Is Jones Snowboards’ latest recruit the ultimate all-mountain rider?
Above: Victor sends a one-footer over a Saas-Fee crevasse. (Photo: Ahriel Povich)
Victor de le Rue has been breaking down barriers for a while now. A solid park rider in his youth, the last few years have been spent picking up the freeride mantle from his legendary big bro Xavier. Few snowboarders (if any) can match Victor’s blend of balls-out freestyle and full throttle descents, an approach that culminated in overall victory at the Freeride World Tour in his debut season (2019) and again in 2021 – including first place at the infamous Verbier Xtreme.
Never one to rest of his laurels, the Frenchman recently took big mountain snowboarding into a whole new realm with the release of Versatile, a short film following his adventures alongside Swiss alpinist Sam Anthamatten as they tour, climb, abseil and paraglide into (and out of) some insane powder lines right here in Europe.
“There is no ultimate line, it just depends what you wanna do. Snowboarding is so broad”
With such a unique backcountry skill set, it’s not hard to see why Victor was personally approached by Jeremy Jones to become the latest addition to the Jones Snowboard team. We caught up with him in the Spanish resort of Baqueira Beret, where he was preparing to begin the defence of his FWT title.
I guess we should start with the obligatory pandemic question. How was the last year for you?
I’ve been pretty lucky cos I’ve been doing the Freeride World Tour stops. I was able to ride four competitions out of five which is not that bad. And then I went to Switzerland. So for me personally it was OK, but this year has been better so far. It’s more mellow, and you don’t have to go on a trip every time you want to do something.
What are your plans for this winter?
To do the FWT, to try to ride a bunch, to improve my snowboarding and feel good on my board. At the end of the season I’m planning to organise my first expedition. It’s gonna be a new challenge, but I like to have challenges and discover new aspects of snowboarding, so I’m really looking forward to it.
What kind of expedition are we talking about?
Just hiking mountains and riding them down, but pretty steep stuff and some exposed terrain.
Well, this is about to change because I just realised that where I wanted to go you maybe need permits for drones, so we’re looking at other options. But we have the crew set and everything.
[Victor then spills the beans on the original destination but requests that we keep it under our hats for now].
OK, tell us about the switch to Jones. What attracted you to the brand?
First of all, quality products. It’s also a brand with good values, and on top of that you have Jeremy as well, who’s committed to doing good things. And I know he was stoked to have me on the team.
You’re riding the new Aviator 2.0 right? Did you sit down and help design it? Well they had [the original Aviator] already. When I joined the team, Xavier at Nidecker [Jones’ parent company] sent me a bunch of boards to try. The Aviator fit the best, so I rode it for the whole first year, but I had a couple of things I wanted to improve. They were really kind and worked on this with me, and now I’m feeling really good on the board; I’m super stoked.
What were the changes you wanted made?
It was a normal camber but with rocker towards the ends, like a lot of the Jones boards. The new one is more true camber than it was before, [the camber is] longer. [When it’s] like this you can charge a bit more, and when you jump stuff you bounce less on the landing, cos you have a solid tail. That was the biggest change – but for me it makes a huge difference.
“With camber you can charge a bit more, and when you jump stuff you bounce less on the landing, cos you have a solid tail”
So you’re still all about trad camber?
Yeah. All the brands make a bunch of technologies; this is the most basic but that’s what works best for me. I know it’s not the same for every rider but it’s simple and efficient.
It’s a directional twin, too, so kinda classic compared to a lot of boards these days. Are you tempted to ride a more directional shape?
For me it’s nice to have a board that I can use [everywhere]. I don’t wanna be like, “Oh, there’s a kicker! Ah shit I cannot do it because I have the wrong board, or “There’s a rail! Oh shit, this is more my freeride board.” I like to have a board where I can just go, and I’ll change the size depending on the activity. That’s the mindset I have these days: less fucking around. If I want to go to the park I take a shorter one, or if I want to ride a big line I take a bigger board, and that’s pretty much it.
So even in Alaska where there’s no chance you’re gonna come across a rail, you’ll stick with the Aviator all the way?
