Interview: A Pro’s Life-Bertrand Denervaud

He’s beaten everyone you’ve ever heard of, so why haven’t you heard of him?

The eight-timeworld champion talks success, politics, and survival of the snowboard spirit. Interview by Kurt Hoy Hisaccomplishments read like teen fantasy: “My best boardercross win was Big Bear, ’97, in front of Palmer. Iwon the halfpipe in front of Terje … the year Terje lost only one contest. My best slalom win wasFieberbrunn, that’s like the Alpine race in Europe. I won, beating Martin Frienadametz in the semis andDieter Happ in the finals. That was rad.”

Top off the list with six International Snowboard Federation (ISF)Overall World Cup Championships-on par with icons like surfing’s Kelly Slater and supercross-star JeremyMcGrath-along with two World Championship titles, and you’ve only put a dent in the legacy ofSwitzerland’s Bertrand Denervaud. Bertrand-or “Berti” to friends-is undoubtedly the most prolific competitorsnowboarding has ever known. He is a winner by pure definition in a world awash with bogus resumes andLittle League trophies. Berti’s uniqueness, however, isn’t so much in the titles he holds or how snowboardingdefines him, but more in how he has defined snowboarding. This is especially true since he assumed the roleof ISF president in June of 1998. Why, then, isn’t Berti’s name as household-common as those of everyonehe beats? Most likely because, while other riders were focused on getting photographed, Berti was moreconcerned with getting good. It’s also not that easy to peg Bertrand right off, packaging him neatly into thesnowboarder mold. There’s more to him than the “hey, check me out” face-value of most riders; you alwayskind of wonder what’s churning behind his piercing blue eyes. Anyway, his talent speaks more loudly than heever could. Much of Berti’s success comes from his ability to adapt to changes in the snowboard climate.He’s evolved with the sport, transcending gaps other riders couldn’t make, staying current and-moreamazingly-grounded in the feeling that started him riding in the first place. But, even more unique than hisability to adapt to the changes in snowboarding as they come, Bertrand actually sees them coming.

What issnowboarding about, what’s the spirit of it?

It’s the same spirit of all these new sports. It’s really a searchfor the feeling. For the sensation of it. It’s what you’re looking for when you’re skateboarding; you want tohave the feeling of that new trick. Same for surfing, you want to get deep in that barrel, you want to have thefeeling of it. When you go snowboarding, you go to have fun. You don’t go to get better or to train. Whenyou see traditional sports like biking-where you have to train so hard to get to something-you get satisfactiononly afterward because you finally made it, so you’re happy. But before that there’s no satisfaction, it’s onlystruggle and work. And snowboarding is not just about the sport; it’s about music and friendship. There’s alot around it. Gian Simmen said it the best: “I went to the Olympics, I rode, and they gave me a medal forit.” And that’s how you do snowboarding if you want to do it for long. You ride and try to get the feeling, andeventually, you might win. It’s a drug. We are all drug addicts laughs.

What’s the best thing about beinga snowboarder?

The traveling and meeting different people. It helped me learn different languages Bertispeaks German, Swiss German, French, English, and gets by in Italian, and experience different states ofmind than just my town’s. I’m really grateful for that. The first years that we were cruising the world, withCami Camille Brichet and Reto Lamm, Michi Fruh-the Swiss crew-it was just awesome. We went toJapan, and we came to the States.

Do you miss anything about Switzerland when you’re away?Friends. I travel with my snowboarding friends, but I have a really strong group of friends I was with inschool, and every spring we still go on holiday surfing together. That’s really what I miss the most.

Are thoshe guys you ride with when you’re home?

Yeah, they’re not really good snowboarders at all. We just gohave fun, get drunk. Are you recognized in Switzerland, even by non-snowboarders? No. They mightknow the name, but not the person. That’s kind of obvious if you do winter sports because everytime you’reon TV you’re wearing goggles and a helmet. It’s really good because I can walk around and just do crazyshit and nobody’s going to say, “Oh, he was drunk again,” or anything. In the States, the best-knownriders aren’t necessarily the best riders or the ones who win contests, but the ones in themagazines who do photo shoots and have a cool image.

