Full Speed Reverse

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Full Speed Reverse

Consider the skiers known collectively as the New Canadian Air Force: Mike Douglas, Shane Szocs, J.P. Auclair, J.F. Cusson, and Vincent Dorion. Les enfants terribles of the late '90s, the happy go lucky crew of freestyle non-conformists who ditched their summer mogul training on Blackcomb Glacier to mess around on the jumps and pipes of neighboring snowboard camps. Whereas the original Canadian Air Force-a group of Quebecers who owned FIS World Cup Freestyle Aerials for a decade starting in the early 80s-were content simply to dominate the status quo, this updated platoon of neo air-apparents founded an entirely new school of skiing , invented the modern twin-tip, and drove the terrain-park revolution at ski areas. They were the Pied Piper's of skiing, drawing youth from the dark alleys of snowboarding. But in a time when media darlings come and go faster than fresh snow, it seems only right to wonder: Where are they now?

The elder statesmen-Douglas and Szocs-are just that: Pro skiers with international sponsorships and ski movie deals, TV commentators and hosts, businessmen with highly successful summer camps of their own in Blackcomb's now infamous glacial stewpot. Busy, busy, busy.

Auclair-the artist of the bunch-has gone underground, working on his photography and nursing a bad back. Cusson? Well, he's either asleep somewhere, on a golf course-or both. And then there's Dorion. The undisputed King of Switch. Still competing, still placing style above all else, still Vinnie.

Slouching across Whistler's gondola plaza on a July day, he looks pretty much like he's always looked in reversed baseball cap, a hoody, and baggy jeans held fast by thumbs hooked firmly into the pockets. The quintessential New Schooler-fashionable enough to blend in, but oozing just enough attitude to stand out.

"Dude, what goin' on?" he offers through a half smile, in slightly nasal, Quebecois-tinged English.

"Not much Vinnie. How 'bout with you?"

"Aw, you know," he shrugs hard, his shoulders threatening to peel his ears off of his head, "nothin'..."

I recognize nothin''to mean nothing in the sense of things Vinnie would rather be doing-like lying on a lakeside dock in Quebec's Laurentians with his girlfriend, or indulging his passion for cars by shopping for a new ride. But that's not going to happen: Tomorrow he starts his annual stint as a freeskiing coach for SMS Camp, and he's just come from several weeks of back-breaking jump building and filming for Poor Boyz (PBP) and Matchstick Productions (MSP) at Mt. Hood, Oregon. He's tired, and the ensuing party nights at Sushi Village, autograph signing, and early morning scrambles up the glacier are bound to take a further toll.

In between, he'll find time to work on his own signature moves-super-stylie Switch Cork 900s (take off backwards, do two-and-a-half rotations with an off-axis spin) and the Underflip (a forward in, uphill-shoulder barrel-roll to backwards landing)-and try to forget last season, which, for the one Air Force pilot still flying high, was disappointing. But for now, it's about dealing with yet another obligation of stardom. And though he's already said more to me than in most interviews, there's still teeth to be pulled.

"Dude," he whines, glancing at his watch, "how long this take?"

Vincent Dorion grew up in a skiing family, with a life centered around the slopes of St. Sauveur, Quebec, nestled among the vales signifying the first eruption of the Laurentian Mountains from the lowlands north of Montreal. As a teenager he competed in moguls on the Provincial Team, which was coached by his father, Michel. By the time he reached Canada's National Development Team-where he joined Auclair, Cusson, and Szocs under coach Mike Douglas-he was, like his compatriots, bored with the over-regulated world of FIS freestyle.

In the mid 1990s, the boys abandoned the trite FIS world and poured their energy into the burgeoni New School movement. They ditched Olympic aspirations for a chance to invent and name new tricks almost weekly.. For Vinnie, however, the transition was not without its troubles. One of those was the reaction of his long-time mogul coach.

"It was an issue for my father. Really hard for him because I spend many year at freestyle-lot of time and money, and he's not sure what we do is going anywhere. But then he see that it's really still the spirit of freestyle-loving what we do and wanting to do more. He know I love competing but don't want to do Olympics."

And what Vinnie really loved was innovation-moves no one had ever done, executed with impeccable style. Like riding backwards.

"We were already landing switch sometimes," Auclair had once told me of those days, "but taking off that way wasn't on anybody's mind. Too scary. You almost had to see someone do it first."

