Feature: JP Auclair Profile

Feature: JP Auclair Profile

This story originally ran in the October 2008 issue of Freeskier (V11.1). Words written by: Chris O’Connell and Pat Crawford.

Photo: Levin

November is cold, hard and icy in Summit County, Colorado, and today is no exception. I’m standing on the deck of Copper Mountain’s pipe, and the mountain is barren and brown except for the park, which is just beginning to come together. Snowmaking guns fill the cold air with their loud hissing and icy clouds and there are some strips of manmade snow on the few open runs. There’s no reason for one of the iconic skiers of this generation to even be out here on a day like this, but JP Auclair is boosting 18 feet out the pipe, hiking it again and again so that the photographers and filmers can get that one extra angle. And JP is not only outworking much younger skiers, he’s pushing them. After more than a decade of professional skiing (and the physical abuse and injuries that come with it) JP still has the style and skill to match almost any skier on the planet. It’s not easy for JP to be here — it’s dumping back home in Whistler and his friends are skiing pow — but days like this are part of being a pro. Just a few years ago, though, when back injuries left him bed-ridden, it wasn’t clear that JP would ever be able to call himself a pro again, nor even that he wanted to. But today JP Auclair is without a doubt back at the top of his game. He’s a wiser, more diverse individual, but in so many ways still the same kid in love with skiing, who helped re-define the face of the sport more than ten years ago.

JP Auclair is a pioneer of our sport. He’s one of the first to popularize grabbing, he won the first US Open, and he helped create the Salomon Teneighty. JP is admired by skiers worldwide. He’s a hero of our sport and a true skiing superstar.

“JP Auclair is my number one athlete, period,” says Poor Boyz founder Johnny Decesare. “From the day he started filming with Poor Boyz, I knew he was going to be something special. He has helped the ski industry, and me, more than any single person. He is one of my best friends and there are very few people in the world I can trust like JP. When he stops skiing, I will probably stop making ski films.”

Photos (from left to right): Levin, Harvey

JP is unique in that skiers across the board have this kind of respect for what he’s done and what he represents, whether it’s founding fathers like Decesare or today’s new guard, like TJ Schiller. “JP is so the man because he’s the guy who started it all,” TJ says. “And, he has stayed at the top the whole time. He has always been my idol. Growing up, watching him on TV and reading about him and all that… I know there’s no way I would have pursued skiing as my career so seriously if I didn’t have JP to look up to. Now, after being lucky enough to have met him, and to have spent these last few years around him, my mind hasn’t changed at all.”

One of the reasons JP is so universally respected in skiing is his willingness to make sacrifices for other people. He was on a shoot in New Zealand last fall when the annual IF3 film festival opened in Montreal. JP knew his presence in front of the hometown fans in Quebec would be a huge support for the industry, the organizers of the festival, and, of course, for the Poor Boyz premiere of Yeah Dude. So he made the 35-hour trip from Wanaka, New Zealand, to Montreal, attended the Festival, and boarded a plane the next day back to New Zealand. “It’s amazing that he would even consider doing that,” said IF3 organizer Phil Benjamin, “let alone make it happen.”

Photo: Chris O’Connell

Almost anyone who has kept up with skiing over the last decade knows that JP has been a major force in the sport, but JP is the last person to acknowledge the role he has played. “Personally, I don’t think I have everything it takes to be a true representative of what skiing is today,” he says. “Becoming an ‘ultimate skier’ is something that has always been appealing to me. Ironically, filming and taking pictures can get in the way of that. I would ski so much more if I wasn’t sponsored.”

Nonetheless, JP is about as close to a fully well-rounded skier as you can find today. JP started his skiing career in Quebec as a bump skier, where he trained with JF Cusson, Vincent Dorion and Philou Porier, eventually skiing World Cup freestyle under coach Mike Douglas. In 1998, JP began the most-documented era of his career, when he played a leading role in developing the new- school skiing scene in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

JP continued to be one of the best in the freeskiing scene until a back injury in 2003 left him bed-ridden. “I had people telling me to take better care of myself when I was younger and was complaining about lower back pain, but I only got concerned once I was lying on the hospital bed, wondering if I would ever be able to walk normally again,” he says. Doctors told him to quit skiing. And it wasn’t just the physical abuse he had put his body through. The endless travel and demands from sponsors were wearing on him as well. “Crashes were hurting more than they used to,” he recalls. “and the fatigue that accumulates throughout the winter wasn’t helping. It got frustrating because I didn’t have time to ski for myself anymore.”

Photo: Chris O’Connell

But JP wouldn’t give up the sport he loved. He eventually found a sports medicine doctor named Garret Breakiron in Uniontown, PA, through Kristi Leskinen. JP remembers Dr. Breakiron telling him, “No one should put their body through what you’re making yours go through, but I know you’re going to ski anyway, so we’ll fix you up and you are going to have to put in extra effort with the exercises.”

