By Tim Mutrie
“Yes, we can say it’s a comeback,” says Guerlain Chicherit.
Chicherit, 33, is the Tignes, France native and resident who is also something of a legend in the world of big mountain freeskiing. After dominating the big mountain scene in the late 1990s through mid ’00s (he was the overall Subaru Freeskiing World Tour champ in ’06 and ’07, and he won the U.S. Freeskiing Nationals in ’01 and ’02), he never officially retired, but more or less he did, moving on to things like rally car racing and founding a ski company (Coreupt). For context, this was all before the advent, in 2008, of the European-based Freeride World Tour.
This past February, Chicherit was a last-minute entry at the combined Freeskiing World Tour/Freeride World Tour event at Kirkwood, Calif. Fresh off the couch, so to speak, and following a four-year hiatus from big mountain comps, he finished on the podium, in third. This came as no big surprise, though it certainly was curious: Was Chicherit staging a comeback? So a week later, in early March, when Chicherit showed up in Jackson Hole for the annual Powder Week in order to stump the Coreupt line with industry and media ski testers, I began badgering him about it. And while Chicherit talked candidly about contemplating a full-on comeback, he was not prepared to fully commit to it, saying he’d make a decision over the summer.
The March 2011 Interview in Jackson Hole:
When I caught up with him again, via Skype from his home in Tignes in mid July, Chicherit had this to report: He is coming back to for the full Freeskiing World Tour. He is moving to Park City this fall—relocating from Tignes for the first time in his life—in order to better follow in the full U.S. Tour. And he is kicking it all off this week with the first South American stop of the Subaru FWT, the Red Bull Powder Disorder, in Las Leñas, Argentina.
In Guerlain’s words:
I'm skiing every morning, and I start already to train. I will do the first comps in Argentina and Chile in August. Then I'll be spending all winter in the U.S. to make movies and for the contests.
It's a big challenge for me you know, because I didn't compete for the last three or four years. That's why I did Kirkwood, to see if I was still able to do it. But I had a lot of fun in Kirkwood, and I still think I can do it really well. So I'm trying and taking the challenge.
I'll still be driving rally cars, and I’ll again be doing the next Dakar with my team. I just start my own garage and now I'm building my own car, some crazy stuff, for things like Winter X Games in Aspen. That will be a freestyle rally demo show on the snow. Should be great.
It’s really simple. I've been skiing all my life and have so much fun doing it. When I decided to stop four years ago, it was to start my own ski company. That was an amazing experience, but I was too busy to ski. Now we’re arriving in the U.S. with Coreupt USA, and I have some good guys working with me and I have much more time to ski. So that's why I want to do it again.
It's not because I want to win again—four is enough—but for me I just want to have fun and be with my friends and just feel the stress at the starts; that's really what I like. And for sure I want to do well, and I want to fight for the victory, but there's six or seven events and the young skiers are pushing hard, so it's a big challenge, but I'm ready to fight for it.
I won’t be doing the Freeride World Tour; maybe Verbier, because Verbier is special, and it's at the end of the winter, so why not? But for me, I really prefer the atmosphere on the U.S. world tour. The European world tour is different. All my friends are on the U.S. world tour, and I prefer to compete with 60 or 70 skiers at the start. The Euro tour is only 15 guys; the U.S. tour is more open.
I think other Euros feel the same way too. I'm sure yes. But for me the problem is really simple. For me to compete on the Euro tour, for the sponsors or the media, which is better, I really don't care. I've already done that. I've won four times. Now I can decide where I want to compete. For the younger guys, it's different. On the U.S. world tour, there's almost no media, no exposure, so for Euro athletes, there's more of that on the Euro tour, but still they really prefer the spirit on the U.S. world tour.
I can't speak for everyone, but I'm almost 95 percent sure they all prefer the U.S. world tour. It's too bad, in my opinion, that the two tours can't work together. I can't understand why. It's such a small sport as it is, and I'm sure if they want they can do something together. There's five events in Europe, and five or six in the U.S., plus Argentina and Chile, so if there were 14 or 15 events together, that would be ideal.
It's also confusing for people and I think not so good for our sport, because it's quite small, and I think we all have to be in the same boat.
I’ve never lived in the U.S. before, but when I was competing, I spent a lot of time traveling there. But it was always moving, all the time, so not so much time to stay in one place. And then I start my business and it was impossible for me to come and live in the U.S. But to come and live in the U.S. now, it's been my dream for almost ten years.
Coreupt is the top selling freeski brand in France, and third or fourth in Europe. We're fighting really hard in Sweden and Norway for the next winter, so we're almost close to being first in those countries too. Coreput is working really well now. For the first one or two years, it was really hard. And now we want to get Coreupt going better in the U.S. We're talking with U.S. athletes, and I can't tell you yet, but big, big names will join us soon. I think we should announce in September.
