We live in a world of contradictions. People, life, and societies are just built on one paradox after the other. How confusing. And even if we’re often in our own bubble, well, we, ‘the snowboard people’ are also part of life, the world, and society. Bummer.
Being aware of this, I’ve often been trying to find clues on how we as snowboarders should behave and act when it comes to important ethical subjects such as our environment, equity, safety, and more. Because snowboarding is all about having fun, isn’t it? What’s the opposite of having fun? Being serious. Having fun vs responsibilities. Huh, it’s like facing the challenges of being a teenager all over again… Is it a dead-end, though?
Safety, for example, is a really heavy one. Do we really want to associate big traumas and death with the funnest thing we do in our lives? It is a huge part of the picture though, and it’s very hard to avoid it. We often have quite shocking reminders of it in our snowboard community. We desperately need clever ways to address that matter without killing enjoyment of the shred. One person has found some secret ingredients to get on this path of serenity. His name is Victor Daviet, and he manages to take these things seriously without taking the fun out of snowboarding one bit.
Intro & Interview: JUSTIN DUTILH
Hey Vic, how’s it going?
Royally as always!
Do you think snowboarding is fun?
Clearly yes! Snowboarding will always be fun, even if it pushes you to your mental breaking point sometimes. When you’re filming a video part, for example. Someone looking at you battling a trick from the outside can think snowboarding isn’t fun, but it actually is when you push yourself and land the trick. I’ve been snowboarding for 22 or 23 years and I still have the passion for it. I stopped riding a week ago, and I’m already thinking that I could go to Les Deux Alpes! Around me, it feels like some people got fed up with it, but I still grow my love for it. I always find something fun in it, whether it’s in the park, splitboarding, or recently getting into carving. Even on some shoots that could be less exciting, I always have the yearning to go, and that’s cool. This feeling could pass, and I’m happy I still have it.
Yeah, especially when it’s associated with working.
Well, I don’t call this a job. [ed. from the mouth of one of the most professional snowboarders out there…] Still to this day, I don’t even think I’ve started really working *laughs*. People around me will say that I work like a maniac, but for me I haven’t started yet.
Now do you think snowboarding is dangerous?
Yes. Clearly, it is. If you’re a jibber you fall into stairs, it’s dangerous. We have friends that have had serious traumas. For park riding it’s the same, especially with the level of riding getting higher and higher. Young riders today have to be so on point with their mind and bodies for them not to die. In the pipe, it’s getting crazy as well. And in the backcountry, it’s the same thing. Plus, there are a lot of elements which are pretty difficult to identify. A snowpack isn’t easy to understand, for example. If you have a massive park kicker in front of you, it’s easy to see the dangers. In the backcountry, there are a lot more hidden risks. It could be an avalanche, a cornice, or a serac. There are a lot of signs that are harder to describe. So yeah, snowboarding is dangerous in general and even more so in the backcountry.
When, how, and why did safety matters become so important in your snowboarding life?
It happened naturally, in fact. I come from the southern French Alps where I started riding with the small local snowboard club called Asnow Gap created by Laurent Jaubert, the owner of the Atmosphere shop. He sponsored local rippers like Bruno Rivoire, Brynild Vulin, Gaby Bessy and Jean-Jacques Roux. We were in our little bubble over there. It was very relaxed, pretty loose even. It was basically a bunch of snowboard buddies that would go out every day in a minibus and go ride powder without any form of danger awareness or basic avy skills. Then I started to ride park but every Sunday we would go build our own kickers in the backcountry because our snowparks were so shitty. That’s how I got into BC, actually. On Sundays, we would go try to catch some more air and try new tricks. So very early on I was already spending a lot of time in the mountains, and honestly, I think it’s a miracle that nothing happened to me back then. I remember some sessions where there would be so much snow, and we would do stupid things like breaking cornices without being aware of the risks we were taking.
“People around me will say that I work like a maniac, but for me, I haven't started yet.”
Speaking of awareness, do you think that over time this notion of risk awareness was building up in you subconsciously?
Yeah, for sure. Because later on, when we got a bit more serious with backcountry riding filming for Rip Curl videos or Harakiri, we would be with older riders, but no one really had any training. We would pretty much learn the basics ourselves. We would get better at things like always having your avy gear on you, deciding how to shape your spot, checking out your surroundings, understanding the weather forecast, and so on. It was kind of like self-training from being in the mountains. With my pals Thomas Delfino, Victor Delerue, Arthur [Longo] and Valé [Ducourtil], we all learned on the job without any training.
