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Canadian freeskier Jean-Philippe Auclair remembered as a freestyle pioneer

10/01/2014 04:29 EDT | Updated 12/01/2014 05:59 EST
Canadian skier Jean-Philippe Auclair was remembered Wednesday as a freestyle pioneer who helped revolutionize the sport in its formative years before shifting to filmmaking and a focus on the more extreme side of the slopes, influencing a generation of athletes with his creativity and vision in the process.

"He was a creator," said former Canadian Freestyle Skiing Association CEO Peter Judge. "He saw the world in a different way."

The bodies of Auclair and fellow pro skier Carl Andreas Fransson were spotted by helicopter Tuesday in Argentina during a joint rescue operation by the armed forces and police in neighbouring Chile, The Associated Press reported.

They had been missing since an avalanche swept them away while they were hiking in southern Chile. Auclair, a native of Ste-Foy, Que., was 37.

Armada Skis, a company based in Costa Mesa, Calif., confirmed to The Canadian Press that one of the missing hikers was Auclair — the firm's co-founder — but offered no further comment pending permission from his family.

Judge, now Own The Podium's winter sport director, was a coach when Auclair was first starting out with the freestyle development team in the mid-1990s.

At the time, the squad was loaded with stars like Jean-Luc Brassard, Stephane Rochon and Dominick Gauthier. The team's depth made it very difficult to crack the elite World Cup roster.

Some of the up-and-coming skiers like Auclair later branched out in different directions.

"By doing that, I think it really accelerated their creative thought processes and doing some of the innovative things that they did that eventually took the sport in a whole different direction," Judge said in a phone interview from Calgary.

"But as these things go, many of the unintended consequences of something creates something totally different," he added. "In this case in many ways it created a reinvention of the sport."

Auclair was a strong influence in the burgeoning sport as it gained more mainstream acceptance.

"He was the first guy to do what (American) Jonny Moseley later made famous in the '98 (Nagano) Games, to do a mute-grab 360, which was a significant departure from the stock foray of jumping at the time," Judge said. "Everything was very formula in moguls at the time, in that time period. He actually bent the mould based on that and didn't really ever get credit.

"Like a true artist, you don't get credit until after you're gone and out of the sport."

Longtime friend Jean-Francois Cusson, who partnered with Auclair to start Armada Skis, released a statement Wednesday afternoon, calling Auclair an "unbelievable" human being.

"J.P. was by far the most creative calculating perfectionist I ever met in my life," he said. "Extreme skiing might be a dangerous sport, but he was meticulous in every aspect of his preparation. Everything! So I always felt like he was untouchable.

"Nobody came close to touching his talent and his ability to push the boundaries of creativity. The sport has lost a pioneering innovator and is going to miss him, but the great personal memories I have with J.P. will stay with me forever."

Auclair moved into different areas like freeskiing, urban skiing and ski development. His Facebook news feed was stocked with incredible photos and videos from his travels.

His love for adventure, nature and sport was evident.

"Big mountain skiing was certainly a large part of his draw and what he wanted to project and convey to people in the sport as well as all the other pieces, ranging from in the early days of competing through to innovating to filmmaking," Judge said. "There's so many dimensions to how his love of the sport manifested itself."

Auclair appeared in the 2011 film, "All.I.Can," which featured the Canadian navigating the twists and turns of a Trail, B.C., neighbourhood while on skis.

"I was astounded when I saw it," Judge said. "Just how much it nailed who J.P. was and what went on in his mind and what his legacy inside of what he gave to the sport."

Photographer Felix Rioux was a longtime friend of Auclair's and joined him on many ski trips over the years.

"I think his goals were to execute his visions of what he thinks skiing should be about or at least how he would like it to be," Rioux said from Montreal. "He was always a great skier but he's always been a great visionary, working with the ski companies to design skis, design the clothing."

Rioux is the director of the IF3 International Freeski Film Festival, which ran earlier this month in Montreal.

"Most of the ski videos that you've seen of J.P., well he was directly involved with the concept, directing and sometimes he would even be the guy directing the segment," Rioux said. "I think if you look at J.P.'s career and everything that surrounds him, that's pretty much what his dream was all about."

Auclair's last Facebook post on Friday included a picture of a mountain top and a note about the future.

"road trip down south with a great crew. back at it with @andreasfransson99 @bjarnesalen and @danielronnback for #apogeeskiing and very much looking forward to the days ahead," he posted.

Authorities said Auclair and Fransson arrived in the Aysen region of Chile's Patagonia on Thursday along with two other tourists from Sweden. They had been hiking the 3,600-metre San Lorenzo mountain, and disappeared when a wall of rocks and snow cascaded down, dragging them to a stream in Argentine territory.

The two survivors in the group were treated at a local hospital, and police said they provided information to help locate the bodies.

Auclair's biography on the Armada website said he had obtained Level One certification in avalanche operations through the Canadian Avalanche Association in 2009. In an interview on the website, Auclair said his approach to his work recently changed after he became a father.

"Now, I double, triple check and do my homework a lot more thoroughly. The factors that I'm not aware of, I want to make sure it's dialled before jumping into the unknown."

Rioux said Auclair's family members and loved ones were keeping in touch with local officials as they waited for more details on the effort to recover the bodies.

The Canadian Freestyle Ski Association said on Twitter it was "shocked & deeply saddened" by Auclair's sudden death. Slopestyle skier Kaya Turski was one of several athletes to voice their grief on the social media website.

"I am so sorry to hear about JP Auclair's recent passing. My heart goes out to his family. A true legend...... Rest well," she tweeted.

Former alpine star Brian Stemmle also posted a note.

"I didn't have the chance to meet JP Auclair or Andreas Fransson but I grieve with our entire ski community. #RIP," he said.

Judge added that Auclair was a well-respected, unassuming, "quiet kind of guy."

"For someone who had achieved the kinds of things he had achieved, he could have been very bigger than life and ostentatious," he said. "And yet he was the most grounded, down to earth, humble guy. Just a real genuine soul, you know."

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With files from Canadian Press reporters Peter Ray and Fred Daigle and The Associated Press.

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