Valérian Ducourtil had an insane season that culminated with a HEAVY hunk of footage in this winter's Almo Film, Comfort Zone. We decided he more than deserved an interview to complement the part, so scroll down to get the lowdown on one of France's premiere backcountry freestyle bosses...
The first time the name of Valérian Ducourtil was bandied about in the Onboard office was back in 2008, when senior photographer Matt Georges described him as ‘a mutant rider able to do double corks’ – at the time the pinnacle of park progression. But not content to be pidgeonholed into park-rattery, Valérian elected to turn 180° and concentrate on filming and shooting. Nearly eight years later, ‘Valé’ is an established name in European snowboarding’s backcountry freestlyle fraternity, with the latest proof offered up in Almo Film’s ‘Comfort Zone’, not to mention the tons of killer shots you can enjoy in this interview. About time for a little catch up, after you have your brain burst by his full part here, of course...
In France, you are already well-known, but could you please introduce yourself to the other European readers?
My father launched me on a board about 20 years ago now (wow, I’m old now man!). Since then, I always did my best to spend the most time on the snow. I started riding with friends at the club, then in the ‘sport study program’ and in the French junior team. At that time, we were riding a lot – really a lot, almost all year round. It was lots of training sessions, courses and contests on weekends. It was a really cool time, we were just kids with a whole bunch of friends and we were travelling together all the time. After several years strolling through pipes and parks, and devouring contests, I naturally moved on to backcountry, to start filming and do photoshoots. And that’s what I love to do now!
I remember your first double cork in the Moon Park in Méribel – at that time you were mostly riding parks: were you still able to picture yourself in contests at that time? I mean, not many riders were doing doubles back then!
[Laughs] That’s funny you recall this double because I haven’t done lots in my life! If I remember well it was in 2009 and it was quite advanced because there were not many people doing doubles at that time. Except my friend Coin-Coin [Gerome Mathieu] who made a big buzz with his double the year before, being that he was the first French (and one of the first Euros) to stomp it. However, it didn’t change my mind about putting an end to doing contests, because it’s the year after that that I started filming parts in backcountry! And since then, I haven’t entered a single contest and, seriously, I don’t miss it. I was happy to do it for a time when I was young but in the end competition is not what I am supposed to do!
Below: Last winter Vale hit up the Arlberg and blew the bloody doors off. Sending it deeeeep.
Above: How fun does this pre-game warm up run look?
Is it still a necessary step for every young rider?
I wouldn’t say it is necessary but I think it’s important for a rider to go through a bit of a competition period. It forces you to train harder, to try new things and to have some goals. It allows you to compare yourself to other riders and to see where you’re at. But I would say that in order to really make a career in competition you have to have the right mindset and the discipline that goes with it. Today, the level in contests has made them very demanding and you really have to work hard on your tricks and on your runs. It takes a lot of time to train, which is not necessarily the funnest part. I mean, it’s not the best way to have good feelings of fun and freedom – you need to have precise goals and you need to crank it to reach them. You spend days, weeks and sometimes months repeating the same runs to get them under your skin; it’s hard really. Fortunately there is a huge reward when you do your best run in a contest and you have a good result! It’s always a great feeling of achievement.
There’s hardly any French riders competing at high level, at least consistently. What are the reasons, for you, that France sucks at competitive snowboarding?
Well, if we talk about training facilities and general infrastructures on the mountain, there’s hardly any compared to some other Euro countries. Today in France, the resorts and the scene seems to be happy with cool Sunday parks, that are good to ride with friends. Some are really fun and original, like the one in Les Arcs or others, but frankly they are not at the standard of what the high level requires today. That’s one reason, I guess. And it’s the same for halfpipe – there’s pretty much nothing, compared to what we should have if we wanted to perform. And the problem is that’s probably the first step to bring kids to competition and create new champions.
Do you think it’s a shame?
