Gigi Rüf isn’t just a snowboarder. While he’s plied his trade there since he was a teenager, Gigi transcends description and definition. He’s an artist whose name has become synonymous with a sport, an icon whose career cannot be wholly defined by words, and a man whose ever changing views on the world inform his style and interpretation of snowboarding. We asked Gigi questions about a range of topics from snowboarding to fatherhood, and wanted to let you explore his words.
So, here is Gigi Rüf: In his words.
I am who I am. Can’t change that. I believe in my snowboarding and my experience with it. Probably, I am quite a fanatic.
I am so thankful to have found something to shape my identity.
Everyone called me Gigi for as long as I can remember, except the teachers in school.
[I’m] used to being called Gigi. It happens that I don’t listen; my real name somehow always needs a bit of extra attention, so the situations I am called by my real name are always too serious. I would hear my mother yelling Christian when something was wrong. My sister Bernadette, when she was little, pronounced my name Christian that it sounded like Kiki, and so I was told, I became Gigi.
Growing up in a mountain village, it’s close to six months of winter, and that doesn’t include the long autumn which actually is my favorite time of the year. Not only because my birthday is in October, but it’s like time is slowing down. The lower angle of the sunlight during the day and the leaves falling brings the best out of me.
I skied first. There was no connection, just something that my friends did; there was no real drive towards training gates for me. But when it came to competing in school races, it showed I was on the looser end and wasn’t ever going to be good at skiing.
Cross country skiing was something I could even beat the older pupils in. I felt way more competitive in cross country skiing. That’s where I wanted to kick their asses. One day I remember very detailed: Skiing around alone just speeding and I probably misjudged what I was doing, launching down a hill totally out of control, knocking the wind out of my chest—which got me panicking. I think that’s when I scared myself the first time. I was ten years old and glad my mum picked me up brought me home.
It must have been that exact time my brother wanted to start snowboarding. My uncle from my mother’s side—who owns a sports boutique—came upon an invitation of my mother. We sat with him in our kitchen table, and my brother must have begged my mother before about a snowboard, so my uncle brought over some brochures with snowboards that he was able to order. It was when my mother plus myself saw the first snowboard. I sat there and looked at it. Either it was interest or just wanting to get what my brother wanted.
Our mum didn’t ever tell us what to do, she supported us in everything we did or wanted to.
For my mother it was mainly about what was the best way to get my brother what he wanted and my mother’s main concern was how to make it happen. Being the youngest I always got the stuff passed down from my brothers.
I accepted very much, knowing that it was expensive, and my mother wasn’t sure if it was something that we would put to good use for how much a complete setup cost. That’s when hard boot bindings were still common. My uncle said that we could rent, using the old ski boots to save money and see if it would catch on before buying everything that was new.
We picked up two rental boards from my uncle’s shop and went to the nearby hill; my brother took off without being able to stop, scaring the shit out of my mama. He was alright and got a good kick out of it. I was more reluctant because I felt how scared my mama got about my brother. He got the board because he really wanted to. His friends had all started and he got really into it, organizing this stuff himself, it showed how conservative my mother was with what she spent, knowing she had to treat all four of us equally.
I felt for my brother wanting to keep up with his friends who had gotten their own boards and were just seeming to be cooler with the stuff they had. I got my first magazine instead, which was mine. I was happy and could let my brother look at it, too. So I had something that was cool. It was the start of a fad. My brother, I have to give it to him. What his gear was not making up for in cool, he sure was the better rider and every one of his friends wanted to ride with him. It was about catching the biggest air. At that time there were only a handful of snowboarders and sure it had an outlaw feeling to it. I wanted to share this new hobby with my brother and was really interested in snowboarding.
Our grandmother knitted us beanies that we chose out of the Burton catalog as a Christmas present. I still have that beanie.
I then had rented a board halfway through that season until the shop I rented from offered my mum that same board for cheap. My brother organized soft bindings from a colleague and we would set it up together. I just used it with Moon-boots; those foamy ones.
The best memory I had from snowboarding comes from when I first rode to school one morning. We got up earlier so we would have enough time to not get to school too late. We strapped in when it was dawn and we rode down the hill, having to jump down the small stonewall drops with barbed wire. Pretty much that was my first freeriding ever. The excitement of riding it with soft bindings was such a different experience—I think it resulted in the first high five with my brother and a cool story to tell my friends in school.
I took it further and wore also the baggy clothes and flannels. That’s how much my mother supported us, not forbidding anything because we were passionately living it.
