By Chris O’Connell
JP Auclair is the most unassuming ski superstar on the planet. The Jack Johnson of skiing, a simple man put into place by his energy and talent, admired by thousands of people around the world, but would gladly give it all up just to ski (or surf). He’s not motivated by fame and fortune, but rather by a deep connection and love for the sport.
JP doesn’t spend money on things like clothes or fancy cars and he wears jeans for five years (he just bought a new pair of Carharts though). TJ Schiller bought him a pair of custom Nikes and he wears them, but second guesses himself when putting them on, he’s not the cool Nike shoe wearing kind of guy.
JP drives the same piece of shit van that he has had since I first met him the summer of 1998. It’s a 20-year-old GMC Safari. Sometime in the future be replaced by a Prius, ‘when he has the money’. I could see that purchase coming when he sells his two condos in Whistler, right before the Olympics.
JP is a bit of an enigma in the ski industry. A lot of people seem to know him well, but does anyone know him really well?
I ask him who knows him best and he replies “That’s a really, really good question, different people know different parts of me.” He’s guarded of his personal life won’t answer questions about the pro skier pin up girls that he dated over the past few years (which is always undercover).
He relishes the people he meets along the way and the cultures they share with him from Alaska to Japan, he’s just as stoked on the lifestyle of being a skier as he is with the fact that he’s actually living it. When JP is around everything just seems right.
We are on a photoshoot in Summit County, Colorado in early November. The park is barely built; the hills are barren except for the trails lined with man-made snow. The weather is warm and no snow is forecasted to help conditions out.
“I would ski so much more if I wasn’t sponsored” JP contemplates, when his home away from home, Whistler was getting pounded. It’s hard for JP to show up to a park shoot in early November and not be where it’s epic. He knows he must do it for his job. It became a big problem for him a couple of winters ago, commitments became so overwhelming he considered retiring from being a ‘pro’ skier so he could ski and be freer.
“Crashes were hurting more than they used to. Photoshoots, phone calls, emails started getting to me and the physical and mental fatigue that accumulates throughout the winter wasn’t helping. It got frustrating because I didn’t have time to ski for myself anymore.”
JP has come to terms with this and has scheduled his past few seasons the way he wants to do it and everything is working out. “My sponsors are happy and I am happy, it’s been a great couple years.”
Even when he’s missing powder to ski in a shitty park, he’s the hardest working skier in the crew, he’ll always hit the jump just one more time for photographers and filmers that just want that one extra angle.
“Powder, back flips, spines and half pipes” JP answers me without pause when I ask him what stokes him out the most on skis. JP has the skills on transition that set him apart from other pros his age, with the exception of the elite half-pipe competitors, JP still charges a tranny better than many so-called pro skiers 14 years younger than him.
“JP is the epitome of a pro skier, he’s got the skills to pay the bills, but also an outstanding personality. He’s approachable like no other pro out there.” Comments Filmer Phil Benjamin on his work with JP.
JP taught himself Final Cut Pro years ago so he can edit his own video part, now that hobby has turned into him spending his summers working in LA for Johnny Decesare, the founder of Poor Boyz Productions. “This is the last summer I am doing that, really.”
Chris Benchetler is quick to debate that and guarantees that JP will be back in the editor’s chair next summer.
“I always try to get out of it, but when summer rolls around, I always end up back in Los Angeles. I just really like to hang out with those guys,” JP comments on his editing job.
JP develops relationships that other skiers may not. He has ‘extended family’ in New Zealand, Japan and Alaska. He really makes an effort to become involved in the culture of wherever he’s at. If he’s in AK, he’s at the bar with the Fishermen and Gold Miners showing them his Kendama. If he’s in Japan, he’s learning the language and once again, honing his Kendama skills. He’s just so damn likeable that skiers around the world are happy to share their powder stashes with him and he respects that. “It is great to be a part of this community where I can show up in a totally different culture and create strong bonds with another skier, because we share the same passions.”
“He progresses with it, and pushes the sport each year. JP makes our sport fun, and I think his goal is to show everyone how awesome the lifestyle is”, TJ Schiller comments on JP’s longevity.
JP appreciates the art of the sport and everything that it encompasses, the films, the photos, the websites, progression and just plain fun. He is the Renaissance Man of our Generation of Skiing.