And that someone would be Vinnie. In the summer of 1998, the first in which they had the Salomon 1080 twin-tip, Vinnie spent his time on the glacier practicing instead of coaching. He started riding switch into jumps, looking over his shoulder, working on speed and unheard of tricks. And the guy who started it all still makes backwards landings look like a walk in the (terrain) park.

"Vinnie worked harder than any of us then because he didn't have a ski deal," Auclair had explained, "so he was really motivated."

That August, Vinnie journeyed to the X-Games in San Diego to strut his stuff. The only problem was, he wasn't invited.

The story of Vinnie Dorion and the 1998 X-Games was career defining, and testament to the then 19-year-old's quiet drive and temerity. The stuff of legends.

From the beginning, Salomon had kept Vinnie off to the side. He rode their skis, but Douglas, Cusson and Auclair-by dint of age, experience, articulation and degree of extroversion-were more easily promoted, Young Vinnie was an extra cog in a machine that revolved around three riders. Still, since the X-Games was only an exhibition and not a contest, Vinnie figured he should be there. When Salomon didn't put his name forward as a potential invitee, he took matters into his own hands.

"I drive to San Diego in the 323 Mazda that I drive to Whistler from Quebec that summer, and have no credential. Just show up and act like I should be there and everything. And when I see Mike Jaquet, who organize the demo, I was like 'C'mon dude, let me in. I got some sick shit-I'm suppose to be there, you know, is just misunderstood.'"

Aided and abetted by other riders, Vinnie poached the jump, blowing the crowd away with a smooth Switch 360 (backward launch, full spin, backward landing) and the first 900 (a 720 with an extra half-rotation at the end so that you're landing switch). It was a masterful performance that catapulted him from relative obscurity in the shadows of mssrs. Auclair et al., into the same limelight.

Salomon quickly embraced the emerging star, offering him a deal similar to what his costars enjoyed, and other sponsors came calling. Vinnie has been well supported since, his last notable coup being signed by Helly Hansen.

And these companies have gotten their monies' worth.. Vinnie posted a banner winter in 2000-01, notching a 1st in Slopestyle at the prestigious U.S. Open of Freeskiing, in Vail, Colorado, then following up with an equally impressive 1st in the Orage Big Air at Whistler, B.C.'s World Skiing Invitational. The rest of the NCAF team was now in his shadow and, with these results, everyone expected Vinnie to dominate the 2002 season.

"I was ready and motivated," he begins tentatively, clearly uncomfortable with excuses, "but I was super-ill during the X-Games, which throw me off and make a bad start. I fall at the end of my best run and end up 5th in Slopestyle. Then the U.S. Open is right away and I do well in the semi-final but crash in the final...bunch of stuff like that."

Similar bad luck plagued most of the winter's film and still shooting.

"During some it rain everyday and it don't happen like I want it too. I hope to come back stronger in contest next year. I have some new trick but I'm not ready to put them on snow," he continues, sounding almost worried at the prospect. "I want the ones I do now to be dialed and stylie."

It's hard to imagine Vinnie not being stylie, especially if you've witnessed some of his more shining moments, like the massive 360 Transfer (leaving one side of the notched face of a large quarterpipe riding forward and moving horizontally over the notch to re-enter on the other side switch) he threw at the Core Games in Naeba, Japan, in 2001, where the crowd erupted in a frenzy and he was mobbed by women in the finish corral.

"Vinnie is all about style - he can take a trick everyone else is doing and make it look twice as good," says Douglas, with a grin. "So he's popular in Japan (referring to the Japanese's passion for the sports' subtleties ). They recognize his talent and the women love him because he's the only one shorter than them and who speaks worse English." Vinnie's elevated status includes the sign-my-breasts and sign-my-car privileges usually reserved for rock stars.

"Japan is cool because it's totally different and people there really love what we do," Vinnie acknowledges.

Perhaps it's this encouragement that keeps Vinnie.going strong And, given his youth and comparatively slow-burning passion, he could conceivably stay at the top of the New School scene for years.

Still, considering the intense demands-from sponsors to fans to camps to filming-it's easy to imagine how others have burned out since those first lonely, heady, switch take-offs on the glacier.

"I can't believe you're only 23," I mock as he stands to go, "you never seem to get any older."