By reading the instruction on your DVAs basically…
*laughs* Yeah pretty much. Then the first avalanche experience I had was in Kazakhstan for the very first Almo video in 2012. It was quite something. So I’m 21 years old, and I get there, and I see dudes trying to trigger avalanches with fireworks…
*laughs* Wow, very festive!
*laughs* Yeah. I suggest you search “Almo, Kazakhstan, avalanche” on Facebook, and you’re in for a treat! So we witnessed these local safety procedures with quite amazed eyes. These guys were so loose! After five or six tries, if nothing happened, they would decide that the snow was stable. These dudes were the Fireworks Squad from the town of Almaty in the valley. So they show up with a plastic tube which they put their fireworks in and then try to aim in the right direction. *laughs*. That was from another world! So they aim in front of them. Boom, it explodes, and it triggers an avalanche. They’re like, okay, there’s an avalanche, but quickly they realize it’s coming straight at them because they launched their firework vertically. So they all climbed on this lift post that was next to them. Carnage. The avalanche had taken away their sled, and all their equipment, but they were safe, thanks to that post. *laughs*.
Then a couple of minutes later, somebody shows up and asks for our help because another avalanche happened somewhere else in the resort. So we go with Morgan [Lefaucheur], Sylvain [Bourbousson], and Jérôme [Tanon], we get there first, where a massive avalanche caught two unequipped ski patrol dudes, and one of them was underneath. Turns out they didn’t really know how to backcountry ski. It was in Kazakhstan 10 years ago. That’s when it became tough. We searched for hours, with the help of the army and everything, and at one point Jérôme dug him out. He was dead, of course. So that was my first wake-up call. The avalanche was so big we didn’t know where to search at first.
Wow, what a story. Years of recklessness, and bam, it happens right in front of you. Even until the very last moment before this tragic event, you guys experienced this light-hearted moment with the fireworks story.
Yeah, so weird. Then two years later, I was filming in Alaska with Absinthe. Around that time, we were hitting a lot of backcountry kickers, but we started doing more freeride lines as well. And I always thought to myself that if I had a trip to Alaska planned, I would get prepared with at least two months of riding a bunch of lines and stuff. So the whole crew is in Whistler, and conditions are shitty. That’s when Vlad [David Vladyka] steps into our room and says: “Okay guys, conditions here are shit. It’s looking good in Alaska. We’re going. Who’s down?” Mat [Crepel] and Victor [Delerue] instantly said yes. I took a minute, but I said yes as well. So that’s how I got parachuted to Alaska.
*laughs* Take that, preparation!
*laughs* Yeah, and the whole crew was there. Wolle [Nyvelt], Mike Basich, Manuel Diaz, Jason Robinson, and Romain Demarchi. A heavy crew. It was the first time I was filming with Justin [Hostynek] too. The boss, you know? After a few days of waiting for the forecast, we get out there on pretty much a perfect day with fresh snow that fell with just a bit of wind. The other riders scored some lines and the day goes pretty well. They don’t send me straight into it you know, I’m the rookie here. After these guys, I pick a safe line, I get up there, and my radio dies. The guys in the heli are waving at me with their feet to tell me that my radio doesn’t work and that I should drop. I drop, and on my second turn, the whole face just goes… So I bomb hill the whole thing because it’s the only option I have. It goes pretty well until I explode at the bottom of the face where I have to jump this crevasse full speed, followed by the avalanche. It catches me up of course, and I decide to trigger my airbag and I stay at the surface. So wow, yeah, that was my first personal avalanche experience. It ends pretty well, though. And it happened in front of all these Absinthe legends I didn’t know, so the moment for sure left a big impression on me.
“If you don't do anything about this, we're all going to die, or at least a few of us will."
Yeah, heavy first timer…
Yeah, so the guide comes to dig me out. I realized a bit more what was going on, and I wasn’t really in shock. I stayed pretty aware of what had happened the whole time. I took a 30-minute break then Victor and Mat convinced me to get back on the horse straight away, which I did, and we ended up having a pretty cool session that day. Yeah, my first personal avalanche was pretty memorable.
