By Tim Mutrie
JP Auclair’s place in freeskiing history is already cemented: member of the New Canadian Air Force, winner of the first U.S. Open, co-creator of the first twin tip ski (Solomon Teneighty), co-founder of a ski company (Armada), co-founder of an environmental organization (Alpine Initiatives). Auclair is a likable guy too, which, coupled with these other things, makes him universally admired by the younger generation of freeskiers, the generation that has capitalized off the plurality of the Internet in order to get noticed, established and sponsored in their own careers. This all also makes Auclair—who, at 34, is getting on in the years for a jibber—an unlikely candidate to star in possibly the first ski video edit to surpass one million views.
But Auclair’s gone-viral street segment from the highly-acclaimed film by Sherpas Cinema, All.I.Can., recently did just that. The figure is north of 1M if you count views on pirated versions posted to the Internet—acts of piracy that seem to please Auclair in a way, because it prompted him and the Sherpas team to post the authorized segment on Vimeo for themselves.
Naturally, Auclair and the Sherpas figure to factor into the 12th annual Powder Awards on Wednesday night at the Hotel Jerome in Aspen (watch the live webcast on powderawards.com, starting at 7 p.m. MST). And in a recent wide-ranging interview, Auclair, a native of Quebec who recently moved to Zurich, Switzerland, went deep on the segment (shot across two weeks in the British Columbia towns of Trail, Rossland and Nelson last March), the evolving new media model, and how sometimes a junkshow produces stunning results.
POWDER.COM: It’s fair to say your ‘All.I.Can.’ street segment blew minds, no?
JP AUCLAIR: It blew my mind, for the response it’s getting.
How did it all come together? At first when we first started, we were in panic mode. It seemed like we were in a bad situation and trying to make the best out of it. We basically had poor planning and ended up in a place where there was not much snow, and the location seemed like it was gonna be hard to work with.
Right, junkshow then. We were basically forced to do something else than what we had been doing in the past, because of the conditions. It was kind of like a misunderstanding I guess. When we were editing Revolver for Poor Boyz, we were in Whistler and Dave Mossop from the Sherpas was living next door. He kept popping in to say hello and give us feedback on the edits and stuff. He saw the segment, which had about a minute of urban in it, but he had never really shot urban before and I don’t think he understood what went into it.
But he was pretty stoked on the Revolver urban part and he was like, ‘Alright, we should do that for the Sherpas. You could be our urban guy.’ But I told him that basically whatever he saw in Revolver was going to be my last urban effort and I was done with that and moving into a different direction with my skiing altogether. But he insisted, and I thought, ‘Well, if it’s Dave, it’s gonna be awesome.’
The Sherpas are all really creative, and I figured maybe it was worth trying to do some urban again. It kind of went from there. We were totally out of touch for probably five months until it was time to shoot. We were gonna come up with some amazing concept, something really cool, and basically it was Eric Crosland’s idea to try to shoot something in Nelson, B.C. So we showed up there on the day that we agreed on. And basically at that point they were like, ‘Alright, so whaddaya got?’ I was like, ‘Well, I don’t’ know, what do you guys got? What’s your idea?’
And he’s like, ‘Well, my idea is we shoot you doing urban in the city.’ And I was like, that’s not an idea. [Laughter]. He’s like, ‘Yeah, yeah, like what you did in Revolver, you know, just the urban stuff, let’s go do that.’
And I’m like, ‘Well, that stuff took me basically ten years of scoping, driving by in Quebec City forever, and just kind of noticing features every now and then. It’s not something I just did and shot in one week. It was years of driving around, finding cool spots, putting them on a list, visualizing, having them in your mind forever, and knocking them off your list once you’re done scoping. It’s not like—I can’t anyways—you can just show up and do it. If you take the kids, the best kids at doing rails like Phil Casabon, you can show up in a location for 10 days, like what Poor Boyz would do, and just kill it with the best skiers, like the trip they did in Finland. They can do that, but it’s not like that’s what I’m doing. I have to find more creative things that take a little bit longer to find sometimes. I’m older, I can’t just jump into it.’