Is it the same in Europe?

Six or seven yearsago, I was doing freeriding, Alpine, filming, freestyle, boardercross, and big air, everything. Now, you’ve gotto focus on something. You can’t touch everything. So the guys in the magazines are the best freeriders; theydon’t compete, but they’re the best at what they’re doing. In Europe, people will judge riders according towhat they do. They know that Gian Simmen is a really good halfpipe rider and they will respect him for that,and they will know Jean Babtiste Charlet is a really good freerider and respect him for that. They get adifferent type of coverage, but no one’s going to say only Babs Jean Babtiste is cool and that Gian is notcool cause he competes. They’re going to respect people for what they do. Here, since U.S. riders are notwinning anymore in halfpipe, competition is no longer cool. Since Kelly Craig and Brushie Jeff are off thepipe rankings, it’s just about Peter Line freeriding. It’s okay, but I think it’s not giving enough respect for guyslike Ross Powers, who are really good riders.

What makes someone a good rider?

I really believe thatyou can see it in a boardercross, because boardercross gives you all kinds of terrain-rollers, jumps, bankedturns-and you can see who is on top of their board. Who can actually ride it. The guys doing well inboardercross are the riders who have been riding for ten years, twelve years-the Palmers, the Bauers, theTerjes, myself. Phillipe Conte or Tor Bruserud, they’ve been here forever, and they know what they’redoing once they’re on their boards. You see so many kids now-they’re really good at big air because theycan launch and do whatever in the air, but they have no control over their boards. I think the essence ofsnowboarding is still freeriding and to do everything: a little bit of halfpipe, a little bit of boardercross, a littlebit of Alpine even-to do all the aspects of snowboarding makes you a good snowboarder. Even Terjecompeted in Alpine. It totally improves your riding, everything you do is improving your riding.

After ridingfor fourteen years, are you still improving? At what point do you think your riding has been at itsbest?

In ’95. Now I’m better in boardercross, and I’m better in halfpipe now than I was then. But at thattime I was riding better than the others in the pipe and I could still do freestyle, big-air contests, and I coulddo backside nines off kickers. Now I’m just getting too old for that shit. The best riders in the world lookup to you. Which riders do you respect? Ingemar Backman, because he just comes back from injuryand out of the blue pulls incredible shit. And you go, “This guy hasn’t been riding for the last two years.”Same for Terje-he just rides ten days a year and kicks ass. I have a lot of respect for that because I’ve beenhurt myself, and I know that when I come back, it always takes some time until I can rip again. TheyIngemar and Terje have a lot of strength in their heads, and they have no fear, no doubt. They just go for it.I still have a lot of respect for riders who were my stars when I started, like Peter Bauer, Craig Kelly, BertLamar. They were really the guys I was looking up to. They turned out to be really smart guys and they cando something with their lives afterward. I have respect for that.

What do you have planned for the otherside, after riding?

I started my own Internet shop, it’s like Snowboarding Online here. It’s called Sno.Ch,that’s something I just wanted to look into. I don’t know, I might just go back to studies. Today I know that Ihave about ten different options. I feel like snowboarding gave me a lot, so it’s my turn to give something tothe sport if I can. I just do it with that approach. The International Snowboard Federation ISF hasexisted since 1984 in one capacity or another, but most snowboarders-and even some pros-don’treally understand what it’s about and why it’s different from the ski federation the FIS. Can yougive us the basics? I read a book last week about the life of Richard Branson Branson started theindependent-music label Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airlines, and he explained the fight betweenVirgin Atlantic Airlines and British Airways. We’re ISF Virgin Atlantic; we’re just the cool brand that doescrazy shit, but we don’t have the funds to fight British Airways. The ISF is really doing something forsnowboarding, that’s their only thing-they don’t have Alpine and cross-country skiing and snowboarding onSaturdays. Some people will argue that there is no spirit of snowboarding in competition, but I disagree. Ithink there’s really a cool atmosphere during snowboarding contests-that’s why it’s important to keep the ISFgoing. It’s a survival thing for the snowboarding spirit, to keep the ISF alive. The day the ISF is dead, thesport will be dead. Today, FIS is investing a lot of money in snowboarding because they have to win thatfight against the ISF for control of snowboarding competition, especially Olympic snowboarding, and theday they have killed us, then they’re going to stop investing money in snowboarding. They’re going to parksnowboarding next to grass skiing or I don’t know what.