Definitely. The French kids don’t have the same chances if they want to start doing competitions, that’s for sure. It’s actually a real shame because we have everything we need for skiing, so why not snowboarding? I don’t know all the political or economical reasons behind it, but there’s also the fact that snowboarding is not even taken seriously in France by the authorities. It’s under the ski umbrella and it sucks. Plus resorts want to monetize their parks, so they’re better of building kids/beginners parks. Plus they don’t have to worry about injuries: all good for them, but bad for us I guess. We should have decent training grounds in France, but we’re far from it: that’s a reality. And nobody seems ready to put money on the table or take any decisions about that.
So moving to backcountry was a very normal for you, but still, was it hard to manage?
Actually, since I started snowboarding, I’ve always loved to ride in fresh pow with my friends each and every time we could find some. But due to the demands of contests, I had less and less time and opportunities to go and ride pow. And slowly but surely, I started feeling that I was losing appetite for contests; I was not happy with the format. So I needed to do something else and to reclaim some sort of freedom that is, for me, really essential in snowboarding. The freedom to ride the spots I wanted to, to do the tricks I wanted to, to follow the snowfalls and to have fun with just a few friends!
Below: Ain't no failing with Vale's front 7 tailing.
Today, do you still think about only doing that?
I’m sure about one thing: I’m not going back to contests! But I love to ride everything; I mean powder, parks, pipes and even just regular slopes. I even have good memories about some street sessions, though it is not really what I’m doing now… I love every kind of terrain, but the best sessions for me are the backcountry ones! Once you’ve tasted this you just want more! And regarding video production, it’s essentially happening in the backcountry for me. It’s totally different from competition but it’s not a holiday either! It requires lots of effort but the fun, the pleasure and the progression that you feel are totally worth it!
Tell us about your last season, and also, an important question that is never, or rarely asked: are you happy with your part?
I shot for the Almo film ‘Comfort Zone’ and for the Vans project ‘First Layer’. The season went really well for me, I was not injured which is really important, and I got loads of pow in Arlberg and I rode the biggest kickers of my life with the Victors [De Le Rue and Daviet] and Arthur [Longo]. The funny thing is, I spent less time filming compared to the two previous years, but I got some pretty good conditions each time and all the sessions went really well. In the end I got more images and I’m featured in both videos! So, yes, I am really happy about my season!
Good to hear, we think you can be indeed! What about this winter’s plans?
This winter I’m filming again with Almo Films. I feel good with this crew, we’ve all known each other for a really long time. Every session is a pleasure, and I really like the way their work, and the result of course. Next to this, I’m going to be involved in other projects. Vans will carry on with the ‘First Layer’ project – a 10-15 minutes video with riders from the European team, accompanied with a great photo book by Matt Georges. We are off to Japan to film all of this and I think it’s pretty exciting!!!
There is also Volcom, my main sponsor, that is trying to put me on a trip with the Method crew, they are going produce a film this year.
And finally, there is the ‘John Doe’ session at Les Arcs at the end of the season. We are really into it and I get more involved with my friends from “L’amicale du Snowboard", and with the support of Les Arcs resort itself and the sponsors, we really want to develop the event further and make it a big end of season rendez-vous. We have loads of ideas and we are preparing some heavy shit for this new edition! By the way, I hope to see you on April 9th and 10th in Les Arcs to give you all your dose of fun!
Was your career ever at risk with the retirement of APO? Did you fear anything at the time?
I never doubted that I would continue to ride as a pro. But I couldn’t get another sponsor for boards because there is basically a world war about money for most of the brands in the industry. Since then I’ve been riding Volcom boards, because I don’t want to accept a cheap deal from another brand. And for now it’s perfectly fine like this because the Volcom boards are not yet on the market, so it draws attention. I’m ready to go again with a new brand if there is a good deal and if there is a common goal on the long-term.
Above: Vale... ROCKS!
What will you remember about this time with Regis’s brand?