So that’s what I told them. And they’re like, ‘Oh man, what are we gonna do now?’ Then we kind of went through this freak out mode where we were like trying to make the best out of a situation that seemed like it was not ideal.
But at some point you knew you were onto something. The first shot we got was a really long shot of just skiing by the street with the backflip over the hedge and hopping on the rail and stuff. That’s why Eric Crosland wanted us to go to Nelson, because of that exact street; he always thought it’d be cool to do a really long tracking shot.
After we got that shot, it kind of brought back an old dream of mine—doing this really long run, with a lot of tracking shots, like when I was kid driving in a car: I would always look out the window and picture this imaginery skier or mountain biker or whatever I was into at the time. And I’d picture the little character using the terrain going by on the way, airing over streets and doing all that stuff, and that’s kind of the thing that we tried to bring to life in the segment.
That’s when we had a sense of direction, and that’s when we put our heads down: OK, now we’ve got an idea. And since it was like an old dream of mine, it wasn’t too hard to come up with stuff because it was pretty vivid in my head. Dave [Mossop] really got the concept and at that point we just became super commited to the direction and playing with continuity—like only shooting on cloudy days and basically trying to make the best out of our time. If it was too sunny or snowy, then we’d go scope and take notes for locations, or shovel and get the set up ready. And if the weather was great, with the perfect amount of clouds, then we’d go and check stuff off the list. Basically we spent the whole time totally immersed in the segment and totally on the same page with the direction and how it should look. We worked super hard.
At what point did you realize you were onto something that was going to resonate with, say, a million people? Never. I think last week. [Laughter]. While we were shooting it, we were pretty into it, perfectly happy and content with what we were doing. But even while we were putting it together—we pretty much started editing right as we were filming—I’d show it to friends and I really didn’t know how it would be received. We did an Orage trip and I showed it to the team right after a shoot in Retallack. They seemed like they were super fired up about it, but then I didn’t know if they were just trying to be nice, you know, because you’re right there. [Laughter] I’m 34 now and I was sitting there showing the segment to Banks [Gilberti] and other people who are way younger than me.
And I feel sometimes like people are just trying to be nice because I’m older kind-of-deal: great work, you know, it’s really good for someone your age. I didn’t know if they were just trying straight up to be nice, or if they genuinely really liked it. So we were pretty much unsure about it until the premieres started going and we’d get lots of cheers or comments from Mossop saying, ‘Man, it’s crazy how many comments I’m getting about the part.’
What happened with the segment getting pirated and posted on Youtube? I really feel super lucky that I got to have that kind of experience. I’ve been editing movies and working on the backend of stuff for a long time now. And back in the days, I was even more active on that front, with the UP1 movies for Poor Boyz that I would make with Julien [Regnier]. I had tons of fun doing that, but we had such a small reach, it was just kind of DVD bonus. We didn’t have the medium—we didn’t have the Internet as a tool to put our work out there.
I always thought it was really neat how people would put up these edits and be able to connect with people right away, get instant feedback; everything goes so fast and it seemed like a really cool interaction. So we never really planned on putting the segment online this year, but somebody put it on Youtube and we noticed it and we looked at it go. It started getting tons of views really fast—that one got like 40,000 views in a couple days, which we thought was a ton.
It’s a totally changing industry. It’s fascinating the kind of interaction you can have with the Internet and I also find it fascinating to see where the whole industry’s going, whether it’s movies or music, all that stuff, visual content; the rules are totally changing. So that person put the video online, an illegal poach, and that thing went nuts. So I gave a head’s up to the Sherpas—’This thing’s going nuts and you guys are missing out on hits.’
Did you guys have that video pulled? No, the music company got the segment pulled because of music rights and then two things happened: people got angry at the Sherpas, and even at me. I was joking about it, but it was the first Internet hate I got in a long time, because the video got pulled. And the other thing was other versions started popping out. There was five more two days later. So we talked and we agreed that these things were gonna keep popping up all over the place, and there’s no point trying to fight it. If people want that thing to be online, and they can do it, why don’t we just put the full high-qualify version up. So it was like, let’s let them have it.
Right after that it got like 125,000 hits in the first 24 hours. It was totally mind blowing. I was basically sitting at my computer all day just watching the views go up going, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy.’