The King of Freeskiing
“JP Auclair is my number one athlete, period. From the day he started filming with PoorBoyz, I knew he was going to be something special. Now, over 10 years later, he still is there and has helped me and the ski industry more than any single person.” Award winning filmmaker, Johnny Decesare says of JP’s status in the industry. “He is one of my best friends and there are very few people in the world whom I can trust like JP. When he stops skiing, I will probably stop making ski films.”
TJ Schiller puts it simply: “The reason that JP is so the man is cuz he’s the guy who started it all. He’s the guy who created the sport, and he has stayed at the top the whole time.”
Back in Action:
JP suffered through back problems that cost him his 2003 season, and was told by “regular hospital doctors” that he should quit skiing.
He sourced out sport medicine Doctors that work with athletes and had a different approach. Dr. Garret Breakiron from Uniontown, PA was the person that ended up fixing JP and gave him back his ski career. “No one should put their body through what you are making yours go through, but I know you are going to do it anyway, so we’ll fix you up and you are going to have to put in extra effort with all the exercises”.
Rehab was long, difficult and painful, he went from being completely bedridden to being able to ski and enjoy life again.
JP’s back injury ended up having an extremely positive impact on his career. It taught him to be more patient, not to take his health for granted and enjoy life on a different level.
To this day, he spends at least an hour a day with his exercises on the road and it’s paid off. He attributes the longevity of his career to stretching and knowing when to stop. “Before I would just keep going until I physically couldn’t, now I know when to stop.” He thanks Dr. Breakiron, Dr. Bailes and the Leskinen family for their attentive care during the process.
When I ask him how he still has a job, he replies that stretching has something to do with it.
JP was on an Armada Shoot in New Zealand and the annual IF3 film festival was on in Montreal. He knew that being there would support the industry, his hometown fans in Quebec, the Organizers of the Festival, as well as the Poor Boyz premier of “Yeah Dude”. JP dropped everything, traveled from Wanaka, NZ for 35 hours to Montreal to attend the Film Festival, only to board a plane the next day back to New Zealand. “It’s amazing that he would even consider doing that, let alone make it happen.” Phil Benjamin, organizer of IF3 attests.
This kind of crazy turnaround and travel schedule has become somewhat commonplace for JP. He shot rails all night to finish at 6am and jump on a plane for Japan on his last trip there. He tries to space things out nowadays, but still ends up on the road for months at a time living out of the same two bags which are meticulously packed and weigh in at exactly 70lbs each to avoid airline baggage hassles. Stretching ropes, kendamas, hard drives, safety gear and a few good movies are always included in the mix.
JP sacrificed going skiing to take Chris Benchetler to the Caitlins down on the southern tip of the South Island, New Zealand. Coldwater barrels and a session never to be forgotten by either one of them, Chris says it’s one of the most memorable trips of this life. “He’s just so fun to be around on and off the snow.”
“JP is Freeskiing, without JP as a friend, athlete and true believer in Poorboyz, I truly believe I would be doing something different right now” says Johnny Decesare of Poorboyz Productions. “He sacrifices so much for the cause, if he commits to doing something ”.
JP is a work-aholic, both on and off the snow. “I always feel like I have too much on my “to do” list, I have been trying to fix that for years. He’s the guy at the end of the day that will be hiking the jump long after all the other athletes are done. A photographer wants another angle, where many skiers wouldn’t want to risk it; JP will hit it again to get the shot.
JP has walked away from numerous larger endorsement deals to pursue what he feels is right, and that alone makes him an anomaly in the industry. His commitment to PBP and his sponsors are so solid it makes me think of
Tony Montana’s line in Scarfarce where he says: “All I have in this world is
my balls and my word and I don’t break them for no one. Do you understand!?”
In a sport that can sometimes appear dominated by small guys throwing their big dicks around, JP is a breath of fresh air. He is too humble. “Personally, I don’t think I have everything it takes to be a true representative of what skiing is today.”
Skiing wouldn’t be where it is today without him.
He is responsible for bringing skiing out of the gutter in 1998 and giving it a new life over the past decade.