I rode for about 10 years with APO, so I went through a lot with the brand, with times where everything was fine and difficult moments, until the end… It was a beautiful adventure and I thank them for what they did for me (particularly Cédric and the crew). We had beautiful years with a good team and really interesting projects. However it’s really sad how it ended and I think the owners were a bit too eager and that the brand would still be here today if they had been more reasonable. Sad for Régis and his brand, for sure.
Talking about those Volcom boards: why on earth do you think they are not in shops yet? They would probably sell really well don’t you think?
Honestly I have no idea if they will hit the stores one day or not. It’s like their wetsuits: they are reserved for the team so far. Nobody can buy them although a lot would like to. I guess it’s partly a clever marketing move, since everybody talk about them.
It took some time for the season to really start in France and in Europe. Were you still able to do what you wanted at the beginning of the season?
It is true that it was really dry at the beginning of the season. But there is loads of snow in France now and I just spent a crazy week in Les Arcs. Some big powder, some sun all day long and some resets of fresh during the night. It was the dream! Moreover, the terrain is really amazing, there are so many things to do and there is something for everyone. I’m gonna spend some time there again this winter and try to get a few shots. And I’m stoked to go to Japan now; January or early February is always the best moment to be there, and I know they already have tons of snow!
If you had ONE goal to reach soon, what would it be?
To contribute to and support snowboarding in France so that the future generations can benefit from it as we did, or better. But apart from the snow I would love to get barrelled in surfing, and also play a one digit handicap at golf!
Above: Backside 540.
Which crew do you ride with most nowadays?
It’s always changing and that’s what’s fun about it! I rode a lot with Coin-Coin, Tyler [Chorlton] and Johann Baisamy during the WhatWeWant times. Now I ride with the Almo boys so I spent a big part of the last season with Victor De Le Rue and Victor Daviet. And as soon as I have the opportunity, I love to get some good sessions with my friends Olivier Gittler and Arthur Longo, on top of my friends in Les Arcs with whom I ride withon a regular basis… In short I ride and have fun with a lot of different crews and that is what I like about snowboarding, we all get along really well and we are always really motivated to meet and go shred together!
Which riders would you say you look up to?
Arthur is one of the riders I’ve admired the most for several years and I’m not saying this because he’s my friend! Whatever he’s riding, he’s so at ease and with a great style. Really crazy to shred with him, we have fun on anything. Otherwise there is the RK1 crew, they post video after video and they are all totally mental. They are so creative on the park, and committed at the same time, big up!
You’ve been travelling around a bunch, but is there a place you are still dreaming of riding?
For snowboarding, there are still destinations where I never had the chance to go. I dream of going at least once to Alaska. It must be so amazing to be up there at the top of a remote mountain like this! If I don’t have the opportunity to do this trip within my career, I would love to make myself this present as a post-career fun trip, with a few good friends, just to have fun!
I really want to ride Mammoth too, in spring or summer time maybe. I have never been there and I think it’s still a destination that is a must for a rider nowadays, like it’s always been pretty much. I am under the impression that this spot, since the beginning of freestyle, has always been at the top of the list and it’s a bit weird but I am also under the impression that everybody went there except me! So I want my trip to Mammoth!
Finally there are the Andes mountains that I never had the opportunity to go to. And when I think about it, I immediately see beautiful landscapes that come to my mind, so I also dream of doing a big trip to Argentina!
Any last words?
Long live snowboarding!
I’d like to begin with ONBOARD for this interview.
I’d like to thank my family who gave me the opportunity to live this life.
I’d like to thank my girlfriend who takes really good care of me when I come back in pieces from a big trip!
I’d like to thank everyone that I met thanks to snowboarding and with whom I shared some good moments.
Thank you to all my friends who make me happy in life, I love you bros!
And I’d like to thank my sponsors who give me the opportunity to spend that much time to practice what I love!!
Sponsors: VOLCOM – VANS – VON ZIPPER – LES ARCS – NIXON – The ROSTER