The career wasn’t the goal, it was everything around it: The lifestyle, the idols, how to 360 and so on. It all was a mix of magazine and, later, videos. The positive side effect was that I never got into the party drinking and druggy scene. I invested my everything into the creative side that the boardsport culture brings. Clothes, art and music. Everything was based on a strong DIY ethic with no morals.
Even when the tables have turned and I am a product of snowboarding, I don’t really know what the hell I would have been If I didn’t do snowboarding. I was aspiring towards it, I think. At the base there is no other reason that I am other than finding my talent and combining all my other aspirations into it.
My focus hasn’t changed, I see myself as quite enduring, also on my body because it never came easy. At least that’s what it seems to me.
“I don’t care, I catch air,” is my favorite phrase. It’s hard on the body sometimes but when I saw the potential of riding in Alaska, it blew my mind; how scared I actually am. I wanted to feel comfortable with the highest demands natural terrain riding offers. Like being a wild animal on the snowboard. Like a singing bird.
Evolution is what I cherish about life, I see myself not only as a product but as playing an intricate role toward the industry. Can’t blame anyone as opportunity might just slumber beneath the next rock.
In hindsight I’ve overcome my own fears, and I look at my career in tears. I am a fortunate son.
9191 will probably always be the greatest gig in the sky. Personally, I think that season, all my dreams came full circle. Since the 9191 Veeco title, my actions weighed in more heavily than ever before towards the industry
Obviously, respect is something you earn. I would like to freeride, underlining my actions with the help of marketing budget to keep pushing the genre, but I see there is a limit to that love. Even though in most countries winters cover half of the year, “Wintersport” is generally seen as recreational.
Snowboarding has become an Olympic [sport] and there is weird power trips over it. What kills it and is totally absurd towards the sport on the Olympic subject is the uniforms.
Snowboarding has done a good job to count on unique characters and being in connection to all the boardsport lifestyles.
The industry is not rewarding for being a good rider, only. Everyone has to work hard to make their dreams come true. All it takes is a clear vision; an objective. My career benefited from the marketing aspects that my sponsors attached me toward, and mostly I felt like I was part of driving those concepts.
Making my own boards is an evolution from that—preparing for another role behind the curtain.
That intricate role I mentioned: entrepreneurship. To inspire and progress on the subject constantly. During my time and decision for my Nike deal in snowboarding, I consciously turned my back on the past; that dwelling on nostalgia, which I do love about the sport. All that dwelling on your dreams only encapsulates security, trying to relive, it has nothing to do with risk. Slash is the truest form of self-expression available for me—based on facts. I’ve got bigger roles to play behind the curtain but I know nothing will be handed to me, quite the contrary actually.
I like to think that friendship is opportunity to reach your goals. Happiness counts towards sensibilities.
On the demand of product involvement with my sponsors, be it design or just feedback, I feel there is something to demand from my end—I’d like to think that it simply doesn’t have to make sense all the time, as long as it is forward thinking and creates conflict in possibilities. That moment, that feeling of pushing it to the edge is the start from where compromises are made—adaptations—until it simmers down to the most that’s possible.
Artistry is cool but it doesn’t transpire into modern days progression. Working on cinematic quality output that emphasizes on detail of the environment that I ride in, transporting the inner self-experience along with the camaraderie it takes to make an adventure and to finally have tied the onlooker to it. It all is a scene we depend on. To live and strive, taking spontaneity into action is best showcased in a yearly outcome. That way I can make memories and break the illusion of it just being a dream. I don’t want to make it easy for myself and embark into concept. The status quo of our sport depends on regularity and the only one I see still relevant after many seasons, is to try to deliver the video part of the year.
[Being a parent], it’s looking at life differently, in general. There is more happiness and appreciation. Not everyone understands the difference of must and have to; my kids certainly don’t have to snowboard.
I love the surface of snow and playing with the ease of transportation and how playful time can get within that matter. I like to move carefully towards oblivion.
For more of Gigi’s visual story, follow his Instagram feed.
A legendary skier, Jossi Wells, recently stepped outside of his comfort zone while filming The Free Man. The stylish Kiwi teamed up with The Flying Frenchies to explore the deeper meaning of what it means to be free and motivate oneself to push your limits. And amidst this deeper exploration, Jossi was in the middle of one of his most successful contest skiing years of his storied career. We caught up with the Olympian, X Games gold medalist, and Free Man, to talk about his experiences making the movie.
Dragon: What’s the premise behind The Free Man?
