This feature originally appeared in the November issue of TransWorld SNOWboarding Magazine and has been updated with the photo gallery above. Subscribe here!
By Ed Leigh
The De Le Rue dynasty is one of the most decorated in snowboarding history. The family name has been etched into Olympic medals, World Championship cups, Freeride World Tour trophies, and the glass of TransWorld SNOWboarding awards. But Victor, the youngest of five siblings from a small resort in the French Pyrenees, has worked tirelessly and waited patiently for his turn in the spotlight.
With the closing part for this year's TransWorld film, Origins, under his belt, that time has come, and the biggest companies in snowboarding are courting the services of a modest and passionate man who is now considered one of the most creative and courageous all-arounders on the planet.
Describe the De Le Rue family for me.
There are two parents who own a shop in the ski resort of Saint-Lary in the Pyrenees. They've worked super hard all their lives. They gave up opportunities for themselves to support their kids without really knowing what they were doing. Us kids are four brothers and one sister. Francois is the oldest--he's 12 years older than me, so 38. He's an engineer now, but was a very good snowboarder, he was Vice French Champion. Next is Xavier--well, you know Xavier. Then my sister, Sabine, she was Junior Vice World Champion. Then there's Paulo [Paul Henri]. He did boardercross and won a bronze medal in Turin. Then there's me, the youngest.
They were all competitive riders. Is that where you started?
They are all a bit older than me, and when I was a kid they were a part of the Club Des Sport in our home resort. They traveled from competition to competition, winning, partying, and having a great time. I was just a kid and I saw it all. But I was at home, in the park, just riding having fun. At some point, though, I started competing. I got on the Pyrenean team, first riding freestyle, then boardercross in the French championships. Then I got a few sponsors--Burton and a couple of others. At some point I had to choose: Should I go to the boardercross event with the team, or should I go and film for my sponsors? I went with what I preferred, shooting freestyle, and every year I worked, step by step, and it brought me here to today.
What was your first year in Alaska like?
I went with Xavier and Standard in my first year, which was really incredible for me because I was a kid, 22 years old, and had gone from my local production straight to Standard Films. It was insane. I watched the way they were working, and the first few days were really tough. Xavier crashed really hard on his first line. On mine, after only five meters, I was white roomed and had to stop. That night we talked and said, "Okay, let's start easy and build to better stuff." Every year in Alaska you learn new stuff and try new things, so you get more and more confident when you see new terrain.
Most people's introduction to Alaska is quite slow and steady as the guides and the film crew build trust and confidence in you. Yours was the opposite--a baptism by fire with Xavier and Standard Films.
Yep, it was crazy, especially because I had never done freeriding. Before that trip to Alaska we did one session in Switzerland, one day to see how it all works, to jump in a heli, to see how the filmers and photographers were working, and to learn how I fit in with that. It worked out really well in the end, though, and now I'm addicted to it.
Everyone who has spent time in Alaska has a terrifying story. What's yours?
We were in a very famous spot with the Absinthe crew filming for Dopamine, and we were six riders, which is a lot in one zone. There were riders everywhere on top of every line. I wanted to jump from the cornice, so I got on top of it to check. I was three or four meters from the lip of the cornice, because I didn't want to go too close. Then two meters behind me I heard a "crk, crk, crk, crk, crk" noise. The cornice was starting to break--I could see the crack running along the ridge. I thought, "Holy shit, if this goes down, I'm dead!" It was the size of a school bus, so no question, I would have been dead. I stopped moving and put my board on the snow but didn't know what to do, whether to get my radio and call all the other riders to look out for me. Then I realized if this school bus of snow goes down they would see it, obviously. So I put pressure where I could and walked on my knees towards the ridge. Nothing happened and I survived, but it could have been terrible. No one realized the danger because nothing happened, but for me it was so intense.
How did you cope with that? Did you need time to process it, or did you get stuck on the line?
I got pretty stressed about it, but then I analyzed it, tried to learn from the mistake, look at why it happened, which was because I tried to check the cornice from too close. What's funny is that this was the first advice Xavier gave me when we came to Alaska: "Keep away from cornices."
Who were your big influences when you went to Alaska? In your mind, whom did you want to emulate?
I'm always influenced by who I'm with. If I'm with Xavier in Alaska, then I'm going to be looking at charging the fucking line, but if I'm with Nicolas Müller in the Alps doing backside airs all day long, then I will feel, "Okay, maybe I should work on my backside airs." I get influenced by a lot of different people and I try to make my own style. At the same time, I'm trying to create my own influence and do things that I haven't seen before. That's what I get really stoked on--doing things I haven't done before and especially things that other people haven't done before.
How close has Alaska taken you to your limitations, in terms of fear and ability?
The first year I went I said I was going to do the pussy and baby lines. I didn't say to myself, "I want to be the guy who does the biggest line." I just wanted to do stuff I hadn't done before. The second year I went with Absinthe, and it was more about freestyle. The third year was good, but then this year, my fourth year, I did this line that I'm really stoked about called Hotel Room. It's a line Xavier did a couple of years ago and every time I went to his place I saw the shot of it, and I said, "I love this face. It looks so good, I wish I could do it." Second line of the trip this year, we arrived in front of it and the conditions were perfect. I was so scared of it. It was a big line and I'd never done big, exposed lines. But I did it and thought, "Now I've done that and it was okay. Now I can do that, that, that, and that." I felt way more confident than before and was able to start riding bigger more exposed lines.
