French snowboarder Xavier de Le Rue won his last FIS world championships in the snowboard cross nearly a decade ago. And yet, while his competitive exploits (including a trip to the 2006 Olympics) are long forgotten, today Xavier is a more popular figure than ever in his sport due to his amazing feats in the rarified air of big-mountain snowboarding.
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Big-mountain snowboarding is exactly as it sounds. It involves climbing the world’s most formidable peaks in order to access their irresistible descents. And while helicopters often play a heavy role in getting these riders into position, Xavier is taking things a step further, because many of the most incredible first-descent opportunities these days begin on peaks and steep mountain faces that even helicopters can’t access.
“What separates Xavier de Le Rue from other big-mountain snowboarders like Tom Burt and Jeremy Jones is the depth and breadth of his mountaineering experience,” says Nick Hamilton, editor of TransWorld Snowboarding magazine. “He’s climbing around peaks with repelling ropes and ice axes in his hands, getting to places nobody else would go. Sometimes what he’s doing just to get to his entry point is more challenging than the descent itself.”
Indeed, in TransWorld’s newest movie release, “Nation,” de Le Rue can be seen clinging to towering walls in Alaska with the help of those axes, as he gets himself into position to make descents previously thought impossible.
“He’s going down steeper stuff than anyone has before,” says Hamilton. “And the lines he’s drawing lead to faster descents as well. It’s pretty incredible to watch.”
In the clip above, Hamilton explains many of the other challenges big mountain snowboarders face, especially when they’re making the types of “first descents” Xavier de Le Rue does.
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