Jossi Wells: The film follows me going to meet with a group called the Flying Frenchies. They wing suit, base jump, high-line, and are also performing artists. So they’ll play music, dress up and are a little bit wild. The film follows me going and meeting them and the idea was to get me outside of my comfort zone and explore ‘the flow state,’ and explore the reasons of why people like us do what we do.
DR: Does it focus more on you or the Frenchies? It’s hard to tell from the trailer.
JW: It’s split. It kind of tells my story and their story. And then [ours] as we link up and they take me through the high-lining and the rope jump with them. The film wants you to ask questions about yourself. What does it really mean to be living and what do you believe in and gets pretty deep. The whole premise at the end of it is, ‘What is a free man,’. What does that entail? You’ve got a group of guys together that share a similar view of what it means to be free. It all relates pretty similarly. Why we do what we do and why it makes us feel free.
DR: How did you get involved? Did they draw your name from a hat?
JW: I was actually approached by the production company and the director. They thought I’d be a good fit for it. So I did a few auditions on Skype and met them up in Auckland and kind of kicked it off from there.
JW: I’d never actually heard of them before but after being with them I recognized them from videos I’d seen online of BASE jumping. Once I had met them, I realized I had seen what they do before. They’re wild dudes. It’s not something I thought I’d ever be interested in. When it comes to guys like that, there is a preconceived notion that they are adrenaline junkies. But after hanging out with them, I found a lot more similarities between my mindset and their mindset. I think there are a lot of similarities between action sport athletes and an extreme sport athlete. It’s very similar. We are all chasing the same thing but we get there by different avenues.
DR: Did you film with just them or were there other characters of interest?
JW: We filmed with a bunch of other people and did other stuff but it didn’t make the cut. So the film was just me and the Frenchies.
DR: How long was the filming?
JW: I was filming all year because I was going on other missions, but the stuff with the Frenchies was a two week trip in France. A lot of the interviews in the film were done over time, so I was filming for probably eight months or so.
DR: What were your thoughts going into it?
JW: The whole thing was very vague and I didn’t really understand why in the beginning. They were taking me somewhere where I didn’t know what was going on to get me outside of my comfort zone. Because it was a documentary, they wanted my natural reactions to things so they kept me in the dark. I had no idea what I was doing in France until I landed and they told me. It was a very intense experience because I knew it was about getting me out of my comfort zone, not knowing what to do except that it’ll be pretty savage and I’ll be in uncomfortable positions. It was pretty full on. Definitely not mellow. I think I probably came out mentally stronger.
DR: What were your thoughts when they told you’d be walking above a canyon on a rope?
JW: I was freaking out. [laughs] It was so gnarly. Just mainly because they gave me, like one day in the valley trying to learn how to slackline… for like three or four hours. The gnarly thing was that I knew I didn’t have the skills to do it so that was the intense part. I was just thrown into it. It was pretty scary.
DR: What was the coolest part about being with those guys?
JW: Those dudes are such a tight crew. They’ve each got specific roles that they play within the crew and they are all very, very tight. The coolest part was opening up and letting me in and being so accommodating. That was the biggest appreciation I had. They had no idea who I was or what I was like as a person but they brought me in and helped me along the way.
In the beginning was like, “I want to walk across this, but why would I bother if I know I can’t,” but in my mind it switched after hanging out with these guys. By the end of it, when it came to actually walking, I wanted to make those guys proud and be amped that I was giving it 100-percent. Make them feel stoked that they opened the crew up to me and make them proud of that decision.
DR: Did they tell you you were going to be high-lining ?
JW: That was the plan. You’re gonna slackline one morning then the next morning you’re going to be high-lining. At this point I still had no idea what high-lining was. [laughs] It was pretty daunting. Being with a film crew and these guys, and I’d never been to Chamonix before. I was pretty alone, man. I became good friends with the director Toa [Fraser]. I felt alone because I wasn’t with my crew and it was such a foreign place and foreign activity. But I just had to embrace it.
DR: They filmed you for eight months, and in the midst of that, you had one your best skiing years ever. Was that a coincidence?
JW: I think it kind of played on each other a little bit. Because I was doing something so outside of what I was used to and so mentally tough, that helped out a lot when it came to competition and knowing the stage of my life where I was attacking everything. I was all in with my skiing and all in with this filming and it fed off each other. I did well at the first few events skiing and then we’d go on these trips and I’d get really gassed up, living to the fullest, and then I’d come out the other side feeling accomplished. I’d go back to the contests all in again and it was a snowball effect of motivation.
