by Feet Banks
Time passes slowly in up here in the mountains, but life can go by way too quick. Some beautiful mountains in South America brought three equally beautiful people into the fold last week, and ushered them over to the other side.
Snowboarder and guide Liz Daley was killed by an avalanche in Argentina while ski icons Andreas Fransson and JP Auclair succumbed to a slide in the Chilean Patagonia. Of the three, I only knew JP personally but it’s safe to say all of them lived a far more interesting and imaginative existance than most. And all will be sorely missed.
In 1999-2000 a couple buddies and I made a Whistler-based ski movie called Parental Advisory and JP Auclair was in one of the athletes we filmed and befriended. Coaching with High North Ski Camp at the time, JP was already one of the biggest names in skiing and every film company on the glacier had a camera rolling each time he clicked in. For good reason, JP and the “New Canadian Airforce” were honing and inventing tricks almost daily back then and JP’s effortless style was beautiful and inspiring to watch.
JP liked our little film company, I think he understood we were trying to do things a bit differently, so he made sure we had one exclusive shot for the movie that no one else would have. One snowy early season afternoon JP built a triple rail feature over by the Chateau Whistler and hit it until he was sure we had the shot. One of the biggest stars taking the time to help out the new guys, just as he would always make time to sign an autograph, pose for a photo or help a young skier figure out a new trick. JP was always generous with his time and talent and he connected with people on so many levels that you could see that he loved not only what he was doing, but what everyone else was doing as well.
Over the next few years I shared many great dinners at Sushi Village with JP and many great conversations as well. He had the mind of an artist and would often much rather listen than talk. As a true Quebec francophone he took great pleasure in discovering that out West we learned to speak French from a talking pineapple. JP was an observer, a listener and a friend who engaged and truly cared about every conversation he had. The guy was present, omnipresent almost.
And he was a skier. Perhaps the best all-around skier the sport has ever produced and surely the most innovative. From his early groundbreaking film segments with Poor Boyz Productions to his incredible big mountain and still-groundbreaking (and co-directed) street segments with Sherpas Cinema over a decade later. From helping bring Twin-tip skis to market to co-founding ARMADA,one of the first rider-owned ski companies –whether they know it or not, anyone who has stepped onto a pair of skis in the past 15 years has been directly impacted by JP Auclair.
JP’s presence and kindness extended far beyond the ski slopes. He co-founded Alpine Initiatives, a social and environmental change organization. Everyone would love to build an orphanage in Africa, except JP and Alpine Initiatives actually did it.
JP’s passing leaves a hole in the mountains that will never be filled. It’s important to remember and honour our heroes but we should all try to emulate them a bit too. Let’s take all those characteristics we loved about JP (or Andreas Fransson or Liz Daley or anyone we’ve lost) and bring them into our own lives. This makes our heroes immortal and keeps their spirits alive. It makes better people of all of us.
The last time I saw JP it was early spring and he seemed more alive than ever, “Dude, I’m gonna be a dad.” With a son of my own I knew the line he was about to drop in on just as I knew he’d excel in ways few others ever could. We hugged, laughed and looked forward to the day when our kids could meet and play.
That day will never come in this world. Time passes slowly up here in the mountains, but every second is absolutely precious. So call up your parents this week, write a real post-office-style letter to your grandma, emulate your heroes and host a dinner party with all the people you love and laugh at the little things. The lost live forever in the stories they leave behind. Never stop sharing those stories and keep on creating your own every chance you get, because there may not be time later on.
Alpine Initiatives have set up a fund to honour the legacy of JP Auclair and help support his son Leo and loving partner Ingrid during these hard times. http://www.alpineinitiatives.org/theauclairfund