What have you learned from snowboarding?

Commitment. I’ve been really committed, I think. I know I’ve never had the charisma of a Terje or thoseother guys who won a lot of titles, so I have to work for what I achieve. It’s not something that was justsnaps his fingers coming like this. I worked a lot, I trained a lot-I’m not ashamed to say it. I know peoplesay it’s not cool to train or whatever. I train. And I’ve done a lot beside that. I’m learning a lot now. It’s noton the competition side, but I’ve learned a lot through PSA Pro Snowboarders’ Association and now theISF. When you’re a rider, you’re bitching about stuff from the rider’s point of view, about the event-well thefood sucked or the pipe sucked-and then when you start to be in touch with the other side, you start tounderstand what it’s like to deal for TV rights or to organize an event, or how much it actually costs toorganize an event and why you can’t offer more to the riders. This has been a good school, and in whatever Ido in life afterward, I can use this to see problems from more than one point of view and try to beopen-minded.

What’s up with racing in Europe; what’s the future of Alpine riding?

I don’t really seeany future for Alpine racing as it is. I said it four years ago, I’m still saying it; if Alpine is not changing in areally radical way, the only option in the future will be FIS. Because they’ll do the ski format, they don’t care.And they’ll have national teams and raise money out of I don’t know where, but not from the snowboardindustry. The only future would be to totally change Alpine, to make it something original, snowboardish, andattractive. I could see banked slalom as one discipline of Alpine to stay, and the second one being a dualcross, more like boardercross, but on a totally fair system so you don’t have to compete next to each other.

What about snowboard competition in general?

Boardercross to me is how snowboarding is going to gowide public. Everybody can sit in their chair wearing their wife beater, with a beer and a pizza, and watchboardercross. There’s no timing, no judges, there are crashes, action. So why not? Halfp otherside, after riding?

I started my own Internet shop, it’s like Snowboarding Online here. It’s called Sno.Ch,that’s something I just wanted to look into. I don’t know, I might just go back to studies. Today I know that Ihave about ten different options. I feel like snowboarding gave me a lot, so it’s my turn to give something tothe sport if I can. I just do it with that approach. The International Snowboard Federation ISF hasexisted since 1984 in one capacity or another, but most snowboarders-and even some pros-don’treally understand what it’s about and why it’s different from the ski federation the FIS. Can yougive us the basics? I read a book last week about the life of Richard Branson Branson started theindependent-music label Virgin Records and Virgin Atlantic Airlines, and he explained the fight betweenVirgin Atlantic Airlines and British Airways. We’re ISF Virgin Atlantic; we’re just the cool brand that doescrazy shit, but we don’t have the funds to fight British Airways. The ISF is really doing something forsnowboarding, that’s their only thing-they don’t have Alpine and cross-country skiing and snowboarding onSaturdays. Some people will argue that there is no spirit of snowboarding in competition, but I disagree. Ithink there’s really a cool atmosphere during snowboarding contests-that’s why it’s important to keep the ISFgoing. It’s a survival thing for the snowboarding spirit, to keep the ISF alive. The day the ISF is dead, thesport will be dead. Today, FIS is investing a lot of money in snowboarding because they have to win thatfight against the ISF for control of snowboarding competition, especially Olympic snowboarding, and theday they have killed us, then they’re going to stop investing money in snowboarding. They’re going to parksnowboarding next to grass skiing or I don’t know what.

What have you learned from snowboarding?