Welcome to the Internet, then? Mostly it’s been super fun. I’ve been spending the last month doing interviews like this—newspapers from my home town or people from around the world from different backgrounds who reach out to us just because of this skiing segment. Like I said, it’s cool to be able to experience that aspect of it; before it used to be like a one-way conversation with DVDs and the media we had when I started my career. But now it’s like a conversation, like you’re having a dialogue with the audience, which is super awesome.
Do you think other skiers will try and replicate this idea? I hope it happens, but I wonder about that. Like two years ago, when we did the moving truck jib in Revolver, and I didn’t think I did it really well at all. I was really hoping some kid would just take it to the next level and do something really awesome with it. But then nothing happened. So it’s the same. I’m really hoping somebody does it ten times better and blows minds.
That was Dave and my first reaction when we saw how many views it was getting. In the first couple days, when it went up to like 200,000 views right away, our first reaction was like, ‘Man, we could’ve done it so much better, you don’t even know!’ But in the end, if we would’ve done it how we wanted to do it, maybe it wouldn’t have had that success. These things are hard to understand, why people like it. I think even I don’t know how to make something that successful.
Genius born of a junkshow—that’s good style right there. To us it was like a total junkshow, a trainwreck the whole time, we were trying to be organized. But the whole time we were like, I wish we had more time, I wish the weather was better, I wish we could be more organized, I wish we could not get kicked out of this spot, I wish I had three more tries to get this trick. Our shot list was actually quite long and if you think about it, there’s probably like four tricks in the whole five minute segment, which is really not a lot.
How did it go working with all the neighbors? We were trying to be polite about it and be respectful of peoples’ property—and also just trying not to get kicked out. And the best way is just to ask before. So we were knocking on doors and asking people if we could jump over their driveways and ski through their backyards. And people were super excited about. Like Dave mentioned before, it was an amazing social experience the whole way through.
At the beginning, it was talking to neighbors and knocking on peoples’ doors, and just hanging out in the town of Trail. We spent a lot of time there and, by the end, people started to get to know us and we’d actually hang out with the local people while we were skiing. That was a really cool experience, all the way down to right now when we’re exchanging with people who watch it and replying to comments on Vimeo or Twitter or whatever. And that all started when we started knocking on peoples’ doors to see if we could ski through their backyards.
Kids walking back from school would be our spotters for the street, to make sure no cars were coming across. For the most part, it was a super small crew—Dave and I, and Eric Crosland came for a couple of days, and a couple of Dave’s friends came for a couple of days as well. But sometimes it was just the two of us, plus kids coming back from school, or neighbors spotting cars for us.
The movie, all segments included, has also been very well received—has a ski movie ever won a big award at the Banff Film Festival before? I think it’s been mostly climbing movies in the past, for sure. [laughter] So we’ve been really pleased with the reception, all the festivals, all the comments we’re getting, people who write to say they enjoyed the movies—and there’s been a lot of comments from people outside the industry. It’s always one of the questions afterwards when you’re done working on something—whether you expected it? And to be honest, I think we were all too busy and too freaking out to have any time to expect anything. We were all just hoping for the best.
How to do follow this? I’m trying to focus on the Alps and I’m scheming as much as I can to bring people here for trips. And so far my scheming is already working. With the Sherpas, I’m definitely planning on working with them again and they are working on a new movie. We haven’t had a chance to connect yet, but we’ll do that in Denver and in Aspen, which will be the first time we get to really spend a lot of time together since the movie has released. I know they’ve been thinking and writing stuff down, and that they’ve already got to work, and same on my side. I’ve been brainstorming and we just need to get together to figure out how it’s gonna take shape.
Lucky or good, or both? The Sherpas work super hard. Actually, anybody who makes a ski movie works super hard—I’ve worked with tons of people and I’m still working with Poor Boyz, and the Sherpas and Poor Boyz are actually great buds, and it’s in the nature of the work. It’s a hostile environment to make images in. But being with all the different companies, I know that some definitely put in the extra work, and the Sherpas are one of them. They’re workaholics, they work extra hard—and that’s how you end up doing great things, I think, putting in that extra effort.”