Combining Freestyle with Freeride - Victor de Le Rue's Brilliant Entrance onto the Snowboard Stage
An Exclusive Interview With Victor de Le Rue about "The Fourth Phase"
Victor de Le Rue is a certified mad man. Emerging from freestyle brillance and following Xavier and his big mountain footsteps, he made a name for himself globally during the last few years. No wonder the following phone call happened at some point in 2015:
Nico (Blue Tomato Team Manager): "Hey, this is Nico."
Victor: "Hey Nico, this is Victor! Sorry to bother you on the weekend, but I have an urgent question!"
Nico: "No worries, I’m in the lift right now and got time anyways, what’s up?"
Victor: "Well, I just got a call. From Travis."
Nico: "Travis, as in … Rice?"
Victor: "YES! And he wants me to come with him to AK on a six weeks camping trip!"
Nico: "Holy sh**, are you serious? That’s awesome!"
What followed were more details about the trip, when it was supposed to happen – originally in 2015, which changed a little later –, what was planned and was ultimately done in March/April 2016. The opportunity of a lifetime was right in front of Victor and, understandably, he was more than excited to join the legendary Travis Rice for his incredibly huge video project "The Fourth Phase". To be handpicked by Travis was basically the snowboarding equivalent to the knightly accolade.
As always in life, expectations and reality can differ wildly. So we caught up with Victor after his once-in-a-lifetime trip to recap everything from the very beginning to the actual footage ending up in the movie.
Smile! You're on camera.
Nico: Let’s get this started from the beginning: when did Travis give you the first call about the whole trip and who gave him your number anyway?
Victor: He asked my brother Xavier for my number. One day I received an email with Xavier sending my phone number to Travis with no explanation whatsoever. So there is that email and I’m like "Man, what is that? Whatever!" And then a couple of days later he [Travis] called me. That was in November 2015. No! 2014! Wow!
He just called me and he starts talking about his project. First of all, I was wondering why Travis was calling me. That was pretty insane. I never met this guy before. So I’m thinking maybe he’s going to invite me to his contest, which would be pretty insane to begin with. But then he keeps talking about his movie "This and that" and all that and I’m thinking "Why is he talking so much about his movie?" And then at some point he says: "I would like you to come with us to AK for a big trip." That was supposed to happen not this winter but the winter before, but the conditions were bad in AK where we wanted to go so it got postponed to this year.
Nico: Have you thanked Xavier for giving him your number?
Victor: Travis just asked my brother for my number and he gave it to him. (laughing)
Nico: Xavier didn’t really know what Travis wanted from you?
Victor: No, no, he didn’t.
Scoping the mountains in Alaska
Nico: You just talked about the trip and when it was delayed for the first time. Were you afraid it wouldn’t happen at all and it was all just a sweet dream you woke up from?
Victor: Yes. It was actually pretty late when he called me and I couldn’t really sleep the whole night. The next morning, I couldn’t really believe it. It’s like the biggest project I could ever be on and that was two years ago. I was pretty young and it felt really insane. I didn’t tell him yes at first because I was already committed to Transworld. I had so many projects going on with Transworld, for the "Origins" film for example and my schedule was pretty much planned. But I couldn’t say no to this opportunity. So I called Nick Hamilton from Transworld and wanted to clear this up with everyone. Nick immediately congratulated me on Travis’ call, which was pretty nice. And then he told me to go for the project, but in the end it got postponed to this year so I got the time to focus on the "Origin" project the whole winter, in which I’ve had my best part ever so far. In a way, it was a good thing and this year I could do this trip and I was just filming for Transworld on the side a little bit, but my part will be nothing compared to last year, because I was doing two projects at the same time. It’s tough to really focus if you just do a little bit.
Nico: Obviously, you didn’t want to take too much of a risk before the trip to AK, right?!
Victor: It’s not about risk; maybe a tiny bit but not really. It’s more about time. If you spend only January and February filming for Transworld – two thirds of January is crap anyway – and you just have time for a couple of sessions, nothing insane comes along. For "Origins" I focused the whole year on one project and in the end, I had a really good part.
Following the "Hydrological Cycle" not only included snowboarding: Victor while cold-water surfing.
Nico: How long did the whole planning of the trip take? Did you get any help from Xavier planning everything in terms of gear, knowledge etc. for going to AK for such a long time?
Victor: I got some advice for gear when he told me to bring certain stuff. But the film crew had more like a crazy gear list I were supposed to bring anyway. And then the project was actually postponed for one year so I got time to find more sponsors. I was on Nitro at that time so I had time to get a Nitro splitboard. I also went to The North Face and they provided me with a state of the art, super technical outfit, camping gear, good mattresses, a bunch of expensive stuff and everything I needed. I even had time to ask you guys [Blue Tomato] for some merino socks and a bunch of other stuff. In the end, I had time to get all the proper equipment.
Nico: How many bags did you actually bring? Sounds like a lot of gear.
Yes, I brought my super heavy board bag, a backpack, a roller bag and three duffle bags. I have the picture on my Instagram account – maybe two duffle bags. But it was so much gear to carry around. It was a pain in the butt.
Nico: So most of the trip’s cost was the extra luggage on the plane right?! (laughing)
Victor: Yes, that was pretty expensive. But I knew I had to pay for it. It’s just a part of it. I just checked my Instagram and I had three duffle bags, one big roller bag, one boardbag and my backpack. The worst was actually the parking though. The bill was CHF 1,550 for parking. That was a waste of money.
Nico: So you started in Switzerland? Is that correct?
Victor: Yes, my flight was from Switzerland.
Checking in at the airport with equipment for two months of camping in AK
Nico: How long did it take you until you actually met Travis?
