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Snowdrift by Lisa McGonigle

Lisa McGonigle's travel narrative Snowdrift is the tale of her ski bum life in Canada for several winters.I’ve realized it can be easy (at least for me) to get tunnel vision and to see only the world around me—my little chunk of Canada. Traveling and reading are both great ways to get a glimpse of the wider world and other perspectives and opinions. One book that did that for me recently was Lisa McGonigle’s travel memoir Snowdrift. I actually won this book in Oolichan Book’s monthly website contest, and it seemed a fitting read last December as I was sitting around Victoria wishing I could just head for the hills like she does.

Lisa is an Irish girl who discovers a love for snowboarding during university. At first, she simply hops across to the Alps or other European ski hills. Then, at a crossroads in her university career, she makes the big leap and decides to take a working holiday year in Canada. She lands in Fernie, BC, for what will be the first of several snow seasons there.

While Lisa has a humorous, engaging writing style that kept me wanting to know what happened next in her adventures, I also enjoyed her commentary on Canada. For example, after spending several months in small-town Fernie, she travels to North Carolina to consider a graduate program there. Of that trip, Lisa says,

“Not to put too fine a point on it, I was culture-shocked the fuck out of things, the sudden hike in temperature from minus to plus fifteen being the least of it. Whilst we get oodles of powder and amazing terrain to ride on in Fernie, we’re in the middle of absolutely nowhere—Canada just doesn’t have enough people to go around.”

Lisa also spends a winter in New Zealand, heading through three back-to-back winters by hopping between the northern and southern hemispheres. There’s a constant question of “What will she do next?” that drives the narrative forward:

I was accused of being flighty recently. Which is funny because on an everyday basis I’m not. I’m far too responsible and serious for my own good. But when it comes to major decisions like whether to drop out of college or buy a vehicle or hare off across the continent by myself or enter distance races on a whim then yes, perhaps I am given to seemingly insane moves. I like to play it safe on the small scale and gamble on the big one.”

While I enjoyed Lisa’s descriptions of Ireland and New Zealand, most of her book takes place in Canada and it was interesting to hear an outsider’s perspective on our big country—though she only visits four provinces. In Ottawa, she comments, “Something I’ve been wondering through all this is how does Canada work? From expensive outdoor-gear Vancouver to the hippie West Kootenays to the redneck hicksville of Alberta, not to mention Ontario and Quebec, it’s just so enormous and diverse. And I haven’t even made it to the Maritimes or up north yet.”

Lisa made me want to see more of Canada, even while her descriptions of places that I’ve visited made me laugh and shake my head because they were so accurate (well, except for Alberta being hicksville). Canadians are known for their politeness, and Lisa says, “But even if Calgary is as brash and swaggering as it gets in Canada, the bottom-line is that this is nonetheless CANADA which means that it remains incredibly polite and courteous and safe. I have to watch my tongue here—they’re easily shocked by the foul-mouthed Irish in full swing.”

I could keep quoting Lisa and laughing over her book, but I suggest you just pick it up yourself. Whether you’re Canadian or not, I think you’ll enjoy her humorous take on snowboarding, long-distance running, and this big country.

This post contains affiliate links; as an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. All opinions expressed are my own.

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