“A lot of skiers, filmers, photographers and your peers call you an Icon,” I tell him
“I used to not be so good at taking a comment like that, I would usually mock it or ignore it.. but I’ve been working on that and now I can say things like ‘man! really? That’s very flattering.’ While keeping in mind that it is only skiing…”
JP still thinks, sadly, that the sport doesn’t have a true icon and Eric Hjorleifson is the closest thing to that at this point in skiing. “Becoming an ultimate skier is something that has always been appealing to me, ironically, filming and taking pictures can get in the way of that”, JP states in an introspective moment.
JP is not the party guy, yet when he gives ‘er the True Canadian in him comes out. “I like to do things how they should be done. I feel that way about pretty much everything.”
TJ Schiller explains “JP prefers time to himself, and it’s almost next to impossible to persuade him to do something… like going to a party or whatever. But when he decides to do something, and if there’s a group of us, it’s a guarantee that everyone will follow. When JP decides it’s playtime, everyone wants in because they know it’s going to be totally righteous.”
The Dark Side:
JP and I went out drinking one night in Wanaka for no apparent reason. JP was wearing slippers, long underwear under his shorts and a flannel shirt. It’s surprising they even let him in the door looking like a homeless person. Somehow it got to be a contest called ‘see if you can smash this glass without anyone noticing’. JP won the contest and was carried out in a choke hold by some huge bouncer. He couldn’t breathe so he bit the guy’s arm. JP was arrested and thrown in the Wanaka slammer.
The entire episode was completely out of line for the usual JP, but it demonstrates you can take the boy out of Canada, but you can’t take the Canadian out of the boy.
Ironically enough, TJ Schiller was the only sober one in the crew and he bailed JP out: “JP was making a shaky horse face for his mug shot. I would have killed to see that shot” TJ says of the debacle
“That was one of the worst experiences of my life”, JP was extremely remorseful of the entire situation, he made his apologies, he went to court and charges were dropped. JP is trying to forget this incident ever happened, so please don’t bring it up with him.
“When it comes to powder, a lot of people think that the lighter the better, you hear about “champagne powder” and all that…. I disagree, I like the snow to be a bit heavier but not too much. In my books, Japan and British Columbia are real close in the rankings when it comes to best power… In both places, I feel like the snow has perfect consistency.”
The best powder trip of his life was Japan, January 2008 with Chris Benchetler.
“I got to ski the best powder of my life for 3 weeks straight..!!!! It was amazing. Check out Reasons from PoorBoyz Productions. My previous best trip was a week-long trip to Retallack, but after 3 weeks of pow, Japan was the best ever.”
“It is because of JP that I now have sponsors, he is the one who helped me out at first. He just plugged me with one sponsor, then another, then that sponsor helped me out and on and on. JP always spreads happiness. Only saying his name makes me happy, probably because JP sounds like yippee!” Alex Belmarre, young Armada Grom puts it in simple terms.
“He is THE man, he has done everything. He’s always giving me the best advice and making me laugh, he’s one of my favorite people to travel with.” Phil Casabon.
“I looked up to him as a kid, as I was just starting skiing, and I still do.” Chris Benchetler
“JP has always been my idol, growing up watching him on TV and reading about him and all that. I know there’s no way I would have pursued skiing as my career so seriously if I hadn’t had JP to look up to. Now, after being lucky enough to have met him the way that I did, and to have spent these last few years around him, he still hasn’t changed in my mind at all. Except now I can say he’s also my friend, teammate, and still my idol, which is pretty damn awesome.” TJ Schiller
The State of Skiing:
“Different people enjoy different things. If a younger skier tells me that he can’t stand powder because it makes the in runs too slow in the park, my first reaction might be to think that it’s a shame and that he’s missing out but that’s only because I enjoy skiing powder so much. Apart from a few exceptions, it is the skiers who dedicate all of their time to one single aspect of skiing who show us what can be achieved out there and it’s inspiring to see what the possibilities are in each different disciplines. If you are willing to focus all of your energy into one single thing, you are bound to perform at a higher level. Personally I think it’s wonderful that there are so many different things to experience on skis and I want to try it all.”
Something that sets JP apart from most pros today is that he can remember getting yelled at in the parks by snowboarders. “Skiers were not allowed in the terrain parks, so we had to poach them. I got in a lot of trouble.”
