The inaugural JP Memorial is underway here at Riksgränsen, Sweden. We’re posted up 200 km north of the Arctic Circle with a mötley crew, prepared to celebrate the life of the late, great JP Auclair; the event runs May 3-7, and the agenda is jam-packed with elements that can only be described as “pure fun.”
We arrived this afternoon after a 24-hour+ travel day. Most folks make their way to the ski area by way of the regional airports in Kiruna, Sweden and Narvik, Norway; wherever you opt to fly into, you’re looking at a two-hour bus ride (give or take) before arriving at “Riks.”
Once settled at the local hotel, it took but a matter of minutes before I’d been introduced to most of the folks who’d ventured here to compete, plus the various media and industry types that I had yet to make acquaintance with. The crew of attendees ain’t massive (not entirely surprising, given the remote location), maybe 40 or so, but it’s comprised of individuals who were either close with JP and the Armada family, or true fanatics of the freeskiing pioneer (who wasn’t, really?). As Armada looks to grow the event into an annual affair, I suspect those who are present will set the proverbial bar quite high.
Quotes that stuck with me this afternoon included:
“Literally every moment I’m here is a dream come true.”
“I’m from the northern UK, and it’s not the easiest place for skiers—everyone plays either footy [football] or cricket. I heard about the event and contacted Armada via Instagram to let them know JP was my idol, and I inquired about helping any way I could. Next thing I know, I have a release form to sign and an invitation to come and join.”
And, “Dude, there’s no place on Earth this far north where there are this many hot babes.” (Truth.)
A few of the notables in attendance include Phil Casabon, Henrik Harlaut (who’s still nursing a fractured clavicle), Riley Leboe, Jacob Wester, Kim Boberg, Julien Regnier, various representatives of The Bunch, and more.
On the docket: the Best Backflip Mute Contest, the Quarterpipe Best Hit and the Best QP Straight Air. These events will be rider-judged, winner-take-all. There’s an event dubbed “Send It” — you send it, you win. Additionally, awards will be dished out for Best Hair, Most Fun and Best Photo, to be judged by Armada’s Chris O’Connell and Swedish photog Daniel Rönnbäck. The former are open to a limited number of entrants while the latter contests are open to all in attendance, ensuring everyone on site can pay due homage to JP. Rest assured, there will be no shortage of high-spirited behavior and mischief, in a place O’Connell points to as the birthplace of modern skiing.
“The King of the Hill Contest at Riksgränsen, 1998, was the first place JP and I met,” says O’Connell. “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 told us this afternoon, “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.”
O’Connell’s shot one of his favorite all-time photographs here, of JP, during that shoot in ’98. The shot showcases JP airing out of a hand-dug quarterpipe; O’Connell also mentioned today that the QP currently erected here at Riks is located in the exact same position as the pipe of yore.
We had our first look at the QP today, and I admit I felt a wave of emotion as I imagined the session that took place more than 15 years ago. “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.”
We’ll have more about the rich history of Riks in the coming days, along with our continued event coverage. The contest schedule is subject to change; O’Connell and co. have indicated that they’ll be hosting events as weather allows. For now, stay tuned… Things are about to get loose here at #TheJPMemorial.
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