LIFESTYLE WE ALL DREAM ABOUT, BUT OFTEN FALL OUT OF THE IDEA BECAUSE IT’S ONLY A DREAM AND TOO FAR AWAY TO EVER EXPERIENCE FOR YOURSELF. THAT’S WHAT THESE GIRLS ARE TRYING TO SHOW EVERYONE. WE CAN ALL EXPERIENCE THESE WONDERFUL PLACES IF WE FOCUS AND WORK HARD TO SEE IT THROUGH. THEY HAVE ALL DONE IT ON THEIR OWN AND WHERE THEY’VE HAD HELP, THEY HAVE EARNED THAT HELP.

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MF... GNAR?