Rehab was long, difficult and painful, but by the next year, JP was able to enjoy skiing and life again. “Before, I would just keep going until I physically couldn’t,” he says. “Now, I know when to stop.”

Photo: Chris O’Connell

JP came back from his injuries as a smarter and healthier skier. Now, even on the road, he spends an hour a day stretching. And, he’s shifted his focus from park to big-mountain. JP spends large chunks of his time in the high peaks of Alaska and when he’s home, he’s far more likely to be sled skiing in the backcountry than sessioning the Black- comb park.

Always the perfectionist, JP is pursuing big-mountain skiing with the same intensity he once did the park scene. He has completed two seasons of mountain guide school, and has enlisted other pro skiers — Michelle Parker and Sven Kueenle — to attend this year’s classes. “So many tragedies can be avoided in the mountains,” JP says. “I have learned a lot in the past couple years about avalanches, decision making and first aid. It’s really fulfilling. The whole freestyle revolution was a great time, but I can only dream of having that impact on the industry in the mountain safety side of things.”

Photo: Siparanta

The secret to a long career in skiing is to find ways to expand your horizons outside the fishbowl of life in ski towns and the ski industry, and JP has done that as well as anyone. He taught himself the video-editing program Final Cut years ago so he could edit his movie segments while traveling. That hobby quickly turned into a professional side project, and he now spends parts of his summer working in LA with Johnny Decesare. “This is the last summer I’m doing that, really,” he claims, as usual. “I always try to get out of it, but when summer rolls around, I always end up back in Los Angeles. I just really like to hang out with those guys,” he says.

JP is an avid mountain biker, rides motorcycles in the summer, is a wine lover (like any good francophone), and is quite the cook. And as he has gotten older, he knows how lucky he has been and is trying to share some of his good fortune with others. JP started a charity called Alpine Initiatives (alpineinitiatives.org) with Chad Fleisher, Seth Koch and Mike Hovey, with the goal of encouraging people from the snowsports community to become more active in fighting issues related to global poverty. The organization’s fi rst mission is to go build homes for orphans in Meru, Kenya.

Photo: Chris O’Connell

While age has made him as well rounded off snow as on, JP remains a skier at his core. That’s why he has always been so loved by skiers everywhere — you sense that JP could walk away from the professional skier life at any second and blend right into any mountain community in the world. Skiers relate to JP because they intuitively know he’s one of them. In the places where he travels most — New Zealand, Japan, Alaska — JP maintains friends that he thinks of as “extended family.” He’s just so likeable that skiers everywhere are happy to share their powder stashes and even their homes. “It is great to be a part of this community where I can show up in a totally different culture and create strong bonds with other skiers, because we share the same passions,” he says.

The Japanese have loved the skiers of the original New Canadian Airforce since the early days of the Teneighty, and JP returns that sentiment with his passion for Japan and its culture. During his years of traveling to Japan, JP picked up a habit of playing kendama, a traditional Japanese toy. “Having a kendama on me is a constant reminder that I really don’t need much to be happy,” he says. “I’m far from living a simple life, but I’ve learned to give importance and value to little things like that.”

He has practiced kendama over the years and on a recent trip to Japan, took an exam to attain a certification of his skill level. “It was really funny, I was actually even a bit nervous,” he says of the examination. “There were so many good kendama players in there. I was the only Westerner, and they were really cool with me.”

JP has come a long way since his days bashing icy bumps in Quebec. His career is not even close to over, but he’s already left a legacy. What has he learned from it all?

Photo: Chris O’Connell

“If anything,” he starts, “I wish I could pass on knowledge about decision-making, which is exactly the kind of advice you don’t want to hear when you’re young, since it sucks to be responsible! I’ve seen and I’ve tasted how it feels to deal with the consequences of making bad decisions. Wishing you could go back in time to do things differently is one of the shittiest feelings you can experience. Making the best call is sometimes boring, but in the end, you and the people close to you will enjoy a better and longer life if you accept the fact that you have to be ‘lame’ every now and then. Accidents happen and it’s normal that things don’t always go perfectly, but the least you can do is acknowledge the red flags you see and listen to your gut feelings.”

Even with a decade of hard skiing behind him, JP sounds like a kid when he talks about the sport. “There are so many things I still want to do on skis,” he concludes. “Every year just keeps getting more fun. I will be skiing until my body doesn’t let me. As for my ski career, I guess that will stop when I get fired!”

And as long as he can continue to lay down lines in the Chugach, boost 18-feet out of the pipe and create killer video segments every year, it seems he won’t be getting fired anytime soon.

Photo: Chris O’Connel/PBP

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