Russell had a chance to catch up with one of snowboarding’s leaders in backcountry exploration, Xavier de le Rue. Here’s their conversation:
Xavier, what an honor it is to be talking with you! Your riding is downright innovative and inspiring. You have defined a whole new discipline within snowboarding itself: Fast, fluid, technical and explosive descents on large-scale mountaineering lines. What role would you say the splitboard has played in your creativity as a snowboarder?
I think that having the option of accessing everything in the mounatins I want is a priceless opportunity that would never be possible without a splitboard, or at least a loooot harder.
I really think that resorts are great but after some years , a lot of people need to go away from them, and it’s so good to see all the new technology that makes all this magic endlees amount of possibilities more and more accessible.
What does splitboard technology evolution mean to you, and where do you see us going in the future?
Splitboarding technology evolution means to get closer and closer to exact feeling of a normal board in terms of flex, pop, weight. It is also making the change over easier and easier and that in any kinds of weather or conditions.
In regards to innovation, how far ahead of us are the skiers?
I think that the ski touring has a few decades of developement ahead as the split board technology, but if evolution keeps going at the rate it is going I think that in only a few years all these skiers will want switch to a split boarding set up….haha
Currently, it can be reasonably estimated that 95% of all snowboarding products are manufactured overseas by non-snowboarders. Is this a positive direction for us to be going? What would you say is the importance of
rider-owned and operated companies?
Riders owned companies is the true way of getting a really responsive evolution of the products. I think that’s the secret of perfection
You’ve had a big influence on boot design, and spear-headed the first ever mainstream snowboard boot with a full Vibram climbing sole. What can you say about your Deeluxe Pro Model?
I dreamed about it for a while a deeluxe followed me not thinking it would work, and to their surprise, people got totally stoked on it… so I have to say I am super proud to have initiated the movement as there is so much to be done on that level.
Hey tell me about your new pro-model splitboard with Rossignol! I had a chance to check it out at the trade shows. You’ve completely reversed the way a “normal” snowboard flexes, with a super stiff nose and a soft tail. My only concern was that I’m not sure if I’m man-enough to handle that board in a 167cm standard size! How did you come to design that flex pattern? Does that stiff nose help you control things at 400 miles per hour?
I think that a stiff nose allows to ride on your front foot, and that’s totally the program of this board. That makes riding pow a lot more surfy and a lot more powerful I think. That board is actually really easy to ride, you d be surprised
Any innovations you are excited about from some of your sponsors? What’s The North Face working on?
We are basically working on adapting all the technology of the super technical summit series to better cuts, or at least to cuts that suit us freeriders a lot beter
You did a video a couple of years ago and said something that really caught my attention. You were speaking of the concept of human performance, and you said “we can achieve performance through pleasure”, not regimented training. This really struck a chord in me, because in the United States and Great Britain, there is a strong culture of “performance through suffering”; that in order to be a top-level athlete, we must train as hard as possible, watch what we eat and suffer through the pain. I think this is a very powerful concept, because it opens the cultural doors to an athletic lifestyle that is based around the pleasure of movement, not its discomfort. What are your thoughts on this?
I have to say that I have based my life on this. Working hard is super important but it can be done through pleasure and I think it is pretty easy to adapt everything you do a fun perspective. It sometimes only requires to look a tiny differently the usual… but at the end of the day, I think it really pays off and that on all levels.
Speaking of athletic performance, splitboarding is a unique activity. From an exercise physiology perspective, it is a combination of long, slow endurance work, followed by high velocity explosive movements (some of us ride more explosively than others…). How do you see your own shredding adapt to having tired legs with a full pack of gear at the top of a line that you climbed, compared to having fresh legs with a light pack in the resort or with a heli? Does your riding or mindset on terrain selection change at all?
For sure when you have climbed for several hours you are not as fresh as with a motorized access, but after a while, if you keep on progressing and spending enough tie in the mountains, I think that it becomes closer and closer, and you quickly realize that you then have the advantage of really knowing your terrain, the snow etc… you ve bonded with everything around you.
How much of your success in the Freeride World Tour can be attributed to your “Training Coach”? I hear she has you doing lots of push-ups and sit-ups?
Haha… she is a funny one. That’s who I spend the most time riding with, and it amazes me to see the capacity of adaptation that kids have. We go and hit some small cliffs together, ride some pow… great times
Why is the method air important for the sport of snowboarding?
It is just part of the culture I think… it’s just the classiest move in snowboarding I think
How would you define a successful day of shredding?
Good friends, good food, good pow, good scare, and good party
Growing up in Europe, you were surrounded by big, serious mountains. How have the Alps influenced you not only as a snowboarder, but as a human being?
I actually grew up in the Pyrenees, which are a bit smaller by the alps, but I guess that it’s been my environment since I was a born so I think that I am attached to it in some ways. It’s shaped my personality, and most of my life as well.
You recently did a big expedition to Antarctica with Lucas Debari. This looked like an amazing trip! How steep was the terrain?
The steepest terrain was close to 70 degrees we think…. Pretty insane! It’s just so wet out there that it makes the snow pack be completely mental. Freakin loved it!
There was a 20th century novelist and environmentalist named Wallace Stegner who wrote extensively about a concept he called “The Wilderness Idea”. He was able to influence early environmental policy, and had a pivotal role in protecting America’s National Parks. He wrote:
“Something will have gone out of us as a people if we ever let the remaining wilderness be destroyed; if we permit the last virgin forests to be turned into comic books and plastic cigarette cases; If we drive the few remaining members of the wild species into zoos or to extinction… and push our paved roads through the last of the silence…”
The idea is that even if people never go there, just knowing that vast, untouched places still exist is what matters, we “need” wilderness. What does this “Wilderness Idea” mean to you?
I think that this wilderness is everything to me. I think that it feeds my soul and that I can’t be away from it for too long or I become a very angry and frustrated man…
What would you say is more exploratory: Boot packing a knife-edge ridge in Alaska, trying to make sense of Lucas Debari’s stomping skills, or taking shots from a recovered 100 year old bottle of whiskey from Robert Falcon Scott’s failed Antarctic South Pole expedition?
I would go for the last option. Snowboarding is inspirational but it is still something artificial to some degree…
Are there any places you are still itching to explore? Think you’ll go back to Antarctica?
I’d love to push it even more in Antarctica…. Other wise, it’s pretty hard to say…I guess right now I don’t have anything in mind that could be close to the southern continant…
Photos courtesy of Xavier de le Rue