Nine-year-old’s Whistler take on classic board game is flying off the shelves

It’s fun to imagine a world where a five-year-old’s every whim and idea has been ushered from the realm of imagination into reality. Fountains that spout the sweetest chocolate milk. Magic wands and pixie dust. Dinosaurs on hoverboards. Fun? Sure. Practical? Not exactly.

But when then-five-year-old Whistlerite Rio MacDonald had a light-bulb moment during a rousing game of Snakes and Ladders a few years back, it was too good for the family to pass up.

“We were playing Snakes and Ladders and my grandma wanted to make [a version of it] with different things and then I thought of Lifts and Runs first,” says Rio, now nine. “It was winter and we like skiing.”

A localized take on a classic board game, Lifts and Runs replaces Snakes and Ladders with some of Rio’s personal favourite Whistler Blackcomb routes. Inspired by Rio’s original drawings, Revelstoke artist Jess Leahey applied her clean, graphic aesthetic to a design that feels contemporary while still paying homage to the centuries-old game that originated out of India.

“I’ve been dabbling in commercial ski industry illustrative work for a few years, and I think they felt that the styles I work in could really complement their product,” says Leahey. “[Rio’s parents] had tried one of those quick online graphic designers to start but I think it was clear pretty quickly they needed a skier to capture the right idiosyncrasies.”

And evidently, Whistlerites like what they see so far. First available for purchase this fall, a post Rio’s mom Josie made to the Whistler Winter Facebook page last week has, at press time, garnered almost 1,000 likes and more than 300 sales (with 1,000 more on order), along with several gift shops that have inquired about carrying the game.

Nine-year-old’s Whistler take on classic board game is flying off the shelves

“It feels really cool and I like it,” Rio says of the response so far. “A lot of my friends, I told them before it came out and I also got them shirts with [the Lifts and Runs logo] on it.”

Rio is clearly in good company, with his family no strangers to entrepreneurial endeavours.

“Let’s just say it runs in the family,” Josie says. “There are a lot of entrepreneurs in the MacDonalds: the uncle sells toques and T-shirts out of his house. His grandpa MacDonald has invented a few things. His grandma writes books.”

Turning what began as a seed in Rio’s head into a fully fleshed-out business plan is no easy feat, particularly for a kid in elementary school, and his parents saw it as an opportunity to learn a few valuable lessons along the way, both for their son and themselves.

“Part of what we were trying to do is work with Rio and hopefully there is some form of lessons by collaborating with different people and learning a bit about e-commerce as well,” says Rio’s dad, Scott. “What a good way to learn this stuff by actually getting your hands dirty and getting into it.”

As for the burgeoning board game maven, Rio has no plans of stopping just yet. There has already been talk about miniaturizing the game into a suitcase-friendly version for tourists, as well as applying the Lifts and Runs concept to other iconic ski mountains. And let’s not forget Whistler’s other signature sport.

“I’m gonna make a biking one next time,” Rio assures.

Visit to buy your copy. The game retails for $35.