You described Alaska as an addiction. Do you think it's a drug?
For a snowboarder, yes. It's really fun, really scary, and really intense. It's something special for sure. But it plays with your mind, because you can wait for 10 days straight trying to fly because the weather is shitty, and you don't do much. Then suddenly the sky is blue, you try to do a sick line, you're really scared, but you stomp it, and the snow was just perfect. It's such a crazy mix of emotions that you can't get anywhere else.
What was it like to film for Origins, as a process?
It was awesome to represent France, because you're not just filming for yourself, you're trying to represent your country in the best way you can. That was an honor in itself filming for
TransWorld. It didn't come easily, though. The start of the winter was so tough. There was no snow anywhere except for Japan, but as a crew we decided not to go to Japan. I didn't want to get the same shots as 50 other crews--I wanted to wait, to do some kickers. It was really stressful, though, every day checking the forecast. We saw snow in Austria, so the next day we were in Austria. They'd forecast one meter, but then every day it dropped: 80 centimeters, 40 centimeters, 10 centimeters, until in the end we couldn't do anything. We tried another resort five hours away. The snow was shit, just rocks. Nothing was possible, and we saw every day the posts from all the riders in Japan, "Oh, the snow is the deepest ever." It was frustrating. But I think some of it was social boasting, just bullshit, so you never know quite how it is. It was tough, but we worked hard, and in the end we got so many shots from four different locations: Austria, France, Italy, and Alaska. Oh, and one day in Switzerland with my brother.
How do you feel about the current state of French snowboarding? From an international perspective, it feels like you, Arthur Longo, and Victor Daviet are the driving force behind the same kind of spike in ability and style that we saw from the Swiss in Müller, Kalbermatten, and De Marchi in the early 2000s.
I think it's generations of emulation. If you look back at Mathieu Crepel, he started so young and was so good, he built up a lot of contacts and was able to step up to the level of the big production companies. So he set the example for us. For Victor [Daviet] and myself, it all started because of Rip Curl. We were on the same team together when we were very young. When you do backcountry, you need to start pretty early because you have so much to learn about the snow, about the conditions, about how to build a jump, how to look at the terrain, knowing where to go, when to go, who to go with. I don't think enough riders get this chance from a sponsor who says, "Okay, you're pretty young, but you're going to be in a movie, we're going to give you a filmer and photographer to work with for the season."
A lot of people first heard your name when you scored the closing part of Absinthe's Dopamine. Did that change a lot for you?
Yep, from when I started filming up to Dopamine, it was a way of training, of getting better and learning. Dopamine was the point when everything came together. I got a good section, my best part up to that point, and it let me show people what I could do. I have to say thank you to Absinthe and Justin [Hostynek]. He could so easily have put someone else in the final part, but he put me, and that's changed a lot of things for me.
You've created a huge body of work now from your video parts. Which shot are you most proud of?
Because I am so focused on moving forward, I haven't really thought about this, but two years ago I did a one-footed backflip over a gap filmed by a drone. It was one of the first times we had filmed with a drone, and I was insanely stoked on that trick. Especially because I had never seen anyone do that trick at that time, at least the way I did it. We only had one filmer, so I had to do it so many times--I was so exhausted and so scared. He had to do the shot from below, then the shot from the drone, then the shot from the landing, then the shot from the side, so I was dead on my feet. But when Grego Campi edited all that together, it was so sick, I was so happy.
Did you stomp it every time?
No, no, but every time the filmer changed angles I wanted to stomp it, so it took me so many tries to get it. I'd shaped the spot on my own for days before, so I was spent, so tired.
You've been hanging out with Sam Anthamatten [legendary Swiss alpinist and big-mountain skier who has partnered with Xavier on his most recent film project, Degrees North]. That could be an interesting alliance...
Yeah, I've just signed for The North Face and he said he'd love to do some stuff together. I said yes [with a slightly unsure and excited tone].
That segues perfectly to sponsorship choices and how hard it is to survive as a film part pro in the current economic climate.
You can't just be a good snowboarder these days--it's really not enough. You need to think about projects, be on emails keeping in contact with your sponsors, and be proactive organizing stuff. I think it's a case of growing up and taking responsibility if you want to make it happen. If you just ride, then... There are so many people that ride now, so it's not enough. I'm excited, though. For the next three years I'm with The North Face, and I'm sure I'll be doing totally different stuff that I wasn't before. Every story leads on to another.
What are your plans for this winter?
I'm filming with TransWorld again and then I'm going on a trip with Travis [Rice].
That's the big one! That's what everyone wants...
Yeah [laughs]. I thought that it wasn't happening. Well, it was supposed to happen last year, but didn't, so I was super happy because I could focus 100 percent on the TransWorld project, which was a good thing. I hadn't had news from Travis in so long, then a couple of days ago I heard back from him, so it seems like it's happening. It does mean that I have to ride twice as hard to make both projects happen though.
You're talking about a TransWorld project and a Travis Rice project for this winter. Surely this is a moment you can slow down and enjoy--because, by anyone's standards, you've arrived.
No, because in my mind I never set goals, somewhere that I need to be. Every year I just try to do something better than before. Filming with Standard was already insane, then getting the final part with Absinthe, I was like, "Whoa, this is fucking sick." And then the opportunity to film with TransWorld, and I've got the last part. For the last couple of years, I've asked myself, "What more can I ask for?" So like I said, I just keep trying to progress and be better. I'm so happy with where I'm at. I am so fortunate.