Then two years later I went back to Haines, Alaska, with Transworld. I get caught again, and I trigger my airbag but nothing too serious. I remember there were pretty shitty conditions, and I’m not even sure we were filming actually. And just a bit later, we got called for a rescue because an avalanche happened on the face next to ours. The Heli picked us up straight away to bring us on site. You see, we were sharing the heli with Bode Merril’s crew that day. Bode, who I’d spent an entire month with the previous summer. And suddenly my friend was under 1.5m of snow… For this rescue, we were in the best conditions possible. We were 10 trained pro riders, mountain guides with us, and a helicopter to pick up everyone and do the evacuation as fast as possible. And still, it took 7 to 10 minutes to dig him out and when we did, he was purple and almost gone. On top of that, he didn’t make any mistakes, you know? I think it was his third time riding that face, but when the heli dropped him off on top of his line, a pocket of snow left and took him into this massive avalanche before he even grabbed his gear. So there he goes without his board strapped in or even his backpack on, naked pretty much. That’s when it hit me hard. I told myself, “Dude, you’ve been doing this for 10 years now, are you out of your mind or what? If you don’t do anything about this, we’re all going to die, or at least a few of us will.”
I tell you, at that time, if the same thing happened in Avoriaz or anywhere else, there was no need to grab your shovel, you can go straight to the funeral… I tell you, that day, we shovelled like animals. It’s the first time I felt so close to my animal instincts in order to get your buddy out of there, you know? So it took me two years to really do something about it. I probably needed time to deal with the aftermath and the shock too. I had some projects going on as well. But yeah, two years later we decided to truly get trained like we wanted and the first edition of the Safety Shred Days happened, and have been going on ever since.
Wow yeah, that does sound like some life-changing experiences. Actually, with all these events happening and you slowly having this “danger awareness” growing in you, did it ever feel like it was taking away some fun from it?
Aaah. Well, that’s the thing. We train so we can have the most fun snowboarding. I shared with you some tragic events that can be really hard to deal with emotionally for a lot of people. It wasn’t too bad for me, but it can be really hard. We all know people around us that have lost loved ones, and I wish that no one goes through this in their life. This is what can take away the fun from snowboarding. But to get trained all together, to learn about our difficult surroundings, and to do it in a light-hearted way in order to avoid accidents and have even more fun in the end, that’s what keeps the fun in it. Safety is clearly a subject that can break the fun part of things, but we need to flip things over. To me, that’s why we should be more interested in safety. So we can have more fun in the end.
Cool, I was afraid you’ve become a grumpy old snowboarder nowadays *laughs*.
*laughs* No. But you know what? When you get more knowledge on some things, and let’s say you decide not to go on a very sketchy powder day, or not to go on this face or whatever, some people will say you’re a grumpy old snowboarder or a killjoy or something. *laughs*
Looking back at it, would you say that you still sometimes take stupid risks? Do you still act very spontaneously whenever there’s a big dump, especially at the beginning of the winter season?
Yeah, for sure. However, there are some signs or flags that, over the years and through these trainings, you’re kind of always aware of. But the goal is to try to avoid this sort of escalation of excitement that comes with every big snowfall. It’s difficult because I think most of us literally get into a trance state when it snows, and I’m the first one to do so!
That’s good, it kind of means you’re still a snowboarder and a normal-ish human being *laughs*. You guys used to have this crew called “À branler” that we can translate nicely as the “Careless” crew. Your motto back then would be something like “Either a make or the hospital” which sounds better in French somehow *laughs*. Have you ever been a full sender though? Like with an ‘all or nothing’ kind of mentality?
No. That’s probably why I’m still here today doing what I do. I’ve always been a sender whenever I felt it and the conditions were good. I’ve never been that person that would take unnecessary risks. There are moments where I know I can switch to this “À branler” mentality only because I feel comfortable and I have previously analyzed the situation. I’m more of a thoughtful snowboarder than a daredevil.
Don’t you think it’s fascinating how some people can get away with that attitude?
Yeah well, it is, but never for a long time, I noticed. There are quickly some injuries or some close calls, so it never lasts. After a few years, it usually calms down. However, I admit that some of them can take massive risks and control everything about it, and that’s freakin stylish!
You’ve become a bit of an activist over the years, putting time and effort into solidarity causes with Riders for Refugees, Snowboarders of Solidarity (SOS), and of course, safety causes as well with the Safety Shred Days (SSD). Would you say ethics has taken a larger scale in your life than before?
I’ve always been educated on these values through my family. My mom would welcome refugees at home and would always be there for her kids, and here for our friends as well. She’s truly a generous person. But I never really set myself up to do these things. It all came to me naturally.
“Safety is clearly a subject that can break the fun part of things, but we need to flip things over. To me, that's why we should be more interested in safety. So we can have more fun in the end.”