Commitment. I’ve been really committed, I think. I know I’ve never had the charisma of a Terje or thoseother guys who won a lot of titles, so I have to work for what I achieve. It’s not something that was justsnaps his fingers coming like this. I worked a lot, I trained a lot-I’m not ashamed to say it. I know peoplesay it’s not cool to train or whatever. I train. And I’ve done a lot beside that. I’m learning a lot now. It’s noton the competition side, but I’ve learned a lot through PSA Pro Snowboarders’ Association and now theISF. When you’re a rider, you’re bitching about stuff from the rider’s point of view, about the event-well thefood sucked or the pipe sucked-and then when you start to be in touch with the other side, you start tounderstand what it’s like to deal for TV rights or to organize an event, or how much it actually costs toorganize an event and why you can’t offer more to the riders. This has been a good school, and in whatever Ido in life afterward, I can use this to see problems from more than one point of view and try to beopen-minded.

What’s up with racing in Europe; what’s the future of Alpine riding?

I don’t really seeany future for Alpine racing as it is. I said it four years ago, I’m still saying it; if Alpine is not changing in areally radical way, the only option in the future will be FIS. Because they’ll do the ski format, they don’t care.And they’ll have national teams and raise money out of I don’t know where, but not from the snowboardindustry. The only future would be to totally change Alpine, to make it something original, snowboardish, andattractive. I could see banked slalom as one discipline of Alpine to stay, and the second one being a dualcross, more like boardercross, but on a totally fair system so you don’t have to compete next to each other.

What about snowboard competition in general?

Boardercross to me is how snowboarding is going to gowide public. Everybody can sit in their chair wearing their wife beater, with a beer and a pizza, and watchboardercross. There’s no timing, no judges, there are crashes, action. So why not? Halfpipe is going to stayfor people who are able to understand it. Otherwise you watch it for ten, fifteen minutes, then you switchchannels because you don’t understand it; it looks the same. It could be impressive, but it’s still always thesame. When you see freestyle skiing, what they do-a triple backflip with triple spins-it’s incredible, but youwatch it for ten minutes and you go, “Well, I’ve seen it.” That’s the problem with halfpipe. The problem withAlpine is that it’s just like skiing. So your focus is on boardercross now? I’m doing the ISF Tour, whichthe Vans Triple Crown is part of, the Swatch Boardercross World Tour is part of, and then there’re acouple more. The U.S. Open might be, I don’t know yet. Last year’s ’98’s boardercross at the U.S. Openwas a joke. It was just like a totally amateur race. If it’s the same, I’m not going to the Open. It was like theybuilt the course overnight and had a World Cup the next day-not how it’s supposed to be. A lot of peoplewrite boardercross off as a crap shoot.

Is it all luck?

There’s a lot of luck involved in boardercross.Every rider has been unlucky a couple times, some are more often unlucky than others. Through the seasonthere will be a couple races where people are going to crash into you, or somebody’s going to fall right infront of you. But if you see the rankings, it’s always the same guys leading. Always the same guys winning.Out of the top-ten riders who could win, there are always at least four or five of them in the final heat of six,and there’s maybe one guy who got lucky. The five others are not lucky; they’re the best. You often see thatin the final, the bib numbers are really low. It’s the best guys from the time trials, the fastest guys on the slopeare meeting. So, there’s luck involved, but throughout the season the best guys surface.

So it’s important tohave a boardercross tour rather than a single event?

If you do just one, then you might win, you mightlose. That’s why it’s really tricky to have a World Championship Boardercross. Because that’s just one dayfor the title the ISF World Champion is decided by a single event held every two years. I would rather seea World Championship Boardercross Tour, so the World Champion is decided out of eight events. Then it’sa fair result because you can be unlucky two or three times, win two or three times, and get good results thenext two times and you’d be the World Champion. But if you got unlucky on that one race for the WorldChampionship title, then, too bad. This is not the same for Alpine and freestyle, where you can ride at yourlevel and win your race and be the World Champ. That kind of goes along with the Olympics, too.

What about that? Olympic boardercross?

Ooh, I don’t know. If you ask me, I would like snowboardingnot to be an Olympic sport. It’s good because they talk a lot about snowboarding, it gets exposure, but Idon’t think it’s the future of the sport. But if halfpipe and Alpine are in the Olympics, then I guessboardercross will be.

