Gumby’s Big Day Out: Val D’isere’s finest rider-run event blows up.

By Chris Moran

Back in ’94 when skiers growled at snowboarders and we gave them the finger, two local seasonaires in Val D’isère, France had the idea of battling the two sports head to head. By press-ganging helpers from town, the first annual Big Day Out got underway with a snowboarder-versus-skier cross, a barbecue, some crates of beer, and some tunes. They didn’t know it at the time, but organizers Anthony Gumbly and Steven Duff had unwittingly laid the blueprint for what has become Val D’isère’s most important calendar date since.

“It was just because we didn’t have anything to do at the time,” says Gumbly, the part-Australian, part-Fijian snowboarder otherwise known as Gumby. “Duffy came up with the title, and everyone turned up and partied. I think the skiers won the boardercross and the snowboarders won the big air, but I can’t be too sure. I only really remember riding down at sunset in a group of 200 people all carrying the sound system and stuff. Everyone was falling all over the place, I think someone was even riding and playing the bongos. It was carnage.”

Word spread to other resorts in the Alps about “Gumby’s event,” and by 1997 around 400 outsiders turned up to ride, ski, and party. “For the first couple of years, it was big in Val,” Gumby says. “Then people who’d been to the event and were doing seasons in other places came back and brought people with them.”

Sensing he had something on his hands, Gumby wanted to make the comp a more serious venture and move it from back-bowl obscurity to a nighttime final in the center of Val D’isère. One thing stood in his way: Val D’isère is the French equivalent to Aspen, and you don’t just turn up and have the town cater to your every whim unless you’re packing the kind of dollar that can settle gross national debts. For a skint Aussie, backpacking snowboarder–ya gotta be dreamin’.

This is where some good ol’ traveler luck came in. Way back on his first day in town, Gumby had helped a guy named Mick Killy move a few boxes into his shop in one of those classic “can I help ya, mate?” moments that Aussies are famous for. Mick always remembered him. “Yeah, big deal,” you might think, but Mick is the brother of Jean-Claude Killy, the 1960s Olympic skiing legend. Val D’isère’s mountain is called the Espace Killy, and there’s even a frickin’ 700-foot mural of Jean Claude on the dam that spans the valley up to the resort. The Killys pretty much rule that place.

Having that family behind the venture was a godsend for Gumby, because with his striking ginger Afro, booming voice, and an eye for trouble, he’d stood out in previous winters as a beacon-headed magnet for mischief. Hey, who hasn’t had a good time in a resort town? But he needed to come off as an angel at the council meetings if he was going to get anywhere.

“I thought about wearing disguises at the meetings,” laughs Gumby, “but people like the Mayor have sons my age. And yeah, we might’ve had our rowdy moments in the past, but they’ve seen us all go through our teenage years, and we’re maturing now. Over the years we earned their trust–we always made sure every cigarette butt was picked up, and I think those things matter. It helped massively that they saw us grow from nothing into an event worth hosting.”

That might be quite an understatement. In 2001, the move into town was made with council approval. The event was on a roll. And as you might expect from the name change, the Xbox Big Day Out in 2003 was by far the biggest yet. Ten-thousand people turned up to watch the hottest new riders in Europe take the prize money home. Danny Wheeler won the five-grand loot, with Franck Moissonier and Tomi Savela grabbing second and third behind him in one of those classic finals where if the crowd had screamed any louder, they’d have blown the riders back up the hill. The skiers weren’t bad, either (I think Jon Olsson and Pep Fujas were the ones to watch), but we still gave them the finger at the party afterward–as a throwback to the original spirit of the event, you understand. Well, we couldn’t help ourselves–they were giving away bottles of vodka at the nightclub. Man, Gumby was beaming.

“The contest is still about fun,” he says now. “It’s still run by the same people–Duffy was back this year, and the riders who turned up came because they wanted to be there. The bottom line is that it’s about the crowd, the event staff, the riders, the people of Val D’isère–everyone involved saying, ‘That was cool, I want to go back to that.’”

With Ticket To Ride status in the pipeline, expect the Big Day Out to keep growing. Go to gumbysbigdayout.com for more info.

Results

  1. Danny Wheeler
  2. Franck Moissonier
  3. Tomi Savela