A Quà‡bec story had been in the works around here for nearly four years running. Groundwork had been laid, but nothing was happening-I’d stalled out. Ironically, photog Dano Pendygrasse (the ultimate homebody) would be the catalyst for this adventure. Soon after his last-minute phone call to the TransWorld office seeking a writer to accompany him to Quà‡bec, I was hastily booking a ticket to meet him and cinematographer Travis Robb in Montreal. Sometimes the pieces just fall together like that.
J-F Pelchat, DCP, Gaetan Chanut, Alex Auchu, Benji Ritchie … I love the French Canadians. They’re some of my favorite people-blunt, honest, enthusiastic, and proud. For me, this trip wasn’t just about riding-it was an opportunity to better understand the tribe.
Nothing can prepare you for the charm of Quà‡bec City-no other North American city is so stunning, foreign, and steeped in history. Waking in the sharp cold of the almost 400-year-old municipality, you could imagine yourself transported into old-world France were it not for all the modern-day vehicles pounding ancient streets. Full of archaic churches; narrow, winding cobblestone streets; and intimate cafes, Quà‡bec City is densely packed and stacked with architecture from eras past: slope-roofed lime-and-sandstone two-story homes from the late 1600s, shadowed by dramatic castle-like Fairmont Le ChÉteau Frontenac, or the art deco styling of the Hotel Clarendon. Over ten architectural styles from the eighteenth century to today color the canvas of this European-style city.
Quebecois have been fighting to preserve their culture for generations (which might shed some perspective on French-Canadian riders’ national pride). Founded by French explorer Samuel de Champlain in 1608, Quà‡bec City remained under French rule for nearly 150 years until finally falling to the British. Sixteen years later, American troops mounted a failed attack. Eventually, the province was divided into Upper and Lower Canada, with Quà‡bec City as the capital of Lower Canada. In 1867, Quà‡bec City became the capital of the province of Quà‡bec.
Through all this change, residents of Canada’s oldest city have steadfastly refused to embrace any culture besides their own. Quà‡bec City is about roots-progressive minds may be better suited to the metropolitan vibe and sophistication found in Montreal.
There are problems with seeing the world through the eyes of a snowboarder. Racking up a rà‡sumà‡ of worldwide travel sounds impressive-but pros rarely get to observe much of anything. The view is limited to airports and what they can gather through fogged windows in transit to ski resorts. Then it’s all snowcapped mountains and cheesy discotheques. There was no mountain resort this time-we felt lucky to be playing the tourist. Dano and Travis strolled about town shooting film, pausing just long enough for coffee at a patisserie. We met up with Benji Ritchie and Reno Belisle for long breakfast lectures about the area’s history. It was mellow and refreshing. Our daily routine consisted of sight-seeing and processing our surroundings during the daytime and hitting street rails and ledges under the cover of night.
Quà‡bec City native Etienne Gilbert led our crew through freezing evening missions around town-highlighting the doable, near-makeable, and impossible rails of the city. Pedestrians and police paid no mind as we painstakingly set up generators and lights, sessioning a concrete ledge late into the night. There was plenty of time to learn and listen. An observation: The East is painfully chilly. These are harsh, bone-chilling conditions.
The French-Canadian snowboarder pilgrimage to Whistler is nearly identical to U.S. East Coasters’ Mammoth migration-both head west in search of powder and recognition. A Vancouver kid’s casual jaunt up the Sea To Sky Highway takes a couple hours-the road to Whistler from Quà‡bec is a terrible, long one. Fifty hours of seat time-let thhat sink in for a minute. It’s well over 3,000 miles from Montreal to British Columbia.
In addition to geographic challenges, French-Canadian riders face marketing prejudice for their European last names-and yet they succeed in spite of their handicaps. You’ll never hear of an overhyped Quebecois. These guys don’t get any handouts-they burn to earn.
The Empire Shakedown
Leaving the quiet charm of Quà‡bec City, we prepared for a drastic change of pace. En route to Mont Saint-Sauvier we braced for the frenzy known as the Shakedown. The beauty of Eastern Canada’s biggest snowboard event is its unique format. The run is composed of a single kicker followed by a monster rail setup with multiple options for launching an attack. Each rider is required to call out their judged run within a jam format, as in, “I’ll do a Cab seven tail, then a frontside boardslide on the center rail-judge this run.” Also, competitors can’t perform the same trick combination used in qualifying for the finals (the loophole is that a different grab counts as a different maneuver). The unorthodox approach puts a severe kink in the stock contest-run mentality-it’s a lot of fun.
Snowboard groupies congregate from all over Eastern Canada. Packs of teenage girls arrive in droves from nearby Montreal and as far away as Calgary and Toronto, crying, “Where’s TJ? TJ Schneider!” as a fistfight of epic proportion breaks out among spectators over a free snowboard. It’s a homecoming for the boys who’ve moved to Whistler. For up-and-coming local talent, it’s a rare chance to shine.
In a performance that could only have been scripted-but wasn’t-my boys landed in first place and second place. Etienne Gilbert pulled off his first-ever frontside 1080 attempt, then called out his judged run and stomped it clean, backing it up with the only front boardslide performed through the entire kinked center rail. Benji Ritchie earned second place with a fluid Cab seven into front-board-to-backlip combo on the curved box. Schneider maintained his hype with huge diagonal gap-to-frontside-180 tail taps and unreal gap-to-front-270 attempts. It was the most fun I’ve ever had at a contest. It was a party-French-Canadian style.