Like Riders for Refugees was already there, and you simply decided to help them out a bunch?
Yeah exactly. And it’s like for Snowboarders of Solidarity (SOS), it was also something quite unexpected, once again related to snowboarding. That story is simply insane, and it has been a tremendous life lesson for me. For a while, it was the only thing that was on my mind. It was impossible for me to do something else or even think of something else. My life mission was to save these 15 Afghan snowboarders that had reached out to me for help because suddenly their lives were in danger because of snowboarding. I met them in Pakistan sometime before for an event where everyone was just thinking about having fun riding. And a few months later, the Taliban took over the country again, and they got into a situation where they weren’t in a safe place anymore. That’s when they reached out. It was pretty difficult for me to handle, but we managed to get all of them safely into Europe in the end. And thanks to the snowboarding community, actually. It’s crazy to think that we managed to save the life of 15 people through snowboarding… One more reason to get back to the community.
That’s why the Safety Shred Days also came naturally. I realized that there was nothing adapted to our community to help us become safer out there. This community has given so much to me already. Everything I have today, my day-to-day life, my whole life, I owe to that piece of wood we call a snowboard. I felt like I had to give back something positive to snowboarding somehow, and that’s what I found. I’ve done a bunch of video parts, I’ve enjoyed myself a lot, but in the end, what’s the most important thing that I will leave to snowboarding, you know? Compared to the Safety Shred Days, I think these video parts are not that useful.
Yeah, maybe, but I don’t think you realize how important these video parts are. For the culture and to inspire others to get out there and shred as well.
I realize that, but it’s not as concrete as these gatherings that we’ve been doing.
Okay, safety first! Can you describe what the Safety Shred Days is?
The Safety Shred Days is an early season gathering to train on risk management and mountain rescue.
It’s a bit scary to describe it like that *laughs*.
Yeah, but it’s not like avalanche training or something.
I noticed you forgot to mention the “shred” in your Safety Shred Days description.
*laughs* Yeah I know, but you’ve been there and you’re aware that one of the key principles is not to be scary or try to get people off the mountain because it’s dangerous. It’s quite the opposite. The goal is to inspire people to ride in a more aware mode. To be out there with a bit more knowledge about these safety matters. We don’t say no. We say drop in fully committed but with more experience to help you have more fun for the longest time possible and try avoiding any drama that could ruin your day, your season, or even your life. Unfortunately, something bad that can mark you forever can occur in the blink of an eye.
“I want to ride and maybe learn a thing or two in the mix. I don't want to be brainwashed at all”
How did you come up with the SSD formula, and what was your mentality when you first put it together?
In the beginning, it was really for my friends and myself. Then it quickly got into doing something for other riders as well. I wanted to be trained by mountain guides that spoke to us, freestyle snowboarders. So yeah, I wanted to gather everyone and get suitable guides because I wondered why we never really got trained. Simply because it was
250€ per day, and you would be trained by backcountry skiers that would never understand us and whom we would maybe not even really listen to. Today we managed to create an event where it’s super cheap to be trained with staff that can talk to us, and it will always be as light-hearted and fun as possible.
How did everyone respond to the event at first?
The very first edition was a success! It was very simply organized in just a couple of months before we did it. It was a pretty handmade event, you know? We were all staying in this chalet, and it got pretty loose actually. Of course, we had some party times. At one point Enzo Nilo stole some bottles from the closed bar *laughs*.
*laughs* I guess the shred will always reappear somehow… Put some alcohol in the mix and safety quickly vanishes…
*laughs* Yeah I guess. No, but it was mad fun. We didn’t even do the banked slalom we had planned because it snowed like a meter, so we just rode all weekend. Everyone had a huge smile on their face at the end of the event.
*laughs* No wonder, it does sound like the perfect safety training event ever!
*laughs* Yeah, well it got me pumped to organize some more, that’s for sure. It’s still as fun today, actually! If not, it would be hard for me to give so much time to plan everything and all. It takes so much time, you know? But it’s totally worth it. Everyone is behind me, so that’s amazing. Riders of course but the resorts as well, and brands too. It wouldn’t be as cheap without these partners, so that’s rad!
What do you think riders really get from it? They’re not gonna stop riding steep lines or stop jumping 10 meter cliffs without wearing a helmet after the training, are they?
