The pioneer

Candide Thovex revolutionized the sport of skiing and at the age of 34 is already consindered a legend in the freestyle world. With a camera mounted on his helmet, the director Candide Thovex shoots films that let fans live the epic grandeur of his sport.


Sabine Cole (copy), Christoffer Sjostrom (photos)

Backflip in the middle of a field during filming of the famous Audi Q7 YouTube clip in October 2015.

“It’s one of those days.”  

Don’t we all say it on those days when the toaster catches on fire at breakfast, our cell phone falls in the toilet in the afternoon and an unpleasant letter from the tax office is waiting for us after work? If we were to document everyday mishaps like this on video, at best we’d have a pretty humdrum chronicle of the day. Not very riveting stuff for the general public, in any case.

When Candide Thovex puts out another video called “One of Those Days,” though, his fans clamor for it excitedly as if there was no tomorrow. Candide Thovex is a skier — more specifically, a freestyle skier — and a legend. He doesn’t simply ski: He jumps, takes virtual freefalls off cliffs and zips up and down through the mountains, tossing in flips and corkscrews along the way. When Candide Thovex has “one of those days,” he straps on a helmet camera and slices back and forth between trees, sometimes even clearing a flying helicopter with spinning rotors, or speeding through snow caves not much wider than a tiny mousehole. Accross the social networks his spectacular videos became megahits.

Millions of people watching a skiing clip is a huge accomplishment for a sport whose professional echelons are pretty small. Freestyle skiers start where “ordinary” skiers stop. It takes technical and athletic brilliance, not to mention courage, to catapult off a ski jump and do flips, only to land safely again. Big mountain freeriding also calls for extensive mountaineering experience, knowledge of weather and snow, wind, avalanche and slope conditions for venturing off groomed runs into fresh powder at 3,000 meters. Not to mention patience and fortitude. Freestyle skiers are definitely not pampered athletes with entourages. Even the big names carry their own equipment, shovel snow and pitch in to help wherever needed.

To Candide Thovex, success in skiing is not about competition and medals. It´s about doing things differently. Skiing is creativity.

When Candide Thovex has “one of those days,” he straps on a helmet camera and slices back and forth between trees, sometimes even clearing a flying helicopter with spinning rotors, or speeding through snow caves not much wider than a tiny mousehole.

Candide Thovex is the greatest of the greats. He is the only athlete in the history of freestyle skiing to prevail in every discipline and competition that exists — setting records for the ages. Thovex was 16 when he successfully jumped Chad’s Gap, a dramatic 36-meter wide chasm in the Rocky Mountains, the first skier to do so. In 2000, when he was a mere 17 years old, Thovex captured a gold medal in Big Air in the X Games. Then in 2003, he also won the halfpipe competition. He also won the slopestyle at the X-Games in 2007 with a record score of 95 out of 100 and became world champion in the Freeride World Tour in 2010. It was the first time he competed. Normally, it takes years to make the jump from freestyle skier to big mountain professional — many don’t even attempt it. Candide did it his first time out with perfect runs that brought tears to the eyes of his competitors.

It sounds like a logical progression: amazing talent, a youth spent in the Aravis Range in France’s Haute-Savoie region, early recognition of his skill. His parents? Ski instructors. The boy himself? Candide began skiing at the age of two, with the most beautiful peaks in the French Alps just outside his front door and snow almost all year round. It makes sense. But there’s so much more to the story. Including setbacks. In 2007, Thovex tackled the record-setting Big Bertha jump. Friends and fellow athletes whispered reverently: This one is hellish. Skiers who dared try the 40-meter-jump were happy just to land somewhere safely at the bottom. Candide came up short, and hit the knuckle just before the landing. And anyone who witnessed it was sure it was the end. He broke his back and was just millimeters away from becoming a paraplegic. With great effort, the then 25-year-old fought his way back. The months of rehabilitation must have felt endless, not knowing whether and when he would ever ski again — and at what level. In 2008, he was back on his skis. For the time being stuck to soft powder — in the backcountry, of course — but only where no one could see him. The only person allowed to accompany him was his good friend and cameraman, Simon Favier. The pair tried their hand at what Candide had discovered was his second passion: making films. Candide skied, and Simon followed him with a camera. This led to a first video entitled Candide Kamera. It shows Thovex skipping down a mountainside through powder like a squirrel over snow-covered evergreen branches. He barely touches the ground, then flies through the air again with only a hint of snow wafting up to leave a track. This film was Candide’s comeback announcement. He was back on the slopes with the same grace of movement and confidence, but with a different spirit. He left the competitions behind. He’d never like them much anyway. What remained was the powerful poetry of someone gliding through vast undisturbed nature like no other.

Taking tree jibbing to the next level. Hoing huge, Candide presses his skis against the trunk. Towed in by snowmobile, he managed to reach the perfect speed for the tree jib.

Freestyle skiers start where “ordinary” skiers stop.

“He skis through the air and flies through the snow“ and is “the pioneer,” the excellent documentary Few Words points out so accurately. The film was a 2012 bestseller on iTunes and won four prizes at the prestigious Powder awards, including the ultimate award known as ‘Full Throttle’. Candide scripts ski runs like a Hollywood film. What seems like a wild ride by a maniac dressed in oversized snowboarding gear is in reality a scrupulously planned sequence put together with dramatic perfection. Thovex plans, produces and edits his own videos, adds effects and ultimately gets behind the camera in the One of Those Days videos. The device is attached to his helmet to show viewers from his perspective how it looks to careen down a mountain at breakneck pace between tree trunks. Watching is almost enough to turn your stomach a little bit. In an Audi quattro viral clip from 2015, Candide demonstrates that he doesn’t even necessarily need snow to do his job. He blasts down a grassy alpine slope on skis, jumps over roads, makes his way through a tunnel spraying sparks, dodges a few cows, and lands in the trunk of an Audi Q7.

“Candide always goes big,” says a friend of his from the freerider scene. Big words are maybe the only thing he doesn’t do: He lets his films and his runs speak for themselves. You will rarely find the reserved Frenchman giving interviews, so if you want to know what he has to say, you have to watch his videos. Thovex’s partnership with Audi is to continue in 2017. What he and his team have in store for his next spectacular video message is still a closely guarded secret. But one thing is certain: He will push the boundaries of what’s deemed possible on skis. And do it at a breathtaking pace.

The reserved Frenchman rarely gives interviews, so if you want to know what he has to say, you have to watch his videos.
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