If there’s one thing La Clusaz is good at, it’s producing champions. In the past 15 years, the resort has produced world-class mogul skiers, cross-country skiers, downhill racers, extreme skiers, freestyle skiers and freeride skiers.
Even though it’s not a massive ski resort, it has all sorts of programmes in place to support kids as young as five to become future champions.
Summertime doesn’t mean that the kids get a break. They train on glaciers or use alternatives such as long skates for cross-country skiing fitness. They also use a ramp and a giant air bag for landing to perfect freestyle jumps.
Last weekend, the future champions performed tricks galore for the tourists to admire, sliding down the ramp with as much speed as they could get and landing on the airbag with a whoosh. When the skiers land, the entire airbag ripples softly with the impact.
The relatively soft landing allows skiers to try new tricks without fear of breaking themselves. One guy’s ski hit him in the head as he landed, causing him to bleed, but that would have happened on snow too. Others landed on their heads, backs, arms and legs and remained unscathed. A few skis fell off on impact.
These photos are just a few of the amazing tricks that the freestyle skiers performed. The day was sunny and warm, with the blue sky and brown mountain backdrops with green grass foregrounds to enjoy — very different from the typical winter scenes when the freestyle team are in the snow park.
I think my favourite trick was the double back flip: it looks elegant and is slow enough to identify, unlike many of the spins.
Watching the newest generation reminded me of watching aerial skiers back in the eights and early nineties. Back then, the ski jumpers were more like gymnasts (indeed, world champion Kirsty Marshall from my native Australia started off as a gymnast).
They launched themselves off huge jumps (they weren’t called ‘kickers’ back then) and squeezed in as many rotations and twists before landing.
Snowboarding came along and loosened up all sorts of competitions thanks influence both the design of skis (twin tips anyone?) and the style of skiing.
Skiers like La Clusaz local Candide Thovex moved from mogul competitions to snowboard-inspired freestyle moves. Big air, landing switch and new rotation styles took over from individual twists and spins.
Yet somehow, those early aerial skiing days have snuck back in, and I’m not sure the youngster are even aware of it.
And given the bright colours being worn by those teenagers, the trick styles aren’t the only aspect of the eighties to return. I’m not sure they’re aware of that either.