LIVING THE SIMPLE LIFE – OUR HOUSE MAGAZINE
You would think that an Olympic gold medal and a successful pro soccer career would come with an opulent lifestyle, even after retirement from competition. But Canadian freestyle skier Ashleigh MacIvor and former Vancouver Whitecaps captain Jay DeMerit, however, today spend their winters in more austere surroundings.
The couple, along with their two-year-old son, Oakes, shack up in a 340-square-foot cabin nestled in the Coast Mountains near Pemberton, B.C., during the winter months. As MacIvor explains to Our House magazine, the idea of major downsizing was both natural and experimental.
“We are so programmed to want so much more than what we need,” she explains. “I’ve always been happiest in the woods or the mountains, with no sign of the built environment, no technology or electronics, just some great company and—typically—my mountain bike.”
She notes that her husband thrives in the high-energy, highly social environment of a big city, but can appreciate both lifestyles. The couple also have an apartment in Vancouver’s Chinatown and a condo in Whistler that is normally rented out. MacIvor says she was interested to see how Jay would adapt to cabin living.
“I think it’s so easy to get bogged down by all of the noise in modern-day society,” she says. “We don’t even take the time standing in line for coffee to reflect on anything going on in our lives, or to dream up ideas for the future. Instead, we get straight to work on our phones. When you get out of the city, you seem to have more time in each day.”
MacIvor, who grew up in nearby Whistler, describes the cabin as the “fort of all forts.” As a teenager and in her early twenties, she spent a lot of time mountain biking in the Pemberton area and always loved riding two trails in particular: Creampuff and Meatgrinder. In the fall of 2008, glancing over to those bike trails from a nearby barn, she fell in love with what would eventually be her neighbours’ house. Shortly thereafter, MacIvor heard that these residents were selling the adjacent 10-acre parcel. She worked out a deal with them and bought the land in 2008.
The 2010 Olympic medalist decided to build the cabin in 2009 because she was having so much trouble finding a place to live in Whistler—landlords were kicking tenants out to renovate and rent for top dollar during the Olympics. Her dad helped with the framing and some friends pitched in with the rest. They used a lot of recycled building materials from renovation projects in Whistler, and then built a huge deck with a fire pit and added a hot tub.
The former Olympian does have some advice for anyone thinking about doing something similar. She notes that the family takes advantage of storage space, including a shipping container in Pemberton and a storage room attached to their Whistler condo that they can access even when it’s rented.
“I don’t think we would have been able to permanently make the move to 340 square feet, and get rid of all the stuff we think we need to live the city life, or even the Whistler life,” MacIvor says.
While the cabin in the woods may be small, it isn’t without a few luxuries, MacIvor points out. It has a full-sized washer and dryer, in-floor heating in the bathroom, granite countertops and, of course, the hot tub. Still, the family has noticed a difference scaling back their lifestyle during their time there.
“We used to eat out all the time. Like, three meals a day, often. When you live in a cabin in the woods, or even just in a small town, you exhaust your dine-out options pretty quickly and inevitably learn to love cooking at home. And let’s face it, there is probably a lot of extra fat and sugar going into most restaurant dishes,” MacIvor says. “We both felt so much healthier after a few weeks of home-cooked meals and yummy juices/smoothies. And eating out is expensive—albeit less so when you’re a sober, pregnant or breastfeeding woman. It was a good lesson in just how little we could spend, given the chance to remove ourselves from the city life. It’s funny though, when it comes to essentialism, the way I see it, we should all spend less so we can work less.”
Life after Competition
The retired life is anything but for athletes Ashleigh MacIvor and Jay Demerit. Since leaving the pitch in 2014, Demerit has launched a handcrafted stereo manufacturer called the Portmanteau Stereo Co., while also creating a curriculum and running a soccer-focused yet all-encompassing youth development program called Captains Camps. Meanwhile, MacIvor will be in front of the camera joining CBC’s coverage of the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and as an analyst for the World Cup Skicross season.
And she’s got some pretty big predictions for the ski team this year. “We have the best skicross team in the world,” she says. “I have no doubt that we will bring more medals home in 2018. Unfortunately one of our best hopes, reigning Olympic champion Marielle Thompson, just blew her knee. One of the amazing things about Canada Skicross is just how deep the talent pool is. Every one of our athletes has the ability to win an Olympic medal.”
MacIvor is also still fascinated by the Games and the attention they hold every four years. The four-year interval is part of what draws spectators in, she believes. Viewers instinctively understand that these athletes are competing under the highest-pressure conditions they will ever face, and that their chance to prove themselves is fleeting in their sporting careers, let alone their entire lifespans.
With all of the support that goes into sports programming for each nation focused on increasing the chances of winning more Olympic medals, every taxpaying spectator feels like they have played a role in getting these athletes to the big show, she adds.
“Beyond that, I think that we all recognize the positive impact success on that level will have on our nation’s youth as they watch it all unfold,” she says. There are so many valuable life lessons that can be learned through sport. It’s the greatest metaphor for real life survival and strategies for success and fulfilment.”