No, but once again, we don’t want people not to do dangerous things anymore. However, during the SSD, they will get better at managing their risks and analyzing their surroundings. They will share their experience and learn from others too, and that’s pretty precious. On top of that, they will learn how to put themselves in a safe spot and learn how to rescue others if something happens. You can’t learn everything in one weekend anyway. But even for me, I say to myself if I remember 15% of what I’ve learned here, maybe one day I’ll be close to a 100%. And it’s a good way to update your skills at the beginning of the season as well. We forget so fast, and at one point you want to be as good as possible if needed. Not for you but for your friends.
How did you evolve the SSD over the years?
We stayed with the same formula as at the very beginning. Now it’s even bigger with people from all over. I always try to keep planning fun things that are important for me, like banked slaloms, best tricks, backcountry sessions, hockey games where we destroy each other, and big parties like this year where our president blacked out completely *laughs*.
That doesn’t sound too safe *laughs*. I did a couple of them and I can testify that you do have loads of fun in these events. Even if things can get a bit serious sometimes with the training, there are a lot of those lighter moments. Congrats on creating such a light event about safety without it becoming somehow superficial!
“The mountain has no brain. Use your own.”
And you end up spending so much time on your board during these events. Maybe that’s your secret to keeping it the most casual and fun possible. As long as there’s this much snowboarding in the mix it will always stay fun for sure.
But you know, it’s no secret really. I’m the first one out there that gets trained at these events, and I’m the first one that wants to ride as well… When you come to the SSD, it’s 50% training and 50% snowboarding. That’s pretty much it. Yeah, and like I said, I organize all this in my free time, so I might as well make it as fun for me as possible, you know? I want to ride and maybe learn a thing or two in the mix. I don’t want to be brainwashed at all.
Plus, you seem to get powder delivered every time. That doesn’t sound as easy to plan though…
*laughs* We got lucky every time, I guess.
Speaking of riding, there are loads of moments when we all ride together, including the instructors. I wonder how these professional mountain guides react when they see a big crew of loose riders shredding all over, flipping on every side hit they see, and who can’t help themselves from spraying every jerry that comes across them?
Well, they simply think we are lucky as hell… Let’s put it this way, they have the knowledge of what can happen regarding negative scenarios, and they know their statistics. They’re simply happy that we haven’t experienced something really bad yet and they want to help us avoid these bad scenarios.
Something that stuck with me during this year’s training is that avalanches are not the highest risk of major problems out there, but even more so for us, freestyle snowboarders, it’s traumas. Statistically speaking, I mean. Is focusing more on traumas a path you want to take for future events?
I consider that’s what we lack most as experienced and pro snowboarders. So we started getting trained on these subjects. Also for me. Normally if you do the avalanche training every year, you get a little better every time, but at one point, you don’t learn that much. However for us, even in the Alps in a not-so-remote spot, you can quickly get isolated if the weather turns or something. And basically, we are the first rescue people on site when there’s an accident. And if the official rescue squad takes a while to arrive or can’t come for whatever reason, we better be ready. So still with the same philosophy, we want to be able to continue snowboarding as we do, but if someone hits a tree or a rock, we want to be ready to handle it and avoid the worst. Because unfortunately, we’re still stupid, and we will keep on doing stupid things *laughs*.
Would you say the SSD mostly applies to mountain people? Or can it also be useful to street riders, for example?
For learning how to handle traumas and taking care of an injured person, for sure, yes. All the avalanche stuff, maybe less.
What’s the importance of the crew in all this? Because in the end it mostly gives you clues on how to behave in a group. Whether it’s your friends or anyone that might get involved in your snowboard experience. Would you say the best way is to come to the SSD with your crew?
Yeah, but not necessarily. Your crew will change, you know? You don’t always ride with the same people. And in a group, you always consider what you’re gonna do based on the least experienced rider there. But for sure, ideally, you want everyone in the crew to have some basic experience in safety. At least for your own safety *laughs*. Let alone that everyone should show up with a beacon on a pow day, of course it’s very important to know your crew. Things can quickly go south if something happens and you overestimated some of your snowboard pals…
What’s the most you’ve learned over the years? And how do you feel it helps your snowboarding now?
It came little by little, and every time I add a new card to my game. I guess it made me a bit more intelligent about my riding. I definitely earned some conscience and awareness regarding snowboarding and our environment. I guess I grew up somehow.
In order to shred as long as possible.
My goal exactly.
What’s the best advice you can give to people to get more prepared out there?
Buy avy gear, use it, and don’t forget to read the instructions *laughs*. No, but seriously, simply spend some time out there and respect your environment. If you play by certain rules out there, nature might respect you in return.