Has the U.S. tour changed since I was doing it? For me, my feeling is before you had to jump really, really big, and not especially to ski fast and free; the air, the jump, was really important. And if you jumped the biggest cliff on your run you had a good chance to be in the top position. And now, and I think this is good, the jumps are maybe smaller, but skiers are skiing faster than before, and I think that's good for the sport, a good evolution. Now skiers are trying to make some freestyle tricks on their run, which is also quite good.
But I think it can be a bit better. I think we can imagine something different. I think the next step is to put some real freestyle tricks on every run. And the problem, if right now you try to make some tricks, you don't have a special critieria for that—you take risk to make tricks, but if you crash, maybe it's not worth it… I think we can it more weighted for freestyle. And the best way to push althetes to push this way is to make it worth it for them; right now there's no value for it.
I don't remember the names of the guys in Kirkwood, because I only did one competion, but for sure I saw ten or 12 guys and I say, ‘Sh*t, wow, they're pushing really hard and skiing really well, skiing quick and under control.’ So for sure it'll be really difficult to be in the top 10 for next winter.
For sure the level of competition is different. I'm skiing really fast. This is not what I did before. I like to ski like this now, but I still like to jump really big, like I did in Kirkwood. I like to jump high and big, and I think I'll continue to jump like this, but with more speed and more on my line, without any stops and with good fluidity. I did a comp last year in France, in Tignes, and I skied 600 meters in less than 30 seconds. I like to ski fast and quick, and I think that'll be good for the next world tour. But I feel not so much confident like before. I liked it when it was rocky and steep; lots rocks.
Like that run in Gravity Games, in Mammoth [in 2000]—I'm not sure I can ski that run again. I'm not sure I want to ski like that again. The last jump was quite big, but the first two were smaller, but I land in a really steep place, a small pocket of snow, and the risk was really high. … I was 21 years old then. I was like a young dog, you know, pretty hungry. I don't remember the name of that face, but I know the local guys call it the Frenchie's line now.
I scored 50 points out of 50 on that line; Shane [McConkey] scored a 42 on the same face. It was a big thing for me, because Shane was my model, and a good friend of mine. He helped me a lot, he gave me a lot of good support. He knew I wanted to ski and win, and he was aways open with me and he helped me a lot of times. When we did the venue check before the comp, he says to me, ‘Don't do it, don't play with your life. We all know what you can do.’ And I said, ‘I am OK, I think I can do it.’ I just respect so much that guy. I miss him.
Frenchie’s Line, at the 2000 Gravity Games in Mammoth, was “one of the most inspiring technical lines that had been skied up to that point,” says Chris Davenport, who was there.
I don't know about filming this winter. I will come with a camera man all winter, so I will do as much as possible footage and I will see who wants to work with me. I have many contacts, but I don't want to speak with any company and promise many many things that I'll do a big segment, because I still don't know if I can do a huge segment. The level is so high in the movies, and I'd like to do it well if I do it. But I know all the biggest companies want to work with me, so I'm really not stressed about that; I will decide later.
Kirkwood for me was a big test. I can tell you I was really really stressed. I was there, for sure, for fun. But as always when I take a start I always want to do my best, and I want to ski for the victory. I can't ski any different. It's my spirit and my motivation. So it was in my head to be in the top three or top five, but I was really stressed to see if I could still do it. So being up there at the top, it was a big moment for me. And at the end of the my run, I was really proud and really happy. I did well, not like what I could do before, but I say, ‘Sh*t, I want to do this again, and to do it again, I must train.’
All my muscle, my back, my legs, was completely f*cked. So I say, ‘Sh*t, if I want to ski again and ski all winter I need to train again.’ I feel already much better. I'm skiing every morning in Tignes, and two days ago I did complete days on the back with jumps and tricks and things, and I'm starting to feel really well—almost ready.
Tignes has a glacier to ski on all summer and that's why I say it's the best place in the world. Skiing in the morning and biking in the afternoon. It's like a small Whistler. And I’ve spent all my life, all 33 years, here. All my friends and family are here, and I know every centimeter of the mountain, every rock, every jump.”
This is what I want—full-time skiing. I think and hope Coreupt will still be running really well, so I can just think about skiing and not too much about Coreupt. I've been in Snowbird many, many ties in the last 12 years, but Park City I visited for the first time last year. I spent 12 days and we skied all the resorts, and two days on the just the sleds. It's just amazing. So I say, ‘This is the place I want to stay, definitely.’ And for freeride, I will go many times to Snowbird—it's not so far. Most of the time, for freeriding, it'll be snowbird.”
I stopped to do some other things, you know, and if you want to do something really well, you have to be 100 percent. That's why I decide to stop. I couldn't manage the rally car driving and my business and the skiing; so I stop. But now Coreupt is running really well and I have more time for me, and I think now it's time for me to take time for me, and what I want to do is to ski again. So yes, we can say it's a comeback. Just don't be too hard on me if I'm not doing so well. But it's going to be good to fight with the young gun again, and it should be interesting.