"Individuality and creativity will happen whether it’s in the halfpipe or not."
The Snow Report
Before the X Games, freeskiing’s induction into the Olympics, and the proliferation of twin tips and tall tees, there was a renegade group of mogul skiers known as the New Canadian Air Force. In the late '90s, disgruntled with FIS’s overregulation of competitive bump skiing, they headed into the snowboard parks and began experimenting with off-axis rotations, tricks, and airs. In doing so, they revolutionized skiing, breathing new life into a sport that had all but gone stale.
Leading the pack was JP Auclair, a Quebec City, Canada-born-and-bred bump skier. Through the competitive mogul scene in Canada in the late '90s, Auclair connected with Mike Douglas, J.F. Cusson, Shane Szocs, and others, who would later be known as the New Canadian Air Force. With his creativity and innovation, Auclair became a pioneer of the newschool movement. In 1998, Auclair won the first U.S. Open, one of freeskiing’s earliest competitions. He popularized grabbing in ski tricks, which is now a standard move. In 2002, along with Tanner Hall, he co-founded Armada, the ski company that spawned the ever-popular JJ ski. In 2008, he co-launched Alpine Initiatives, a non-profit that works on charitable projects worldwide, including building and improving a home for children of women with HIV in Kenya. His urban segment from the Sherpas’ 2011 film All.I.Can is the most watched ski segment ever, with over three million views. Whether it’s product development, films, or new tricks, for the past 15 years, Auclair has been one of the most progressive, high-minded, and influential skiers in the sport.
These days, Auclair, 35, lives in Zurich, Switzerland, where he’s immersing himself in European mountain culture and alpinism. Last fall, he left his longtime outerwear sponsor Orage to work on a backcountry apparel line for Armada. This winter, he’ll tackle the Haute Route with the Poor Boyz, who he has filmed with since 1997. He’s also working with the Sherpas again on their upcoming film Into the Mind.
From laying down tricks in the park to his film segments and launching Armada, self-expression has been the driving force of Auclair’s career. Here he talks about the importance of creativity, skiing with Glen Plake, and how the need for freedom has defined his career.
It seems like freedom—freedom from FIS, freedom from the rules—has been a big part of your skiing. Can you talk about that?
It might sound cheesy, but freedom has been the baseline of my whole pursuit with skiing and my life. It started even before moguls, in my racing days. In Quebec you couldn’t do tricks. You’d get your pass pulled if you were hitting jumps or going too fast. And that felt really restrictive and it was holding me back in a big way. I’d be getting in trouble all the time.
I joined a freestyle team because I thought I’d be allowed to do whatever I wanted there and it felt like it for a couple of years. But then once you learn a few tricks and you decide you want to make up tricks and be creative and express yourself, then all of a sudden you’re not allowed to because it’s not in the books. You can’t do tricks that don’t exist in that format. And then it started feeling restricting again. So, I left.
Filming segments is the one thing throughout my career that’s really given me freedom, endless possibilities. It’s been keeping me happy for at least 10 years and I’m still just as excited to build film segments as I was back when I started. And I think to move from the parks to the backcountry to bigger mountains, and to end up here, where I’m at now, it definitely speaks to a baseline theme of freedom.
Talk about your progression from the park into the backcountry, ski mountaineering, and alpinism. It seems like that as skiers mature—you, Seth, Plake—you all gravitate to ski mountaineering. What’s that about?
For me, it’s about an ongoing journey. I’m from Quebec City and grew up skiing the East Coast resorts, doing the ski lessons thing, doing the ski racing thing and freestyle team. Around 16, 17, I started to travel a little bit more and get a glimpse of what bigger mountains look like. I was in awe. The first time I saw the Rocky Mountains, it was mind blowing.