All in for JP Auclair; inaugural JP Memorial was a fitting tribute to the legend

All in for JP Auclair; inaugural JP Memorial was a fitting tribute to the legend

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The inaugural JP Memorial is drawing to a close here at Riksgränsen, Sweden, 200 km north of the Arctic Circle. As I type, I’m posted up in the lobby of the Riksgränsen Hotel; from my window-seat perch, I’m overlooking a village of mostly red and white camping trailers where many adventurous souls reside during the springtime. Beyond this network of mobile homes, snowmobiles are rocketing across the flat Arctic tundra. Rocky, snow covered hills bask in the golden glow of the evening sun. Pink-orange clouds dot the light-blue sky. It’s 9:00 p.m. and the sun won’t set for another hour and a half. This far north, the light is perpetual.

Our crew is dispersing—the journey home begins. I’ve got a bus to catch early tomorrow morning, but right now, all I can think is, “I don’t want to leave this place.”

In the past few days, we witnessed a fun-filled and action-packed session on a good ol’ hand-shaped quarterpipe; we enjoyed a shenanigans-laden backflip mute contest; we’ve taken advantage of an absolutely beautiful setting, touring and skiing from sun-up to sun-down; we’ve forged lifelong bonds and we’ve paid tribute to the man who brought us all together: JP Auclair.

Riksgränsen, Sweden — 200 km north of the Arctic Circle.


After 28 hours in transit, I arrived at “Riks” on Sunday, May 3. I came by way of the regional airport in Kiruna, Sweden; others chose Narvik, Norway as a stepping stone. From Narvik, it’s 45 minutes to Riksgränsen by bus. From Kiruna, it’s an hour and 45’. Travelers have the option of a train, as well. It’s a slog to be sure, but I’d be darned if someone wasn’t overcome with a feeling of awe and excitement to have arrived in a place so unique, so beautiful, so frickin’ out there.

But, “Why there?

This question was oft asked by my family and friends in the weeks leading up to the event. And I began to explain how Chris O’Connell, Armada Skis’ co-founder, refers to this place as the birthplace of modern skiing.

“The King of the Hill Contest at Riksgränsen, 1998, was the first place JP and I met,” said O’Connell two months back, when the event was first announced. “We shot together for two weeks, and I quickly realized I was documenting the future of skiing. It was the first time any skier hit a halfpipe or quarterpipe with style. In the days before YouTube and Instagram, this contest was the first place the international ski media and photographers, therefore the world, really got an up-close peek at what could be done on skis in a terrain park. JP Auclair and JF Cusson filled the magazines in Europe and North America that following fall with the photos and stories from Riks’. Word traveled a bit slower back then.”

O’Connell later told me, “I consider [that trip in 1998] to be the most important of my life. If I didn’t meet JP, we would have never started Armada. My life would have been so different.”


Where it all began. JP Auclair in Riksgränsen, 1998. Photo by Chris O’Connell.

As I walk the short jaunt from the bus drop-zone at Riks’ up to the hotel, I peer up at the ski hill and I try to imagine JP and co. skiing here in ’98. The chairlifts have stopped turning for the day—the mountain is quiet. Soon, I arrive at the front door of the lodge and I pause; I recognize this spot, sadly, for all the wrong reasons.

The entrance, marked by the yellow-and-blue Riksgränsen logo, appears in the now-iconic photograph of JP and Andreas Fransson, shot by Daniel Rönnbäck in the spring of 2014; the two men stand together by the doorstep, each hoisting a beer. When JP and Andreas passed, on September 30, 2014, this image made its way rapidly around the web. The picture became a symbol of the tragic day; I couldn’t help but interpret the raising of the beers as a farewell “skål.”

And here I was, with my feet planted firmly in the spot where the two icons once stood.


JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson at Riksgränsen. Photo by Daniel Rönnbäck.

Once settled at the hotel, it was but a matter of minutes before I’d been introduced to most of the skiers who’d ventured here to partake in the festivities. The group of attendees wasn’t exactly huge (not entirely surprising, given the remote location)—maybe 40 people or so—but it was quickly apparent that the individuals who were present were either close with JP and his extended families (e.g. Armada, Oakley, Giro, Alpine Initiatives, etc.) or true fanatics of the freeskiing pioneer (who wasn’t, really?). This would be a close-knit experience.

And the passion among the tribe was tangible. Sometime during the first few hours on-site, I overheard 30-year-old Micah James, of Carbondale, CO, exclaim genuinely, “Literally every moment I’m here is a dream come true.”

We wined, dined, wined some more and packed ‘er in for the night. Our wake-up call would come soon, and the forecast looked promising.

A QP for JP

On Monday, May 4, our group gathered at mid-mountain, where a beautiful, hand-shaped quarterpipe (the likes of which I have not laid eyes on in more than fifteen years) awaited. The sky was a perfect blue and the air was still. In a place where the weather is anything but predictable, and in many cases unforgiving, I imagined JP was smiling upon us.

O’Connell shot one of his favorite all-time photographs here, during the aforementioned photoshoot of ’98. The shot showcases JP airing out of a natural, hand-shaped quarterpipe—he’s boosting on the original Salomon Ten-Eighty ski, tweaking a perfect mute grab at the apex of his air. Seventeen years later, prior to the start of our session, O’Connell explains to the group that the quarterpipe before us lies in the exact same position as the pipe of yore.

“JP stayed with me until 10:30 p.m.,” said O’Connell of the legendary shoot, “alone, hiking over and over to get that shot. This place is so special to skiing. We’re here to get back to our roots. I don’t want to see anything over a 720. Forgot about double corks. Let’s remember where it all started: backflips and straight airs. We’re here to have some fun.”

With an “all in for JP,” it began.

Prizes would be awarded for “Best QP Straight Air” and “Best QP Trick.” Music filled the air, along with the calls of an announcer. The skiers proceeded to jam.

Highlights of the day included Jacob Wester’s massive cork 5s; Fabien Maierhofer sending absolutely gargantuan straight air mute grabs, donning a pair of the OG Ten-Eighty ski; Kim Boberg (who sported a beaut’ of a bowl cut all week long) crushing hand plants; The Bunch crew buttering, pressing and lay-backing the day away; Phil Casabon’s insane, stylish and almost indescribable maneuvers; and heaps more. The consensus among the riders was that the session couldn’t have been better. All in attendance were elated at the opportunity to ride such a unique feature. Between the practice rounds and an hour of competition, we witnessed quite a show.

When the session wrapped, competitors voted for who they felt should win the respective prizes; names were jotted on paper, and ultimately tallied. Yet, the winners would be announced Wednesday evening at a week-end awards banquet.

Most of the group made for the hotel, keen to fork down Salmon dinner. A handful of skiers and photogs remained on-hill, taking advantage of the drawn-out Arctic sunset. It must have been 11:30 p.m. by the time the last stragglers hung up their boots to dry.

We owe it all to the backflip mute

Tuesday afternoon played host to an ultra-fun session near the base of the ski resort. It was time for the highly anticipated backflip mute contest. Approximately 25 skiers partook in the hour-long jam. They performed before a solid crew of spectators who lined the hill alongside the jump—others gathered on the patio of the Lappis restaurant, situated just a stone’s throw from the jump zone.

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