Underneath his thick, curly dark hair that looks like a burnt children’s playground is a kind, almost shy smile that’s lit up with big bright eyes.
But his build is anything but gentle, his solid broad shoulders are not the product of hours in the gym, instead they look like they have been stolen from a gorilla and while his nineteen year old frame is just under five foot eight high he must weigh close to ninety kilograms (two hundred lbs). There is no doubt in my mind that he is an immensely powerful man.
This was my first impression of Xavier De La Rue when we shared a room in 1999 for a Boardercross race in Chamrouse. As it turns out it was a pretty accurate appraisal and while I can’t tell you where he placed in that race, I do remember seeing a French cannon ball destroying the course with a confidence that belied his age.
It was no surprise to me that in time he went on to win the boardercross World Championships four times, consecutively between 2001 and 2003 and then again in 2007.
These achievements alone would be enough to define most riders’ careers, but in Xavier’s case this was simply his formative education. One that has lead him to a masters degree in Big Mountain riding and prompted one of his few peers, Jeremy Jones to comment that ‘He is the Fastest Snowboarder in the World’.
Like Jones, Xavier’s racing background is the bedrock of his riding, the platform on which all his years of experience have been carefully built.
His board placement, edge control and split second line choices became instinctive during his days as a bordercross rider and today that gives him the freedom to focus on his line, slough, management, snow pack and the myriad of other variables that riding the world’s most outrageous terrain requires you to calculate in a split second.
Through this speed and power have become the hallmarks of Xavier’s riding, his low centre of gravity and natural strength initially gave him the confidence to follow the fall line on some huge lines, but in doing so Xavier has found advantages and safety.
“Going fast makes you float on the surface of the snow and that takes away some of the impacts of the terrain, it also gives you a clear visual on some landings, plus once you reach a certain speed, avalanches become way less of an issue, and that gives some space to think of other things.”
This revelatory approach ensured Xavier’s riding stood out and the arrival of the Freeride World Tour in 2008 finally gave him a stage to showcase his style of riding.
He was in a league of his own winning the overall title three times consecutively between 2008 and 2010. This emphatic success gave Xavier the freedom to film and if you watch White Noise, 2112, Deeper or the Mission Antarctica series you will see a man pushing himself to the absolute limit of his capability.
The high point of this period for Xavier was his ice fall line that made the cover of Transworld’s Photo Annual and saw him voted Stand Out Rider of the Year in 2012 it also changed the way people approached high alpine terrain.
At thirty four there is a strong argument to say the Xavier is only now reaching his prime. This is his life’s work and different influences and partnerships with not just snowboarders, but ski alpinists and mountaineers like Sammy Anthamatten will continue to inspire him and push his riding in new directions that will certainly see Xavier probing the horizons of what is deemed impossible in the mountains.