Aurelien Routens grew up in Grenoble and moved to La Grave – one of the freeriding and big mountain riding Mecca – over ten years ago. These days, the French rider splits his seasons between the Hautes Alpes, the Andes mountain range and any other snowed part of the planet, filming for his web series, Carpe Diem.
1. Tell us how you started snowboarding, how where your first days on a snowboard?
My first snowboarding day, I was with my dad and my cousin. We rented some boards for the afternoon. It was 1991. I was 9 years old.Despite the ski boots, my cousin and I really digged it but I think that was my dad’s last day on a snowboard.
2. How did your life and the way you experienced snowboarding change when you first arrived in La Grave?
When I decided to move to la Grave I didn’t know what was awaiting me. I discovered all the greatness of the mountains, and mostly, I realized I had no experience at all. So little by little, I learned the mountaineering technique that now enables me to progress in this environment, always searching for new powder spots.
“I love being there, completely isolated from the world, in perfect harmony with the elements. You’d need a whole life to ride all the lines the park offers.”
3. Tell us about the kind of terrain you can find in La Grave, for those readers who don’t know the spot.
La Grave…The moto is “2150 meters of difference” I can’t think of other words to describe it any better. First, there’s the gondola that dates back to 1979, whose slow rhythm marks the pace of our days, meaning that not everything is completely tracked in two hours. Then, there’s the fact that they don’t groom the snow here at all; it’s all freeriding, open access terrain. There are two “classic” routes, with no major technical difficulty; then you have thousands of more technical options: couloirs, steeps, forest, glacier…basically every type of terrain implied in RIDING.
4. La Grave, is located at the foothill of La Meije in the heart of the Parc National des Écrins, one of the wildest and most challenging terrain in the Alps, in our opinion, where options are endless.
I’m not sure if the Parc des Ecrins is different than the Alps; in the end, it’s part of this huge range. On the other hand, the fact that it’s a National Park means that it is somehow a preserved area, where the access is difficult and the level of attendance is lower than elsewhere. I love being there, completely isolated from the world, in perfect harmony with the elements. You’d need a whole life to ride all the lines the park offers.
“But every year, traveling there is a true adventure in every sense: new spots, new people, new struggles, new cultures and lifestyles. In all, I absolutely love everything that implies travelling.”
5. Currently, you manage The Black Sheep, a family mountain lodge at Les Hières, just a few miles away from La Grave. We still have in mind visiting you there…
The Black Sheep is an open, self-contained lodge which means that our guests are at home here. We provide the usual lodge service, including sheets, towels, a kitchen and a sauna, but mostly, the price beats every other offer around: 18€ per night, per person.
6. You travel to the austral winter every summer. The Andes range is a place where time stops, the riding is pure pleasure for the senses. Argentina, Chili, Peru and its Cordillera Blanca. What is it that makes you go back season after season?
First, the summer is too long for me in France. I miss the snow and the adrenaline rush that goes with it. But if it were only for the riding, I’d already stopped going… weather conditions are indeed difficult there and there aren’t as many good riding days as in Europe. But every year, traveling there is a true adventure in every sense: new spots, new people, new struggles, new cultures and lifestyles. In all, I absolutely love everything that implies travelling. But worry not, after my winter season down there I treat myself to a month and a half at the beach: Brazil, Colombia or Peru, to charge my batteries for the upcoming winter!
“I wanted to prove that it is possible for everyone to grab your board bag and travel the world; traveling on a budget helps you appreciate the trip even better.”
7. We are unconditional fans of your web series, Carpe Diem. We couldn’t relate more to the way you understand the mountain. How did you come up with the idea? What do you aim to transmit through each episode? Would you like to go one step further regarding production or is that the spirit you want to transmit?
I started my web series because I wanted to show something different to what the big production companies show. I wanted to prove that it is possible for everyone to grab your board bag and travel the world; traveling on a budget helps you appreciate the trip even better. I’d like to keep in this line but it’s true that sometimes you need to have a cameraman with you, especially in the Alps.
8. Carpe Diem clearly shows a self-sufficient riding in remote, hostile areas. How do you deal with security while filming?
Security…a crucial aspect that we deal with day by day. Of course, when on a trip you don’t ride at 100%, but rather 90%, to avoid taking huge risks and accidents. Then you have to be very aware that in most places, you can’t count on mountain rescue services. If you have a serious accident, things can go wrong for sure, but it’s all part of the game, and we are very aware of that.
“We often have changing conditions and hard snow couloirs. That’s why after having tried many boards in the market, I know that with my classic camber board I can stay active even when the conditions are not at their best.”
9. We haven’t seen you this season on the Freeride World Tour. Have you stopped for good or have you just taken a break? What does competition mean in your riding?
I am not sure of what’s happening yet… I might get back to it next winter. I think I still have stuff to prove on the FWT, but right now I have more things I have to prove to myself…
10. Splitboarding. For many riders, it has changed the way they perceive and understand the mountain. What does it mean to you?
These days, I ride a regular camber splitboard. You must be thinking: “with all the splitboard innovations, you rather ride a regular camber board? That’s a bit old-school, isn’t it?” In fact, I love the feeling of riding a fat rocker on powder but hey, wake up! This it’s not quite like Canada! It’s not a pow pow feast from top to bottom every day. We often have changing conditions and hard snow couloirs. That’s why after having tried many boards in the market, I know that with my classic camber board I can stay active even when the conditions are not at their best.
11. What is your current set up on the mountain?
I ride the Goodboards Legend splitboard, regular camber, with Spark bindings; in the end, I think they are the simplest and most functional splitboard bindings.
“What is the main issue on a splitboard? Hard snow while skinning up, don’t you agree? you struggle with the upper ski and you have to set your crampons, which slow down your pace.”
12. How do you see the evolution of splitboarding gear? Which are the aspects that need to be worked on most in order to achieve a greater reliability of the equipment?
What is the main issue on a splitboard? Hard snow while skinning up, don’t you agree? It always slips at some point; and even if you’re sometimes on skiers’ tracks and it becomes hard overnight, you struggle with the upper ski and you have to set your crampons, which slow down your pace. If the skis were thinner, we would have a better grip on steep terrain. I also see some people who don’t use a third strap; Do you know Spark makes a third strap you can wrap around the upper part of your boots to stiffen the lateral transmission? The result is a much better pressure on the edge despite the soft boots. Those are my tips, so good touring and above all, good runs! It’d seem like some have forgotten that we skin up mostly for the ride.
Thanks to Mammut, Spark R&D, Cébé, Grivel, Office de Tourisme de la Meije, Téléphériques de la Grave and Goodboards.