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Eighty-year-old snowboarder crushes Whistler powder laps with aplomb

Shannon McJannet has been skiing and riding in Whistler for more than 55 years

Shannon McJannet is not your average octogenarian. 

Shannon and her husband Jim have been skiing in Whistler since 1968, though their home has largely alternated between North and West Vancouver. She took up snowboarding later in life, when her son Kevin and daughter Christie decided to go from skiing to what some call “the dark side.” She wasn’t content to merely watch, however. 

At 53 years of age, Shannon traded in her 180-centimetre skis for her first board. 

Her journey began in the shadow of Cypress Mountain, amidst throngs of riders who were half her age or less. One young man complimented her snowboard—a locally-manufactured REV product, same as his—but turned away in embarrassment when he saw her age. 

Spring weather and logistical constraints didn’t help, either. Icy snow exacerbated the unavoidable beginner falls, and the Cypress bunny hill’s old rope tow proved hard on her aging muscles. 

As Shannon reached her 67th birthday, she underwent a total hip replacement. For many, that would have been the definitive end of their riding era, but to this day—in her ninth decade—she still logs about 25 days per season on Whistler Blackcomb (WB). Recently, she and Jim were invited to experience the late Mike Wiegele’s heli-skiing operation, where she proved capable of crushing powder laps in the Monashee Mountains. 

The early adopter 

Why has Shannon been able to keep Father Time at bay? 

Maintaining an active lifestyle for four-and-a-half decades certainly helps. She was one of West Vancouver’s first aerobics instructors in the 1980s, and played squash for more than 25 years, travelling across British Columbia for tournaments and even going to a World Squash Championship (though she didn’t have to qualify for her division). 

This level of sharpness and activity extends to her mind, too. Shannon picked up her first Rubik’s Cube before the internet took off, and applied herself until she could complete it in under 60 seconds. 

“Both my parents, married now for over 50 years, have meant everything to my two siblings and me,” said Kevin McJannet. “They’ve been wonderful parents, devoted to our family, role models for long-term relationships, and great examples of staying active through their passions and adventures.

“I’ve always referred to my mom as an ‘early adopter’ of all the cool things throughout the decades, and she was incredibly passionate about all of them.” 

Shannon remains humble and understated about herself, and takes a grounded approach to snowboarding in her old age.

Her first core principle is to be realistic in setting boundaries, as trying something beyond your capabilities (even if encouraged to do so by well-meaning people) can lead to injury. 

No. 2: do not accept new challenges unless your physical condition feels right and healthy. Shannon knows this first-hand, having rushed back onto the mountain seven weeks after hurting her ankle in December 2023. It wasn’t disastrous, but she acknowledges she should have done more rehab beforehand. 

Finally: surround yourself with friends and loved ones who keep you focused on the positives. Confidence may be an issue for any elderly person, and Shannon intentionally connects with other seniors who get what she’s going through. 

Generational memories 

Having said all that, why does Shannon still love snowboarding? 

“In the early days, it was wonderful to persevere in this new challenge with some success, to experience the new sensations of gliding and turning with feet fixed, and to participate in a ‘trending’ sport alongside my kids and grandkids,” she said. “At this stage, I’m content just to be able to spend the day outdoors and be able to conquer blue and green runs! 

“I admit to now being a fair-weather rider. Ice, blizzards and poor visibility are my enemies, and on those days I turn to the treadmill, stationary bike or a swim for exercise.” 

Whistler, of course, is no longer the mountain Shannon and Jim knew from the late 1960s. Back in those days, they would rise at 4:30 a.m. to brave the old Sea to Sky highway—arriving before 7 a.m. would net them a hefty $1 discount on a day pass. Creekside Village was a gravel parking lot at the time, often bearing witness to great, winding lineups. 

Now, Shannon and Jim enjoy the benefit of a quarter-share condo for one week a month, with full amenities and various places to explore off the mountain: from restaurants and retail stores to art galleries, the public library and the Squamish Lil’wat Cultural Centre (SLCC). Whistler’s super senior pass for those over the age of 75 affords them a welcome measure of flexibility. 

They’ve got four grandchildren (two skiers, two snowboarders), and very few things bring more joy to Shannon’s heart than to see three generations of McJannets riding alongside one another.