So if it’s in, are you going? I would rather see snowboarding banned from theOlympics and have us do our own thing. But, if it’s there, I’m going to go and try to do my best. I went toNagano, and I must say it was a great experience. But if it’s right for the sport, I don’t know.

Even afterNagano you’d still rather not see snowboarding in the Olympics?

Yeah, especially on the political side.All this ISF/ FIS shit would be so much mellower if snowboarding wasn’t at the Olympics. I really believe theFIS would not do any snowboarding if it were not an Olympic discipline. It would make life a lot easier.

What do you think about Terje not going to the Olympics?

Terje Haakonsen, who is widelyconsidered the top halfpipe rider in the world, opted not to participate in the Olympics because itwas an FIS-not ISF-sanctioned event. He also announced that he will not participate in the SaltLake City 2002 Games. First of all, he could not train properly because of hiss hip. In Gerlos he won, butit was a really, really close call with Daniel Franck. I don’t know if it was just, “Ahh f-k it, I don’t want togo.” Or if it was deeper thinking. Although, the Olympics were a great experience, and I think he would haveliked to be there-to live that no matter what happens after.

What are some of your career highlights?

Allthe contest wins were good. I got second in Breckenridge in 1992 in halfpipe when Brushie won and CraigKelly got third. That was the greatest memory-the first time a Euro went on the halfpipe podium in the States.Man, that was incredible. I think one of the best memories was the film we made in Greenland in spring of’95, after this crazy season where I won all of these things. We snowboarded places that had never beentouched before and the background was icebergs and … it was amazing. The season was over and there wasno more stress, just riding for myself. Well, for a camera and photographer, but that’s as close as I can thinkto riding for myself laughs. That really was one of the best. At night we would see the aurora borealis, andwe ate whale. Incredible experience. We’ll see you next year on the tour? Definitely. I’ll be training fornext year-I want to win the boardercross tour. In ’97 I was second after Palmer. It was really close. Hewon two events and I won two events, and at the final in Laax Switzerland, he won and I got second.Unfortunately, last year I didn’t win because I went to the Olympics, so I missed a couple of boardercrosses.Eventually, within two years, I will win the tour. I’m going to work for it. is going to stayfor people who are able to understand it. Otherwise you watch it for ten, fifteen minutes, then you switchchannels because you don’t understand it; it looks the same. It could be impressive, but it’s still always thesame. When you see freestyle skiing, what they do-a triple backflip with triple spins-it’s incredible, but youwatch it for ten minutes and you go, “Well, I’ve seen it.” That’s the problem with halfpipe. The problem withAlpine is that it’s just like skiing. So your focus is on boardercross now? I’m doing the ISF Tour, whichthe Vans Triple Crown is part of, the Swatch Boardercross World Tour is part of, and then there’re acouple more. The U.S. Open might be, I don’t know yet. Last year’s ’98’s boardercross at the U.S. Openwas a joke. It was just like a totally amateur race. If it’s the same, I’m not going to the Open. It was like theybuilt the course overnight and had a World Cup the next day-not how it’s supposed to be. A lot of peoplewrite boardercross off as a crap shoot.

Is it all luck?

There’s a lot of luck involved in boardercross.Every rider has been unlucky a couple times, some are more often unlucky than others. Through the seasonthere will be a couple races where people are going to crash into you, or somebody’s going to fall right infront of you. But if you see the rankings, it’s always the same guys leading. Always the same guys winning.Out of the top-ten riders who could win, there are always at least four or five of them in the final heat of six,and there’s maybe one guy who got lucky. The five others are not lucky; they’re the best. You often see thatin the final, the bib numbers are really low. It’s the best guys from the time trials, the fastest guys on the slopeare meeting. So, there’s luck involved, but throughout the season the best guys surface.

So it’s important tohave a boardercross tour rather than a single event?

If you do just one, then you might win, you mightlose. That’s why it’s really tricky to have a World Championship Boardercross. Because that’s just one dayfor the title the ISF World Champion is decided by a single event held every two years. I would rather seea World Championship Boardercross Tour, so the World Champion is decided out of eight events. Then it’sa fair result because you can be unlucky two or three times, win two or three times, and get good results thenext two times and you’d be the World Champion. But if you got unlucky on that one race for the WorldChampionship title, then, too bad. This is not the same for Alpine and freestyle, where you can ride at yourlevel and win your race and be the World Champ. That kind of goes along with the Olympics, too.