Yeah for sure. For me I’m gonna take the same board for everything. You don’t have to think too much, or worry about [how it feels] because you’re on a different board.
Yeah, that’s often a problem with surfing quivers. Too much choice! Sometimes you’re not sure if you took the right board.
I was actually thinking about this this morning. Oh my god the surfers, they must have so many different choices, and sometimes it must be mentally difficult. You need to be sure that you have the right board. Even if you have a [less than ideal] board [for the conditions] but you know it’s a good board, that’s more important for me.
“I take the same board for everything. That’s the mindset I have these days: less fucking around”
Yeah, well you can definitely mix backcountry riding and freestyle on that thing! Like your recent Jones ad in Whitelines Issue 122 – the one-footer (see feature image). Can you tell us how that shot came about?
I joined up with Fredi in Saas Fee. The snow was really bad but we found this crevasse gap. It had a pretty flat landing but as it’s just a flat jump it’s pretty much nothing. It’s not big, there’s just a big hole.
[Ed laughs incredulously]
Well, you don’t wanna fall into that hole, but the jump is super mellow. We rode it a bunch of times – Fredi maybe had five different shots. I’d got a couple of basic tricks but I really wanted to get this one-footer for my movie Versatile. Maybe on my third try I stomped it, which was lucky cos it was my last try; I was exhausted. So yeah I was pretty stoked.
“You see the mountain in a new way. For instance you can use your paraglider to fly into a line”
Speaking of Versatile, you’ve become a master of different skills to help you explore the mountains. Climbing, paragliding, split ascents… And you mention in the film that you think this is the future. What did you mean by that exactly? Are we all gonna be doing it?
I just think it’s a way to evolve. Everybody wants to evolve. In freestyle you might think, “Oh I want to do a better trick,” or if you’re an alpinist, “I want to climb a higher mountain.” But you can evolve in a different way. You can do a bunch of different activities and mix them together. If you know how to do this then you can or go to places that you couldn’t access before.
So I guess it’s not for everyone, but for a rider like yourself the potential is unlimited?
Yeah. It opens a bunch of new doors. You see the mountain in a new way. For instance you can use your paraglider to fly into a line and do it in a day instead of having to carry a bunch of stuff – food for three days, water for three days, camping gear and all this. You can get a different mindset when you think about mixing all those activities.
Also, if you’re a freerider and you just like deep pow, and the snow is super shitty, you don’t have to just stay home and wait. If there’s a high pressure – like right now – it’s perfect conditions for flying, or alpinism. With different skills you can enjoy every day way more BUT you’re gonna be maybe less good at each activity. But for me I don’t care; I just want to have fun in the mountains on a daily basis.
“With different skills you can enjoy every day way more but you’re gonna be less good at each activity. But I don’t care; I just want to have fun”
I’ve got to ask about that crazy ice face that you straight-line down in the film. What’s the key to surviving a descent like that?
Glacial ice like this is so hard, there’s no way you can engage an edge. You just need to be flat based. But what’s important is to have a really good idea of how long it is and how the snow is after it. For instance it might look white but it could be three centimetres of snow on top of ice. Are you gonna be able to brake? No. Three centimetres of snow on blue ice is nothing, it’s just air. So you need to scope well and know that you can go through it, over it, and have time to shut down your speed.
The film also features some incredible terrain around the alps. Is AK still the ultimate or do you think that with the access you have now, you don’t need to travel so far?
It all depends what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for crazy spines, well for sure – Alaska is a place where the snow really sticks to steep terrain. It makes amazing spines and it’s amazing to ride. But if you’re looking for more high alpine terrain, then maybe going to a different mountain range makes sense. So there is no ultimate line or whatever, it just depends what you wanna do. Snowboarding is so broad.
How about the Himalayas? Would you like to explore there?
Yeah why not? But I would need somebody to have been there once and have an idea about where to go and what to ride. I have no idea how it works so it would be more complicated. It’s hard to organise a trip [like that], especially when you already have so much [other] stuff in mind you wanna do.
What scares you?
