Rafael Regazzoni, a guy who’s everywhere in the freeskiing industry, talks about his personal experience while largely digressing from my questions.
Rafael Regazzoni, 32 years old, lives in Bourg-Saint-Maurice, France. That’s the easy part of his description. His job, as he himself will admit, is harder to define. Formerly a freeskiing judge and an editor, today Raf’s influence in the freeski and action sport industry includes consulting, event and video production, athlete management and more as a director for the Distillery, Downdays’ parent company. The best way to place him is with this basic truth: if you see something happening in freeskiing, Raf is probably involved in it, either up close or from afar.
Since he’s my boss, let’s be honest here, I’ve known him well for a few years so I don’t need to knock when I enter in his apartment. Passing by an impressive collection of old ski magazines, I find the man himself at his desk writing emails. Finding a place among heaps of clothes, ski boots, helmets, skis and boxes, I set up the camera while Raf wraps up his business. Ten minutes later, it’s go time.
Why do you work in the skiing industry?
I was on snow early, and it’s always been my passion. I’m more passionate about skiing than anything else, so when I got into this I knew I would always be working for something I’m passionate about, instead of working just to feed myself.
Why freeskiing specifically?
There is a lot going on in our world that’s limited by boundaries, and when we were young, there was no other way to have fun. Even though I’m not that old—I was born in 1983—I’m a part of this generation that didn’t have the equipment, when only racing mattered, and the moguls were linked to FIS, so, racing basically. I was never a racer, always a freeskier, not trapped with gates, so that’s how I got into freeskiing.
Now freeskiing is also a part of FIS. What changed in the industry?
There are two different ways to see it, personally and professionally. Professionally, I have never been into the FIS thing, but I have been involved with that world because they need people like us for the Olympics. It’s not only a bad thing, and there are some good parts of it. It’s good in a way to reach mainstream audiences, but the question is: “Should we leave behind our state of mind to get that mainstream exposure?” Anyway, our sport is already accessible only to a select few because it costs so much.
My personal way is mainly, “Fuck FIS.”
You have a “Fuck FIS” sticker over there next to your Olympic credentials. Isn’t that funny?
I can tell you a story about that. We went there [as judges to Sochi] as a crew working together for like ten years, and we had always been about “Fuck FIS.” But the problem at the Olympics is mainly the IOC [the International Olympic Committee] and not even FIS. When we went to the riders’ meeting we heard [FIS] guys saying that they bring credibility to our sport, and we were saying, “We’ve been doing the X Games for 15 years, we didn’t wait for you for credibility.” So from that day, we didn’t wear the FIS jackets.
The FIS and IOC rules ruined the pipe, because they made rules based on the TV schedule, which meant that as soon as you started the training, the comp had to happen. So when the snowstorm came, the final still had to happen because of their fucking rules. At some point you want to show something great, and it wasn’t possible.
I’m worried that a lot of people will see [slopestyle and halfpipe] as the only way to get into freeskiing, when you can actually just go to the mountains and ski without competitions and FIS. It’s turning people into gymnasts hitting kickers without learning how to ski between them.
Also, at one point FIS will regulate the number of rotations and flips. It’s going to happen. Once the line gets crossed, they will limit what you guys can do.
Why did you stop judging?
Long story short, to explain why I stopped, I need to explain why I started. I started because no one was doing it professionally in Europe, nobody was communicating with North America. At one point I figured out that the judging was not fair in Europe because the judges were local coaches or injured skiers.
At the beginning everything was still new and there were still stylish runs, and then the sport got involved and kind of turned away to the technical side. After a few years of traveling the world [judging], the Olympics season started and I really started to think about it. There are many reasons for it, but one is because the judging is getting too wild and crazy these days. All the riders understand and can back that up. Even me, after quitting judging, I’m still really critical in front of my TV.
Skiing is going a little bit too far to the technical side. When you’re in the judging booth, you hear “left, right, left, right,” and never “That’s the most stylish run I’ve ever seen.” We used to yell in the booth, but not anymore. Also, you don’t get paid that much, you travel a lot and it’s not a real way to live and have a family. I was tired of fighting for the budget. Then you have all the struggles with coaches and parents who aren’t happy, and they just yell at you. Also, I wasn’t able to work with some clients and be Henrik’s agent, for example, because it would be a conflict of interest.
I was thinking of all those reasons before the Olympics, but afterwards, after the sleepless nights because there were too many options in the rails, I was sure of my decision. How can you judge a slopestyle with three rail areas, each with six options, and some with two in one… everybody is taking different lines, and it’s just too fucking insane.
What’s the future of freeskiing?
Pffffffft. I don’t know, I’m getting old and as old people do, I’m chilling out more. I see things differently and don’t rebel as much as I used to. You have to be chill or you lose money and clients. You’re not 20 years old anymore. I think freeskiing will still be there, but if we continue in this direction, it will become an elite sport and only a few elites will be able to get money from it.
The industry doesn’t reward skiers enough for the risks they take. When I see how much money is still invested into racing and research and development for skis which aren’t sold to the public, because it’s super exclusive, I say, “Give some to us and let’s see what we can do with it, and compare how many kids go into the race clubs and the freeskiing clubs.”
The future of freeskiing is the kids, and everyone should focus on them. I’m worried for the kids who hit the trampoline at age fifteen, learn doubles and then go into competition forgetting the basics and how to ski well between the kickers and carve with style. That’s where you see the difference between a good and a bad skier. Thank you Jossi Wells, Henrik Harlaut and all those guys. And when you see someone who doesn’t know how to ski, I’m not saying who, you will recognize them.
It’s about what example we want to give the kids, and I come back to Henrik and Phil [Casabon] who I think are the best examples, because they love what they are doing and just care about having good days on snow.