What about that? Olympic boardercross?

Ooh, I don’t know. If you ask me, I would like snowboardingnot to be an Olympic sport. It’s good because they talk a lot about snowboarding, it gets exposure, but Idon’t think it’s the future of the sport. But if halfpipe and Alpine are in the Olympics, then I guessboardercross will be.

So if it’s in, are you going? I would rather see snowboarding banned from theOlympics and have us do our own thing. But, if it’s there, I’m going to go and try to do my best. I went toNagano, and I must say it was a great experience. But if it’s right for the sport, I don’t know.

Even afterNagano you’d still rather not see snowboarding in the Olympics?

Yeah, especially on the political side.All this ISF/ FIS shit would be so much mellower if snowboarding wasn’t at the Olympics. I really believe theFIS would not do any snowboarding if it were not an Olympic discipline. It would make life a lot easier.

What do you think about Terje not going to the Olympics?

Terje Haakonsen, who is widelyconsidered the top halfpipe rider in the world, opted not to participate in the Olympics because itwas an FIS-not ISF-sanctioned event. He also announced that he will not participate in the SaltLake City 2002 Games. First of all, he could not train properly because of his hip. In Gerlos he won, butit was a really, really close call with Daniel Franck. I don’t know if it was just, “Ahh f-k it, I don’t want togo.” Or if it was deeper thinking. Although, the Olympics were a great experience, and I think he would haveliked to be there-to live that no matter what happens after.

What are some of your career highlights?

Allthe contest wins were good. I got second in Breckenridge in 1992 in halfpipe when Brushie won and CraigKelly got third. That was the greatest memory-the first time a Euro went on the halfpipe podium in the States.Man, that was incredible. I think one of the best memories was the film we made in Greenland in spring of’95, after this crazy season where I won all of these things. We snowboarded places that had never beentouched before and the background was icebergs and … it was amazing. The season was over and there wasno more stress, just riding for myself. Well, for a camera and photographer, but that’s as close as I can thinkto riding for myself laughs. That really was one of the best. At night we would see the aurora borealis, andwe ate whale. Incredible experience. We’ll see you next year on the tour? Definitely. I’ll be training fornext year-I want to win the boardercross tour. In ’97 I was second after Palmer. It was really close. Hewon two events and I won two events, and at the final in Laax Switzerland, he won and I got second.Unfortunately, last year I didn’t win because I went to the Olympics, so I missed a couple of boardercrosses.Eventually, within two years, I will win the tour. I’m going to work for it.e of his hip. In Gerlos he won, butit was a really, really close call with Daniel Franck. I don’t know if it was just, “Ahh f-k it, I don’t want togo.” Or if it was deeper thinking. Although, the Olympics were a great experience, and I think he would haveliked to be there-to live that no matter what happens after.

What are some of your career highlights?

Allthe contest wins were good. I got second in Breckenridge in 1992 in halfpipe when Brushie won and CraigKelly got third. That was the greatest memory-the first time a Euro went on the halfpipe podium in the States.Man, that was incredible. I think one of the best memories was the film we made in Greenland in spring of’95, after this crazy season where I won all of these things. We snowboarded places that had never beentouched before and the background was icebergs and … it was amazing. The season was over and there wasno more stress, just riding for myself. Well, for a camera and photographer, but that’s as close as I can thinkto riding for myself laughs. That really was one of the best. At night we would see the aurora borealis, andwe ate whale. Incredible experience. We’ll see you next year on the tour? Definitely. I’ll be training fornext year-I want to win the boardercross tour. In ’97 I was second after Palmer. It was really close. Hewon two events and I won two events, and at the final in Laax Switzerland, he won and I got second.Unfortunately, last year I didn’t win because I went to the Olympics, so I missed a couple of boardercrosses.Eventually, within two years, I will win the tour. I’m going to work for it.