Victor: Wait… I went to Anchorage so I met the crew in the evening. I don’t know how many hours – lots of flights in a row. And then in Anchorage we slept in a hotel and the next morning I met everyone, even the "crazy" cook. Some of us jumped on a small plane with Travis and we went to scope a bunch of mountain ranges. And all the other guys drove to Valdez with a big van with all the gear. You cannot imagine. It was like a big truck full of gear. It was insane. Like the trucks you rent when you move. Once we checked a couple of mountain ranges – the Chugach for example – we ended up in Valdez. It was one of the most insane places: crazy mountains, crazy nature etc. We did some heli time in Valdez or stayed in the lodge because of the weather, but riding in Valdez was pretty sick. That was March, 1st.
Nico: For how long did you stay in total? Seven weeks?
Victor: The big plan was to go camping. Long story short, we did six days of Heli in Valdez and then we had to stop for a while because of the weather. Then we were supposed to go camping for a long time, but again the weather was horrible where we were heading. We changed plans at the very last minute and only did eight days of camping.
When you go camping in AK, make sure you're properly equipped!
Nico: You already mentioned one point I had on my list anyway. Alaska is known for pretty unpredictable, crazy weather. I think you had to play the waiting game for quite some time. Is that right?
Victor: Yes, in between two days of riding I had to wait 38 (!!!) days.
Nico: 38 days??? Holy moly. That’s a long time.
Victor: That was really exhausting.
Nico: When the weather cleared up was it worth it after all?
Victor: We could see in advance on the forecast that the weather was going to be bad for a while. We thought there was nothing to do there since we were in a small village in a hotel, just waiting for the weather to get better. After all, everyone left – with their wife, kids and everything. I went to Mexico to one of the guys from Red Bull. Clark was his name. He’s got a house there. We went for eight days, then we came back and we still waited for the weather to improve. It was just that bad. But then there was a zone where we had the permission to fly. We had the permit so we could fly there. It was a crazy mission to get the permit. No one ever rode there apparently. The weather worsened again after that and we couldn’t go again. We knew that some other crews were in another part of the mountains, in the Tordrillos [mountain part in AK] to be exact where they used to shoot "The Art of Flight". We could tell from the forecast that those guys had good weather conditions. We were not very far away from those guys. However, where we wanted to ride the weather was just really bad. Finally, we changed plans last minute and went to the Tordrillos because it was way easier up there. You see, we stayed eight days and we had roughly three days of riding.
Nico: That’s not a lot.
Victor: The goal was to hike lines but the beginning was super sketchy. So we did a bit of heliing just to check out the conditions and then one afternoon when it cleared up we had the opportunity to go for a line. It was kind of difficult because the sun was burning on the face, the snow was fluffy and sliding down and it was really sketchy to hike. We were also pretty late. I still tried the line regardless of the time. In the end, it worked for me. I did one line. The other guys, however, just didn’t go because it was a little bit too dangerous. After that we didn’t get the opportunity to hike more lines and in the forecast the weather was going to be bad for another ten days at least. It was pretty complicated. It was only the start of the trip and it ended way too early.
Leaving your mark where nobody else has snowboarded before you
Nico: What was the best day of the trip for you?
Victor: I want to say it was this day where I hiked the line when we were camping. It was super long and tiring, but you’re in such a beautiful environment. It was really intense; to get to the top, you’re all alone up there and then you ride your line, you make your track. It’s such a different feeling than riding the heli. I really enjoyed it a lot, high-fiving Jeremy Jones and Travis Rice at the bottom of the mountain.
Nico: Like a dream come true?
Victor: Yes, exactly!
Nico: What was your best line? Was it the same as the one from the best day of the trip?
Victor: I feel like I didn’t do anything crazy. I wanted to do so much crazy stuff but then the trip just happened within a second. It was supposed to be two months. I had so much stuff in mind I wanted to do. But I arrived in Valdez and we only had a couple of days. I thought it was the warmup for a 2-months trip. But then it was over so quickly and after that we waited for more than one month. We only had another couple of days and it was over again. This kind of feeling. But I had a good feeling with one line. You usually take a small kicker to warm up but this time we were so many. It would have taken forever. We also didn’t start very early. The light was creeping up quickly. Some zones you couldn’t even ride anymore. So we went to one line and I thought "Hell, let’s just do a trick, first try and done." I actually got my best shot there when I did a backflip into a line, then two big sprays and after that full speed ahead downhill from a long spine. I think that shot from the heli was pretty sick.
Some people would consider riding in the Alaskan mountains crazy indeed.
Nico: That sounds incredible. What were the top three things you learned from camping in Alaska?
2. Make sure to bring a book, some games and booze! (laughing) We had a pretty luxurious camp. It never got cold. We had a really insane tent – wooden floors etc. I could have stayed there for a month, no problem. We even had a cook.
3. And definitely, never forget sunscreen. It’s the most important thing!!!
Nico: What did you learn from riding with Travis Rice?
Victor: He’s a pretty smart rider. He’s not taking any stupid risk. Sometimes he rides and just blows your mind when you feel he’s going to go for a mellow trick but then he pulls this insane, crazy-ass trick. It’s tough to predict at what point he’s going crazy.
Nico: So you should always have the cameras ready and rolling!? (laughing) What were the things you packed but you never needed?
Victor: My Jetboil! [camping cooker] I mean, let's face it, we had or own cook! (laughing)
Nico: What were the things you forgot to pack but would have needed?
Victor: Honestly, I think I really brought everything, because I had roughly one year and a half or even two years to prepare!!! Maybe I forgot my glasses but I didn’t need them anyway. So it was pretty good.
One more selfie before it's going down - literally.