Wildcard | The Victor de le Rue Interview

From the Freeride World Tour to dream lines in Chamonix and BC, Futurelight helps Victor push the limit

Fresh off the plane from a climbing trip in Utah, Victor de le Rue is about the last person you’d expect to bump into on a rainy October afternoon in west London. After all, he looks most at home where everyone else would look horrendously out their depth: pointing it (ice axe usually in hand) down some of the steepest big mountain faces in the world. Yet, it was here, in The North Face’s Futurelight hub at the Ski and Snowboard Show, that we got the chance to catch up with him before the premiere of his latest film, Defiance

After bumper back-to-back seasons, we had a lot to talk about: from competing – and winning – on the Freeride World Tour, to riding dream lines whilst raising the backcountry bar in his film, Frozen Mind, to whether or not The North Face’s latest outerwear innovation, Futurelight, really has changed the game.

Last winter, getting called up to the Freeride World Tour as the wildcard entry marked a change of direction for the French rider’s career. “I always like to get goals at the beginning of the season and then go full-on to see how I can change them or push them”, he tells us.

Scoring deep. Victor and Jake, BC. (Pic: The North Face)

Arriving in Hakuba, Japan, for the first comp of the year, expectations were already set pretty high for Victor. His older brother, Xavier, had previously won the Tour and this year’s line up included some of the heaviest hitters in freeriding – Travis and Gigi, to name a couple. It’d be fair to say the pressure was on.

“Going into the Tour, I remember Xavier’s advice was just to not overthink it and ride with fun”

“So, Hakuba was the first time I had ever competed in freeriding”, he starts to laugh, “and I fell after like 10 metres.” It’s a competition format that leaves little room for error. With just one chance to put your run down and only a handful of events to score points in, every stop on the Tour counts. Rather than writing himself off after the first event, Victor shifted his perspective going forward. “It was pretty frustrating, but I learned from that”, he says. “Going into the Tour, I remember Xavier’s advice was just to not overthink it and ride with fun.”

Jake, Victor and Leanne, scoping BC lines, wearing Futurelight. (Pic: The North Face)

Something must have stuck. At the next stop in Kicking Horse, Canada, Victor snatched the top spot on the podium. True to his riding style, a fortnight later at the third stage in Fieberbrunn, Austria, he took those words of advice to the limit. “You have one face which you scope from every angle for at least a full day to visualise your run”, he says. “On the comp day, I couldn’t choose what to do. I dropped in and I had two options: either go full straight line off a feature or go to the side and pull a trick.”

“I dropped in without knowing which line to take, but once I stomped my first cliff I didn’t even think about it. My brain just made the decision automatically”

Put that in perspective. This was Victor’s third-ever competitive freeriding event and on one of the steepest faces in Europe. Here, the top athletes in the world will usually map out every inch of their run before dropping. A single mistake can not only cost you valuable points but has the potential to end your season prematurely.

“The organisers were just like like, ‘Okay, you have to go!’ It was super weird”, he says. “I dropped in without knowing which line to take, but once I stomped my first cliff I didn’t even think about it. My brain just made the decision automatically.”

Ho-ly shit.

It’s our turn to ask a question, but it takes a moment to process how absolutely balls-to-the-wall bonkers what he just said was. He continues, “I won. So… I guess it worked out great.”

Victor getting a little ventilation in the North Face A-CAD Futrelight Jacket. (Pic: The North Face)

De le Rue went on to podium in the final two stops of the Tour – at Andorra’s Ordina Arcalis and Verbier’s infamous Bec des Rosses – before being crowned the overall winner for 2019. He was the wildcard that took to the Tour like a seasoned freeride competitor.

In reality, his previous winter had been one of a very different nature. Away from the competition scene, the tracked faces and the controlled environment of the FWT, Victor went deep into some of Chamonix’s most exposed, technical and untouched faces for his groundbreaking film, Frozen Mind.

“What I like about riding Chamonix”, he tells us “is that it’s so much more committing. You choose your line – your dream line. You have the whole mountain range to choose from. In the contests, you don’t have that same freedom. You just chose what’s in front of you.”

Making descents with zero margins for error would be enough to send even the most experienced pros packing. Not so, for Victor. When asked what motivates him to ride 45°+ faces with huge exposure and consequences, his answer is brilliantly simple and cuts through the rhetoric: “That’s how I have fun!”

“What I like about riding Chamonix… is that it’s so much more committing. You choose your line – your dream line. You have the whole mountain range to choose from”

No doubt, it’s a pretty niche way to get your fix, but it’s inspiring to hear Victor’s attitude towards pushing the envelope. “When I can rappel into a line then snowboard some steeps with my ice axe, then take off with my paraglide and skip the long hike and traverse back, I’m the happiest guy on earth”, he says. “So, that’s what I want to do more of. And then”, he adds, “if I can get some freestyle into my run, that’s even better.”

Jake Blauvelt making full use of the stretch, in the Futurelight Brigadine Jacket (Pic: The North Face)

Which brings us on to his latest film, DefianceBack 7 entry into your line, anybody!? Filmed by Sherpa Cinemas, The North Face heavy hitters, Jake Blauvelt and Leanne Pelosi, teamed up with de le Rue in British Columbia to put the new Futurelight outerwear through its paces. It’s a full-on showcase of shred and one where both the team and their outerwear pushed new limits.

By using innovative nano-spinning technologies, The North Face claim to have made a jacket which ‘redefines the future of technical outerwear and waterproof performance’. Victor’s been wearing the A-CAD jacket and bib pants, part of the Steep Series Line. And if anyone knows how to test their outerwear…

“It’s super cool”, he says. “It’s still super durable, but it breathes so well that you can just leave it on without using the vents or unzipping it the whole time.”

Rather than working with a single thickness of membrane, Futurelight allows The North Face to adapt each garment to its specific activity. With the Steep Series line, it has been designed with freeriders in mind – from recreational riders hiking lines on the resort boundary, right up to a rider like Victor, blending mountaineering with big mountain charging.

“When you wear it, you don’t even feel it on you”

As a result, the Steep Series range is able to stretch and move with the user, so it works with you and not against you when hiking big lines or gunning back down them. “It’s the stretch that I notice, big time”, Victor tells us. “When you wear it, you don’t even feel it on you.” The full range of Futurelight is now available online at The North Face. 

Whether it’s on the Freeride World Tour, filming for a new project, fusing his freestyle versatility with backcountry lines, or climbing and paragliding, Victor, like The North Face, continues to defy what’s possible in the mountains.

So, what’s next for the Frenchman? “Defend the title, for sure!” he says. “It will be a different perspective from last year. Now that I know the faces, I feel more confident and can hopefully ride better.”

If his first season on the Tour gave a flavour of what’s to come, we can’t wait to see what’s next. The only difference, this time around, is he no longer holds the position as the wildcard. Well, at least not as the official wildcard. But in every other sense of the word? Absolutely.

Heli Drops before Cliff Drops. Victor de le Rue in Defiance. (Pic: The North Face)
Leanne Pelosi kicking up the goods; the women's Futrelight Brigadine jacket keeping her dry. (Pic: The North Face)
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