Now it’s come full circle again: skiers and snowboarders at certain mountains in Canada are not allowed to jump at all, courtesy of RCR resorts taking all jumps out of the terrain parks. “It’s a shame really, and it’s due to liability. People need to become more aware and responsible for their own actions.”
JP loves to watch the progression of the sport, both technically and all the new and creative ways to look at skiing. Just being able to experience new feelings on his skis after 25 years is a big motivator for him ‘sticking around’ a while longer.
When comparing skiing today to 1998, JP says “The tricks, the gear and the clothes are different but I like to think that the people and the spirit of the sport remains the same.”
JP was one of the founding members of Armada, he gave up a big contract with Salomon to start something that he believes in. Now, seven years later, Armada is the most recognized brand in Skiing. “Time went by so fast. It seems like yesterday, I was driving to the local ski manufacturer by my house in Quebec to check the prototypes. Now we have engineers, graphic and apparel designers, and reps and distributors all over the world. So much has happened since 2002, but the spirit of the establishment of Armada is exactly same today as it was in the beginning.”
JP has started a charity called Alpine Initiatives with Chad Fleisher, Seth Koch and Mike Hovey. The goal of the organization is to establish a platform to encourage people from the snow sports community to get involved and take positive actions regarding other issues. Their first mission will be to go build homes for orphans in Meru, Kenya. Check out the details at www.alpineinitiatives.org
JP is one of the most well-rounded skiers in the business, he can boost 18 feet out in an icy Colorado half pipe and ski steep exposed lines in Alaska. He can make a small jib look fun and a gnarly line seems effortless. His hand plants are dope and he can do a sick Cosack. He always ends up with the most amount of photos on any shoot, because of his versatility and his humour.
Mountain safety has now become a focus for JP. He’s completed two seasons of guide school at Alaska Heli Skiing and even enlisted other pro skiers, like Michelle Parker and Sven Kueenle to attend this year’s class. “So many tragedies can be avoided in the mountains. I have learned a lot in the past couple years about avalanches, decision making, first aid and it’s really fulfilling. The whole freestyle revolution was a great time, but I can only dream of having that impact on the industry on the mountain safety side of things.”
“There are so many things that I could do to self improve, I won’t even get into it. As far as the past goes, and what I have learned, I would listen to my body more and take better care of myself.”
5.)Girlfriends (but they shouldn’t be sad, that can move to number 2)
JP is good at surfing, mountain biking, windsurfing, photography, cooking, motorcycles (2003 Honda CBR 600RR), wine, and “computing” (Photoshop, Illustrator, Final Cut, Motion, Reason, etc). He’s a movie and music buff, with eclectic tastes in both.
“It’s always a treat when he comes back to Quebec City and cooks me dinner” comments roommate and friend Lannick B on JP’s surprising cooking skills.
He’s logged more barrel time than I have and I live on the beach in Southern California. Watching him surf lately, he’s come a long way. He’s a natural and picks up sports fast.
That wooden ball and string contraption you always see JP with is called a Kendama, it’s a Japanese toy that he’s been practising with over the last 7 years. He’s gotten quite good, even going to get a certification level while in Tokyo on a recent trip.
“It was really funny, I was actually even a bit nervous. There were so many good Kendama players in there, I was the only Easterner in there. There were really cool with me.”
JP walked away after his testing with an Advanced Level 1 Certification from the Japanese Kendama Association (JKA).
JP has come a long way since being a paperboy, landscaper and washing dishes in Quebec. He isn’t thinking about retiring any time soon, his ski career hasn’t even hit climax yet. “There are so many things I still want to do on skis, every year just keeps getting more fun. I will be skiing until my body doesn’t let me, as far as my ski career, I guess that will stop when I get fired!”
If you meet JP you will understand why he’s such an inspiration to everyone in the industry and anyone who crosses a path with him on his travels.
As with any artist, If you want to know JP, just study his body of work. With a career not even close to over, he’s already left a legacy: he just doesn’t know it.
It was with great sadness that in 2014 that the world learned of the deaths of J.P. Auclair, Andreas Fransson, The pair were climbing a couloir when they were caught in an avalanche that swept them 700 meters to the glacier below on the north side of Monte San Lorenzo, Chile, in a remote part of the backcountry.