Freeride - Les Diablerets Bestjobers / Max Coquard

Sven Mermod

A quick retrospective …..

What are your first mountain memories?
I am from Les Diablerets, so the immediate surroundings and the mountains were always my playground, be it on skis, by bike, or any other method of moving around. Like all children, I enjoyed looking for ways to get home without having to walk or get on the train. In this way I was able to find lots of small paths and shortcuts that led home. The mountain, therefore, became a fantastic playground that I learned to control.

When did you first start skiing?

My mother grew up by the lake, and my father was busy working, so it was very difficult for them to help me in my discovery.
However, as an occasionally disruptive child with endless energy, my parents signed me up as soon as possible for as many sports activities as they could find so I could expend my energy elsewhere. This led me to participate in the ski club from a very early age.

How did you first discover freeride skiing?

During the 1990’s Glacier 3000 was open all year round, so there were a lot of summer camp activities. There were many snowboarders in the resort year round and from all over the world, so I quickly got to know people who were keen to leave the beaten track. At this time freeriders and freestylers spent a lot more time together without any real separation of the two disciplines. These people looked at snow sports with a new and open vision, so Les Diablerets quickly developed a reputation as an amazing destination for anyone keen to explore all the freeride possibilities of the mountain.

What is your most vivid travel memory?
My first trip to the Himalayas in 1998 completely changed my view of the world. We took on this trip with a limited budget, and no real idea of where we were going. Despite this lack of preparation our project quickly turned into a real journey. Before we left home, a friend from Les Diablerets told us about a small rock shelter situated in a potentially ideal place for us. This small hut became our home, and the base for our adventure, surrounded by many beautiful areas to indulge in snow sports.
We were isolated from the rest of the world for five weeks with only a satellite phone for emergencies.
During our second trip in 2002, we worked on changing our rock shelter into a real mountain refuge.
This refuge now has its’ own reputation and welcomes groups from all over the world. There is a small shop in a village further down the valley which serves as an agent
for the refuge.

What was the original rock shelter like ?
The refuge is at an altitude of 4005m. During our first trip 8 of us slept in the rock shelter. The back of the shelter is a huge 20m rock which is an effective avalanche barrier. There is a wood-burning stove for cooking and heating, and right by the refuge is a spring ! How Lucky!
And all around …. nature at its’ finest, waiting to be explored, with thousands of undiscovered spots waiting for us to discover.
Supplies come up from a village an 8 hour walk down the valley from the refuge. We had to carry in all our food. One of our Indian friends stocked up the refuge
before our arrival, so we were never short of supplies. We even had vegetables, honey, and mushrooms !

What were the main difficulties you faced during your trip ?
We lost a lot of weight during our first trip. Our equipment was adapted to downhill and was heavy.
We were a little scary at the end of our trip: we could have easily counted our ribs ! On reaching the cabin time stands still and the rhythm of life changes. No more stress, everything happens at a different speed. It becomes normal for us to walk 8 hours. You just need to adapt, listen, eat properly, and above all know when your body is asking you to rest.

Which other countries have you visited ?
Austria, Italy, France, Lebanon, Australia, New Zealand, Nepal, and India. These trips are all unforgettable, but the Himalayas is the place that stays closest to my heart. Everything there is on a different scale, the terrain is unexplored, and we can never cover it all. Nature there is so overwhelming we can only feel overawed.
Physical strength and mental fortitude is necessary at all times. I am planning to return as soon as possible.

Who are your main sponsors ?
My main sponsors are Total Feet and Mammut. These are incredibly reliable labels, who can adapt to my needs. I have also worked in development with Dynastar. I have a good idea of the type of equipment that suits me best. I have 3 pairs of skis, though I really only use 2. Fortunately I am not a hoarder. If I had kept all my skis over the years I wouldn’t be able to get through the door !

What qualities are necessary to freeride ?
In order to freeride well, you need to be strong physically, especially cardio, with a good capacity for endurance. It is tiring to move around in snow. If you are
not fit then you should consider staying on the smaller hills.

What is the biggest advantage of living in the mountains?
When you are already there on a day of excellent conditions, and no time is wasted! Last year and this year we had some amazing days, and we were often able to put down new tracks in deep snow. At Les Diablerets there is always something new to discover or to explore.

If you are always pushing the limits, are you ever worried about being in danger ?
I go into the mountains with people I know well. When you are freeriding you need to trust those around you. I always take the least possible risks, though I have
inevitably found myself in avalanches. We were filming, and the people we were filming with were insisting on continuing even though I knew it was risky….I set off a few slides but nothing serious happened…..though a little further down I caught my ski in a root and fell headfirst. The avalanche was slow, but I got really chewed up. After
15 minutes people arrived to get me out. I got a bit of a shock, but it was not long before I was riding again. I put this accident down to experience, even if it has affected my instinct of trust. You must never go into risky areas alone. There is so much reward in this sport, but there is also so much at risk. If the mountain wants to swallow you up then it will ! You must cover all eventualities in freeride. Carefully choose your lines, and think ahead. Accidents happen if the risks are underestimated. People who are familiar with the mountain know when to stop. Skiing is not like a diary where you can fix your days off. The snow, and the weather can quickly change.
Freeride is : pleasure, patience, technique, and physical strength.
We spend all our time on the snow : we know when to say no. Sometimes we are asked for advice, though we cannot give advice randomly or we become teachers.
Everyone can access nature, though everyone must also remember that nature can be dangerous. Remember we are fully equipped at all times.

As a skier what do you think of snowboarding ?
Snowboarding has brought many new ideas to skiing. Changes in material for example. I would always raise my hat to snowboarders !

What is it that makes freeride so special ?
Freeride takes you to diverse landscapes that you cannot find anywhere else. Nothing is artificial, and nature provides us with a magical playground.
To be a good freerider you need technique and an understanding of the terrain. Careful choice of route is very important, as is use of the surrounding landscape to  navigate. Skiing with speed and fluidity is my speciality. I like the image of a drop of water quickly sliding down a smooth stable slope ! Even at speeds approaching 100kmh, it seems as if all movements are taking place in slow motion.

Do you ever forget an epic fall ? 
I have a reputation as someone who doesn’t fall very often, though, as I ski fast, when I do fall I cover an awful lot of ground before coming to a stop.
Despite some of the falls I have had, I am lucky. I have never really hurt myself. Freeride is at a dangerous speed but it is hidden stones that present the most danger.

What makes skiing so unique ?
You can learn to ski at a young age, and continue skiing until any age ! I am always a little stressed, so I am hoping that as I get older I can calm down and appreciate things more. For example, reflections, and changes in light in the mountains. Skiing is not just charging downhill, but also a connection with an extraordinary natural environment, as well as making the most of unbelievable views.

In your opinion, where is the most beautiful place to live ?
As I travel more I am more and more sure that paradise is here ! In summer or winter, there is so much to see and do in Les Diablerets. You can never cover it all ! A
great example is towards the Pic Chaussy – there are old alpine pastures and magnificent hamlets which house our ancestors’ spirits, and embody the life of our valley.

L'Ormonan, 4th July 2013