Climbing a mountain. I’m afraid about that. When I’m strapped in I’m pretty much always confident. It’s more on the way up; I’m super scared that a slab could come down. Yeah. I’m actually quite afraid on the way up.
I guess you don’t have much control in that situation. There’s not much you can do if anything happens?
Yeah. You’re so powerless, just hoping for the best. You’re trying to go the smartest and safest way, but sometimes you need to cross something or you need to go through a pocket… I’ve spent so much energy stressing about all this when I’m climbing, like: “Aargh! I hope it’s gonna be fine.”
“When I’m strapped in I’m pretty much always confident. But I’m actually quite afraid on the way up”
How much time do you spend thinking about risk, then? At the end of the day there’s only so much you can do to stay safe when snowboarding, right?
Well for example, with this expedition I’m organising, I know I’m gonna be scared of going up, but I’m trying to plan things accordingly. I have a great crew, I know we’ll take good decisions, it’s not gonna be a fight of egos or whatever. So this in a way is [minimising risk] in advance. Once we’re there, we’ll see how the mountain looks and if it’s not smart to go, we’ll not go. So that’s one thing. And then, once we’re actually climbing, we’ll see the snow, we’ll feel it, and if there’s something bad we’ll go down. There’s no pressure.
What’s your feeling about helmets these days?
Before I almost never wore a helmet, maybe just for Alaska or something. Now I wear it pretty much on a daily basis. When you’re a kid maybe you feel more strong and you feel you don’t need it. You just send it in the park or whatever. But now, getting a bit older, I’ve had a couple of concussions, I’ve hit my head, and I feel I really need to limit that risk.
“Before I almost never wore a helmet. Now I wear it on a daily basis”
Were those concussions without a helmet?
Actually they were all with a helmet. But if I hadn’t had it, maybe it would have been worse. So now I wear one all the time and you get used to it.
What are your aspirations for the next few years of riding?
I never set goals more than one year in advance, because you get different skills, you get more mature or whatever, and your desires change. Last year we did that movie Versatile, so for now this is how I’m getting the most fun, changing activities from day to day and even mixing them on the same day – that’s what I prefer actually.
So right now my objective is to try to ride as much as possible, to feel super confident on my board and to try to do good in competition as well. Competition is super stressful but when it goes well it’s great; it also helps you to push and do stuff you maybe wouldn’t do otherwise.
And then I want to do this expedition which would be something new to learn, something I’ve never lived before: climbing a big mountain, riding it down, camping for a couple of weeks and stuff like that. So this is for now, and I don’t know what’s gonna happen next year.
“Competition is super stressful but it helps push you to do stuff you wouldn’t do otherwise”
Are you going back to Natural Selection?
No. I didn’t ask, and they didn’t ask me either, but in a way [that suits me] fine this year. Now I have a baby and all this, so maybe I’ll have more fun going on the Freeride World Tour with some of my best friends. You just travel in a car, it’s less hassle than taking a plane just to do two runs. Even though the terrain they’re building will be epic, it’s a lot of investment in time to go there, and this year I was not feeling it that much. I’m really looking forward to watching it though!
“Natural Selection is more freestyle than freeride – it’s hard to compete against guys who do triple corks every day”
Do you think it’s the future of freeride-based contests?
Actually for me Natural Selection is more freestyle. And since I do a bunch of different activities, I have less time to [focus on] freestyle versus when I was younger and used to go to the park all the time. So it’s hard to compete against guys who do triple corks every day. And at this event, all the kickers are pretty much built and shovelled so there’s just a little bit of powder on top of it; it’s almost like a park kicker.
So you think it suits the traditional slopestyle riders more than freeriders?
Just park is maybe not enough, but if you’re a good park rider and you have some experience in the backcountry, then for sure it’s great.
That’s why you need more stops, right, like the surf tour? To suit different skill sets.
Yeah, and they will.
OK, last question. Who would win in a straight line comp between you and your brother?
Probably Xavier. It depends how he feels on that day, but he has more board control – more technique in a way – and a board that’s great for going straight. And if he’s committed to something he will go full on.
A diplomatic answer! Thanks for your time, Victor.
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