Photos by Blake Jorgenson_MSP.
Richard Permin is having a bit of a heater. Bounced from his snowmobile during another unsuccessful hill climb, he’s digging again. It seems he’s been digging all day. Then he’s cursing because he can’t find his ski pole. When he finally arrives at the top of the hike to a short pillow line amongst the snow-laden spruce of Chatter Creek, he’s sweaty and frustrated. He surveys the scene, then methodically stomps out a takeoff atop a 30-foot tombstone of rock. For the moment, skiing appears to be a job. Richie needs shots. He needs to perform for his sponsors. He needs to execute.
He sidesteps up, gives the countdown and drops. Just as he reaches the lip, time screeches into slow-mo. He lies back, twists his shoulders and rotates, feet above his head, both arms outstretched with hands dragging through the snow. He’s just hanging there, ridiculously high and pinned laterally against the ashen sky. Then he plummets, sweeps his skis back around below him and poof, he rockets out of his landing and disappears in a cloud of smoke. The crystals settle to reveal Richie pulled to a stop just below. He’s looking back up and, with a broad smile, happily professes in his classic French accent, “I’m not angry anymore.”
A couple of hours later, Richie is on his laptop in the sprawling Chatter Creek lodge, deep in the British Columbia woods, scrolling through ESPN’s Real Sport entry tallies. “Look at this,” he says, pointing his finger at the frontrunners of each action sport, determined by online voting. “USA, USA, USA, Canada, USA, Canada, USA, Austria.” He shakes his head with disdain. He’s right. Every sport on the site shows a similar pattern. The Europeans clearly get little respect across the board. It’s pretty safe to say that the world of freeskiing is no different. If you’re not Candide Thovex or Henrik Harlaut, you’re just another ripping Euro, lost in the mix.
Of course, Richard Permin is far from just another ripping Euro. Over the past few years, he has blossomed from a young gun with promise into one of the preeminent stars of his generation. His segment in Matchstick Productions’ 2012 release, Superheroes of Stoke, could be argued as one of ski-film history’s most impressive displays of the sport’s holy grail—combining freestyle and true big-mountain skiing. Yet, for Richie, that’s not enough. His threes off 50-foot cliffs, flawless hand drags and dub 12s in the park are, in his perspective, standard fare. And despite his top-tier sponsorship with Red Bull, a signature Swatch watch and now his own clothing line by Oakley, he still questions whether he has arrived. Patience isn’t one of his attributes.
He doesn’t want to go through the steps to which ordinary people are relegated. A fire burns within Richard Permin to progress our sport and be the best. Right now.
The 29-year-old was coached through his teens as a racer and says, “I loved racing. It was my sport and my passion. But I was not that good.” And for the racer, La Clusaz’s ski area, La Balme, had its distractions. The mountain is teeming with natural undulations that provide countless opportunities to get in the air, and at the time, the area also built one of the few parks in the region. “All of the big-mountain and freestyle guys were from La Balme,” Permin recounts. “Seb Michaud, Baptiste Collomb-Patton, they are the people who led the way. Skiing in Balme—it’s like a culture. You need to combine [features all over the hill]. It’s like the best training you can have. You ski and you jump.”
Of course, it was local star Candide Thovex who really put La Balme on the freeskiing map as he routinely exploited the ski area’s potential. And as a kid, Permin just soaked it up. “We just kind of followed him around and saw him do something and tried to do what he did. Everyone wanted to be Candide at that time. He was the example. But he was super nice, and we started skiing with him.” And when you’re exposed to a whole other level of possibility, well, your perspective of human limitations might just be a little skewed.
Permin stands atop another rock pillar at Chatter surveying, determining the possibilities in the natural gap before him. Far below and way out is a potential landing area, but the margins for error are slim. If he were to come up short … well, he didn’t want to come up short. And if he went too big, a clean stomp would send him hauling ass into a boulder field. And it’s all complicated by a tricky inrun. The blue skies rapidly deteriorate, leaving no light on the landing, and he’s frustrated. “I want to hit it. I want to hit it now.”
We cameramen respond, “We’ll come back.” Days later, after thinking about it for several nights, Richie stomps a massive three off the donger, goes screaming through the mine field and comes out laughing.
Through the past four MSP films, Permin has emerged as one of the hardest charging big-mountain skiers on the big screen. He attacks burly Alaskan lines with abandon and always goes large. When he takes a beating, he gets up for more. MSP cinematographer Guillaume Tessier puts it this way, “He has one speed: full throttle. Going balls out is what he’s all about.”
Watch his latest big-mountain footage, and you might be surprised to learn that in his early twenties, Permin was your typical elite park skier, competing in X Games slopestyle in 2006 and city events like freestyle.ch. In 2007, in Stockholm, he won King of Style with a switch-10 double tail. His sponsor at the time, Nike, asked him what he wanted to do, and he replied, “I want to go to Alaska!” Then, he admits, “I started watching Alaska footage in MSP movies, and I was like, ‘What the fuck? Why did I say I want to go to Alaska?’”
Just prior to the Alaskan venture, Permin would be served a healthy dose of fear in a big mountain setting. Straight out of the park he was invited to compete in the Swatch O’Neill Big-Mountain Pro on La Bluet, a serious 1,000-meter face riddled with cliffs on the French-Swiss border. He found himself clawing his way along a knife-edge arête with the likes of Jeremy Jones, Seb Michaud and Xavier de la Rue. “There was a 100-meter cliff on one side (certain death) and a steep rocky face on the other (almost certain death). Jeremy Jones was behind me saying, ‘Keep going!’ I was like, ‘Fuck this! Get me a rope! Send me a lock!’ I didn’t know the word for carabiner. The next day, they all made fun of me for it.”