DR: Are you happy with the movie?
JW: Yeah man. You know, I didn’t really know what to expect. I knew the stuff we did, but I didn’t know how the film would be put together, so I was excited to see it and I was stoked with the way it came out. The main thing from watching it… you’re watching me and the Frenchies do our thing. It’s not this “Jossi show” like an ego thing. It’s not like “Check out what I can do.” It’s deep and anyone that watches it will be asking themselves the same things we were asking and answering in the film. You get people thinking and that’s really cool. That’s a good thing. I think it’ll resonate with people.
People will be watching and my hope is that they ask themselves the same questions and answer those questions and really motivate them to live their life 100-percent no matter what. If it can motivate people to chase their dream and attack whatever they are doing, give it their all, I believe that that is real freedom. This film is called The Free Man, so I hope that when people see it, it motivates them to live like that.
The film is being released for digital download April 10th in the UK and later in May in the United States. For more information on Jossi, follow his Instagram feed.
Chris Benchetler doesn’t need much of an introduction. The acclaimed freeskier is a legend within the sport, as well as an ambassador for outdoor living. The skier (and surfer and rock climber, to name a few), tackled a new project this year: Completely custom-fit a Sprinter van that he and his filmer would cruise around in to find the best snow, surf and climbing spots, and document the whole thing on GoPros. Living out of a van may sound rough, but wait until you see it. We caught up with the long time Dragon athlete in Pemberton, BC, Canada on a down day to hear about the process behind The Stealthy Marmot.
Dragon: Why the Stealthy Marmot?
Chris Benchetler: The name?
DR: Yeah, did you crowdsource it or something?
CB: [laughs] No, so we [Chris and Scott Smith] were researching a ton of different builds, and a high percentage of them were like, fierce predators. The grey wolf or black bear; this, that or the other thing. And so the stealthy marmot was a placeholder. We went with the most insignificant creature we could. And then it just kind of stuck while we were building it.
DR: And how long did it take to kit out?
CB: 45 days. Scotty slept in a cot next to the van. He worked from like 8 am to 2 am everyday and I worked like 8 am to 11 pm everyday. So it was really obnoxious hours. It was full on. We had a deadline because we went to Thailand for my 30th birthday, and Scotty came. And so that was our deadline. That and he was remodeling Michelle Parker’s house, so he had to finish that before winter, too.
Electrical was huge. That was the hardest part for me. I was just researching, researching, researching. and essentially had to hire an electrical engineer at the end of it [laughs]. I either wasn’t smart enough or whatever it was to be able to see how much amperage was needed. It was crazy.
In terms of other designs I was planning on living in it and slowly figuring things out as time went on—and there’s been a couple things—but in all honestly we’ve so far pretty much nailed anything. Haven’t had too many issues other than a heater malfunction in Oregon, while I was staring in Bachelor. A wire came loose in the fuse box and I had to diagnose it. I was researching online but couldn’t figure out the error code. Eventually, I just chased the wires and figured it out. Actually, that was a huge bonus that i had helped build the entire van so I was there for every step and I knew where everything was located.
DR: Obviously, there is a huge industry for kitting out vans and vehicles. Did you have a specific vision of what you wanted?
CB: We basically researched as much as we could on already built vans and sat down together and talked about each sport and environment I’d be in. What was essential, what I could cut out. We wanted everything enclosed; everything super waterproof and sealed. There’s a lot of venting stuff, but we basically didn’t want any condensation or anything so we went all marine-grade plywood and wiring. We basically made it like a boat. We knew it’d be in the Northwest a lot and it would be shitty and wet and not much sun to dry everything out. That was a huge focus.
And I wanted enough space for all of our sports. I wanted to surf, ski and climb. And Matt [Cook; Chris’s filmer] was going to be with me, and eventually Kimmy [Fasani; Chris’s wife]. So I had that in the back of my mind. Most importantly was electrical. We had to be able to charge gimbals, GoPros, drones, laptops, hard rives, all that stuff. It sucks a ton of energy. It’s worked out that we’ve had a lot of friends open their houses to us. So, I’ll stay in the van and Matt will stay in the house so he can kind of blow up the room and have his charging stations. It worked super well in Oregon and we stayed in the van lots, but while we’ve been up in BC, it’s been nice to have friends so he can dry out and charge everything there.
DR: Why did you choose a van? What’s the impetus behind it? It’s obviously much more limiting on where you can go in one winter.
