The 3rd Annual JP Memorial – Remembering A Legend
Words & Photos by Matt Sklar
In the mid to late 90s mogul skiing had begun to go down the path of the hotdogging movement before it, overrun by rules and regulations. From this restriction arose one of the greatest displays of freedom and innovation that has ever been seen in skiing, freestyle. It is this spirit of rebellion, expression, and creativity that was celebrated along with the life of freeskiing pioneer JP Auclair at this year’s JP Auclair Memorial in Whistler Blackcomb.
Alongside JP, the skiers known collectively as The New Canadian Air Force (NCAF) pushed the boundaries of skiing beyond the mogul course to start a revolution that birthed modern freestyle skiing. These skiers are JF Cusson, Mike Douglas, Shane Szocs, and Vincent Dorion. This group left an indelible mark on the way people ski, and also on the community itself. Tragically, in 2014 JP and Swedish skier Andreas Fransson were killed in an avalanche in Chile.
JP was undoubtedly a pioneer on the mountain, however, the way he influenced people of the hill has perhaps created an even stronger legacy, one that is celebrated every day by the many people he touched in his lifetime through his personal life and his non-profit organization, Alpine Initiatives. It is this legacy that was celebrated in Whistler April 8th- 11th with a gathering of the New Canadian Airforce and a weekend of throwbacks hearkening back to the old days of freestyle skiing.
The weekend began with a simple gathering in the Whistler Village, where old ski films were shown and many old friends were reunited for the first time in years. Mike Douglas quipped, only joking somewhat, that the group only gets together nowadays for somber events like funerals. So, to gather in a place of celebration and community was something special for these pioneers of the sport. The list of influential skiers on hand is too long to list. The diversity of the group across generations, and disciplines within skiing was more impressive. That is something that only JP’s spirit of creativity and kindness could conjure. Among this group was Douglas, Szocs, Dorian, and Philou Poirier.
The feeling of community and reverence on this first night was almost tangible in the room as Sherpas Cinema unveiled a tease to a tribute video based on JP’s famous street segment in the Movie All I Can. JP’s wife gave an emotional speech, with notes of thankfulness and celebration.
The next morning saw the group heading high up to the Blackcomb Glacier for a session on the natural windlip feature that JP and the NCAF first filmed on 20 years ago. It didn’t take long before the backflip mute grabs, JP’s signature trick, were being hucked by both the older legends and the new generation of skiers like evo ambassador Chris Benchetler. Mike Douglas probably had the most hits on the windlip of anyone, with plenty of backy mutes, and his signature D-Spin 7. Vincent Dorion stepped up to throw a couple 360s after not having skied out of Quebec for the better part of a decade (he is one of the first skiers to ever jump and land switch). Shane Szocs threw a classic lawn-dart front flip, and many more skiers showed off their tributes to both newschool and oldschool freestyle skiing.
The session then moved on to a hand-shaped quarterpipe near the 7th Heaven chair. Here the oldschool dominated with too many handplants and pole plants to count. Notably, Rob Heule laid down some of the most smooth plants, all on his original Salomon 1080 skis, one of the very first twintip skis, pioneered by JP and the NCAF. It was great to see a younger generation of professional skiers like Huele, Bobby Brown, Sammy Carlson, and Benchetler embracing the roots and tipping their caps to the guys who started it all.
Speaking with Mike Douglas at the quarterpipe session, he talked about this impact, and about the importance of staying connected to the roots of the sport. He said “It’s really easy nowadays, with the way the modern world runs at a really high speed and everything is online, it’s really easy to forget where you came from and to forget how things were… not everything from those times is preserved, so getting people together and telling the stories is cool.” Gathering the legends of the sport is not only cool, but is also a reminder to look back and embrace the things that they have done to bring skiing to where it is today. Douglas summed it all up perfectly, saying “I think there are lessons and special things within everything that JP was that we can all take something from, for that reason alone, we should never forget.”