"Oh yeah? But I feel it man, I really feel it ," he says with that little half-smile, hooking his thumbs back in his pockets and beginning the return stroll to his hotel and a welcome nap before the evening's inevitable revelry. A dozen yards away he suddenly stops.

"I'm still pumped, though, still there" he calls over his shoulder to me in an afterthought, looking every bit like he's riding backwards, "I'll always be there."

VITALS
Birthday: May 9, 1979
Home mountain: St. Sauveur, Quebec (just north of Montreal)
Years on snow: 21
Sponsors: Dragon, Helly Hansen, Salomon, Scott Poles, Tuabert Gloves
Recent results: 5th Slopestyle, X-Games, Aspen Colorado, January 20021st Orage Big Air, World Skiing Invitational, Whistler, B.C. April 20011st Slopestyle, U.S. Open of Freeskiing, Vail, Colorado, February 2001
Recent movies: Propaganda (PBP), High Society (MSP)
What makes him smile?: Filming in the Whistler the backcountry with our sleds
Favorite tricks?: The 360; "you spin slow, you're floating and you can do it with real style and all sorts of grabs; I also enjoy doing a 540-landing switch because it's rad."
Injuries: broken wrist, both collarbones, legs when he was five
Pets: a black rabbit named Paco
Vehicle: Audi A4, but I'm looking for a Lexus
Motivations: Sunshine and powder
Admires: Myself and all the new school riders
Passions: Skiing, golf, Panda Express and Sushi Village

bad luck plagued most of the winter's film and still shooting.

"During some it rain everyday and it don't happen like I want it too. I hope to come back stronger in contest next year. I have some new trick but I'm not ready to put them on snow," he continues, sounding almost worried at the prospect. "I want the ones I do now to be dialed and stylie."

It's hard to imagine Vinnie not being stylie, especially if you've witnessed some of his more shining moments, like the massive 360 Transfer (leaving one side of the notched face of a large quarterpipe riding forward and moving horizontally over the notch to re-enter on the other side switch) he threw at the Core Games in Naeba, Japan, in 2001, where the crowd erupted in a frenzy and he was mobbed by women in the finish corral.

"Vinnie is all about style - he can take a trick everyone else is doing and make it look twice as good," says Douglas, with a grin. "So he's popular in Japan (referring to the Japanese's passion for the sports' subtleties ). They recognize his talent and the women love him because he's the only one shorter than them and who speaks worse English." Vinnie's elevated status includes the sign-my-breasts and sign-my-car privileges usually reserved for rock stars.

"Japan is cool because it's totally different and people there really love what we do," Vinnie acknowledges.

Perhaps it's this encouragement that keeps Vinnie.going strong And, given his youth and comparatively slow-burning passion, he could conceivably stay at the top of the New School scene for years.

Still, considering the intense demands-from sponsors to fans to camps to filming-it's easy to imagine how others have burned out since those first lonely, heady, switch take-offs on the glacier.

"I can't believe you're only 23," I mock as he stands to go, "you never seem to get any older."

"Oh yeah? But I feel it man, I really feel it ," he says with that little half-smile, hooking his thumbs back in his pockets and beginning the return stroll to his hotel and a welcome nap before the evening's inevitable revelry. A dozen yards away he suddenly stops.

"I'm still pumped, though, still there" he calls over his shoulder to me in an afterthought, looking every bit like he's riding backwards, "I'll always be there."

VITALS
Birthday: May 9, 1979
Home mountain: St. Sauveur, Quebec (just north of Montreal)
Years on snow: 21
Sponsors: Dragon, Helly Hansen, Salomon, Scott Poles, Tuabert Gloves
Recent results: 5th Slopestyle, X-Games, Aspen Colorado, January 20021st Orage Big Air, World Skiing Invitational, Whistler, B.C. April 20011st Slopestyle, U.S. Open of Freeskiing, Vail, Colorado, February 2001
Recent movies: Propaganda (PBP), High Society (MSP)
What makes him smile?: Filming in the Whistler the backcountry with our sleds
Favorite tricks?: The 360; "you spin slow, you're floating and you can do it with real style and all sorts of grabs; I also enjoy doing a 540-landing switch because it's rad."
Injuries: broken wrist, both collarbones, legs when he was five
Pets: a black rabbit named Paco
Vehicle: Audi A4, but I'm looking for a Lexus
Motivations: Sunshine and powder
Admires: Myself and all the new school riders
Passions: Skiing, golf, Panda Express and Sushi Village

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