Giorgio Vasari’s Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects (1550) is the textbook reference for any art history student. It tells anecdotes (some invented, some true) relating to most – primarily Florentine – Renaissance artists. What has Vasari got to do with a talented snowboarder like Xavier de le Rue, Freeride World Tour Champion, X-Games Border Cross and Snowboard Cross Champion, winner of the Verbier Extreme (to name but a few exploits)? Actually, more than you’d think.
“Personnage atypique, un peu reveur”, “Combining the essential love of exploration with the philosophical outlook that French sportsmen and artists so often embody”, Xavier is all this and more. Easy-going, with a cheerful soul and really modest, despite all the things he has achieved, talking to him becomes an enjoyable chat. In Courmayeur for some powder, I caught up with him.
Xavier, are you a dreamer and an artist, as you come across in the film Lives of the Artists? (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohFcQ1dOE38)
Well, so it would seem! That was an interesting interview, we really delved into the themes surrounding my interests, my activities and my life as a snowboarder.
In this film and in White Noise (https://vimeo.com/54230904) you talk about the rational side and the emotional side when tackling a difficult run. Can you explain?
When you are on top of a mountain, ready to go, it’s a really intense moment. You have a series of thoughts mingling in your head. On the one hand, the rational side tells you that you should be careful, perhaps avoid such exposed ridges or dangerous couloirs, but then your emotional side knows that the sensations felt whilst riding are priceless.
In what way?
They connect you with the mountains and convey a sense of respect for what surrounds you. Without them, it would probably be easy to listen to people telling you that what you do is risky, but then, life is there to be lived, isn’t it?
And you have certainly lived your life to the full, devoting so much time to competitions. Have you completely abandoned them?
For boarder cross, entirely, I will still do Verbier Extreme, as I think that it is a Freeride Competition, which fits my riding style. I may do one more Freeride World Tour, but I am not so sure.
So you will focus on films. Is TimeLine Missions (http://www.timelinemissions.com) your idea?
Well, mine, my photographer’s (Tero Repo) and cameraman’s (Guido Perrini). Mathieu Giraud came shortly afterwards. Tero, Guido and I had been working together for sometime, and creating this venture was a natural process. Other people entered into our team and now we are also a production company, not only working for my projects, but for other people, as well.
Are you looking for another film project at the moment?
Yes, we are. It will most probably be with Sam Anthamatten (see the entry on this blog https://luciaprosino.wordpress.com/2014/01/20/being-bold-samuel-anthamatten/)
You may have seen Mission Steeps https://vimeo.com/83378522 and this film will be a sort of sequel to that, focusing on Spitzbergen. We will have a different approach, but I cannot reveal too much, as it is a surprise!
Do you think that working on so many films has made you a more experienced rider?
Well, I am not so sure. As far as the riding itself is concerned, I feel I am much safer and can still go down exposed ridges, but I choose the right time carefully.
There are certainly many people who ride and then go into films, but it is rather difficult to come up with original ideas. I have been lucky enough to be working with Tero and Guido for a long time: we have built up some considerable experience and we always try to do something that really stands out. Our aim is to progress and deliver new material each time. And now we are able to carry on with our projects without sponsors.
That’s great, as it gives you the chance to follow the path you want to, without having too many obligations.
Yes, that’s right. People trust us and we are able to follow our ideas: living the dream and pushing the boundaries. My aim is to improve each time, to explore and present different things, from a new angle, chasing an unchartered perspective. It is not so easy with skiing, because there is always somebody working at a new theme, but taking challenges is also a way of growing and developing as human beings.
Do the changes in your styles – alpine, then free style, boarder cross and freeride – reflect this quest?
Sure, that’s, in a way, the story of my career and perhaps this is why I have had such a long one. I have always varied my interests to keep my motivation high and to explore new territories. If you think about the risks involved in the type of things I do, then you need to enjoy them fully each time, it cannot become an “ordinary job”.
And if one thinks about how fast your ride, that has become a sort of trademark for you. Perhaps that is because your experience allows you to reach such speed.
Yes, border cross is the perfect example. Doing that, I learnt to go very fast. I also feel safer when I ride quickly, I am much less scared, it is more fun and I feel better. I can escape if there are problems, such as avalanches. You also ride more above the snow and touch the rock less. I hate the beginning of the run, when you have to be slow, because if anything goes wrong, then you’re kind of doomed.
But then, after the first few turns, it all comes into place.
Yes, once you’re in, it’s pure pleasure.
What is your relationship with other riders? Is it very competitive?
Well, I only meet them at the Freeride World Tour. I have to say that, since I have had the chance to do extraordinary things, I am sometimes looked upon by other riders, who do not necessarily understand the amount of work involved in these projects. At times I can sense a tone of resentment, although it may well be my own personal reaction. Jonathan “Douds” Charlet, for instance, is an excellent rider. He is also a mountain guide and he often prefers to devote his time to that. He is much stronger than me in the mountains, but he is a true mountaineer, whereas I see myself as mountaineer and a film person. You cannot excel at both disciplines.
How do you go about imagining ideas for your films?
It’s a joint effort among Guido, Tero and myself. I don’t impose my ideas. And I also think I don’t necessarily look at lines from a mountaineering perspective, as I often have a shooting scene in mind. I take aesthetics into consideration, as well. If I go to Antarctica, I don’t just try to ride the steepest or more difficult ones, but also the beautiful ones. Performance is relative and counts only up to a certain extent.
Of all the places you’ve been to, which is your favourite?
Antarctica, with the marvellous glaciers and the big spaces which define this magic land. You have extremely steep runs that end in the sea, the light is also very special.
And in Europe?
Well, I like the big north faces in the Alps around May. At that time, the people are gone and you have the place for yourself. I enjoy that a lot.
What do you do in the summer?
I surf! I have a place by the beach and so I like doing that. It’s a good way of disconnecting from the mountains.
This is my Winter https://vimeo.com/31572650
White Noise https://vimeo.com/54230904
Mission Steeps https://vimeo.com/ondemand/missionsteeps/83574357
Mission Antarctic https://vimeo.com/ondemand/missionantarctic
Lives of the Artists http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ohFcQ1dOE38)
Timeline Missions http://www.timelinemissions.com
Xavier is sponsored by Relentless Energy Drink, The North Face, Rossignol, Swatch, Smith Optics, Saint Lary, Deeluxe, ABS, RECCO