CB: A lot of it had to do with my future and what Kimmy and I have talked about. Wanting to reduce our consumption a bit and live simpler. That mentality has been growing the last few years and been getting more and more intrigued with the idea. Rock climbing, skiing and surfing… they are all very “van culture” sports and I’ve seen a lot of people just living that lifestyle and being in that location with no commute necessary and it’s been inspiring to me. Just wanting to reduce a little bit the amount of crap I do and trying to play my role a little… that was a big part of it. And also I’d be lying if I said that van —since they are so trendy—I saw it as a good opportunity for a project that people would be into.
But it was just a way to slow down and really embrace each location and not be frantically chasing weather all the time. I can post up there and let the weather go through. And if the weather does go to shit and I want to surf, I just take my house with me and go surf for a few days. [laughs] That was the whole idea. Instead of flying home or flying to the next snowy condition, embrace the bad weather and do another sport I enjoy doing. Stay in that location and access the mountains or the ocean and kind of do everything I love doing.
DR: You’ve been with GoPro for a long time and you and Matt do full GoPro projects… how has it been received?
CB: Committing to it last year was super scary. But something I’ve been missing the last few years is just skiing a lot. Red [cameras] are really slowing down the production process. Just waiting to set up; waiting for this, waiting for that. And I just wanted to rekindle that stoke of hot lapping and skiing more. Just making sure I was enjoying what I was doing.
Matt and I, the year before, at a heli operation on a GoPro trip. He did follow cams with Travis Rice and me and slaughtered it and I thought, “Whoa this could be cool.” I’ve always been into skateboarding so I thought it would be cool to do a whole project with movement and really do something different. Only have follow cams, almost no static angles. That was my idea last year and it was received pretty well. I just wanted to keep that going and it was pretty successful. Trying to think of what was next and this project encompassed everything loved to do and allowed me to slow down my life a bit and it’s the dream project basically. The fact I’ve been able to make a season out of it, is pretty cool.
DR: The project won’t stop just here, as winter is over soon-sh?
CB: The project itself—the video—will be done but the journey in the van will be far from over. I’ll be rock climbing and surfing and utilizing the van a lot. I’m already starting to conceptualize new projects and ideas while utilizing the van. It’s been awesome. I’ll brainstorm this summer and see if I can’t make a bigger project out of the same idea essentially.
I’ve met up with so many cool skiers, ‘boarders and surfers. Some new people I’ve never met and some old friends I haven’t seen in a while. I’ve met up with everyone I could have hoped to. I’ve been skiing with [Sean] Pettit a bunch here in BC. It’s been a great outlet for allowing me to do whatever I want with whoever I want. It’s not a huge production. We grab a GoPro and Matt comes and follows us.
DR: Good winter to pick the West Coast? With the winter that the whole West has had from BC to California.
CB: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve had some other complications and things that have held me back from totally killing it, but that’s life. But it’s been fun.
Freeskier Jossi Wells is icon in the sport of skiing, but what happens when he steps out of his comfort zone and teams up with the famous Flying Frenchies? Universal took an in-depth look into Jossi, the Flying Frenchies and the nature of what it takes to beat down fear and live a free life.
Take a look at the trailer:
It looks like snowboarders Blake Paul, Bryan Iguchi, and Alex Yoder have been enjoying the holidays by, doing what else, snowboarding. The duo have been shredding their home resort of Jackson Hole, and by the looks of it, having a ton of fun. Follow their lead and get out there. Enjoy it. And if you need some new optics, check our stock out here.
Legendary snowboarder Bryan Iguchi has an artistic side. Seen in his riding, his X Games Real Snow segment, and ever-so-apparent in his pro model goggle. But he’d never done a proper art gallery showing, something he rectified recently. With the help of ASymbol in his native Jackson Hole, WY, Bryan has a galley opening–filled with industry and local luminaries–to celebrate Bryan’s art. For more on the opening and Bryan’s show, check out this piece done by Snowboard Mag.
The start to the North American competition season is unofficially marked by the Winter Dew Tour every year. This year is no different, as the snowsports world descended upon the small Coloradan resort of Breckenridge. After a rough 2015-16, freeskier Kaya Turski is taking aim at the competitive field this year, putting them on notice with a 3rd place performance in the slopestyle competition.
Legendary snowboarder Bryan Iguchi was invited to take part in ESPN X Games’s annual Real Snow contest, pitting some of the world’s best against one another in a film segment competition. The contest medalists are announced on Dec. 10th in a TV show that airs on ABC at 2 pm EST. Until then, take a look at Bryan’s piece and vote for him in the fan favorite contest.