On a recent mountain biking holiday to Avoriaz my guide was Jean-Noel Calvert (JN). Although not a household name he does have a claim to fame – he is responsible for The Stash which in 2014 CNN named as the best ski run in the world. JN heads up the Avoriaz snowpark grooming and maintenance team – a great gig if you can get it.
Avoriaz is known as a great resort for snowboarders, early on it embraced the freestyle and freeride elements of the sport and has always been at the forefront of development. The Stash epitomises this. The brain-child of Jake Burton, it combines freeride and freestyle snowboarding through the use of more than 80 wooden features in a un-groomed forest setting. With three pistes suitable for different levels, secret passageways and hidden features ‘Stashed’ away, it is an area you can spend a lot of fun snowboarding or skiing.
Avoriaz is part of the massive Portes Du Soleil ski area, which consists of 12 resorts in France and Switzerland. With more than 400km of runs you will have access to Morzine, Les Gets, Chatel and Champery on a ski or snowboarding holiday in Avoriaz. Avoriaz is a car-free village set in the heart of the Portes Du Soleil, all accommodation is ski-in ski-out.
Interview with Jean-Noel Calvert
While JN and I mountain biked our way around the Portes Du Soleil, discussion often turned to the winter. And between the exhilarating downhill, exhausting enduro and spectacular single-track I grilled him about the snowparks and Avoriaz in general. I found JN’s answers fascinating, and thought our readers would appreciate an interview with the guy who is responsible for the best ski run in the world, according to CNN.
Please note JN’s first language is French, but he kindly penned his answers in English – this means I avoided having to hark back to my GCSE French, which is best for all of us. We have largely stuck with his un-edited answers to keep the interview authentic.
1. So how did you end up as head of the Avoriaz snowpark grooming?
When I was younger I had the choice to either work at school and find after a real job, or to snowboard and find a job which is not really a real job! Fortunately, I chose the second option – I don’t like too much working.
2. How many snowparks are you responsible for?
We have six snowpark areas:
- Le Snowpark de la Chapelle: snowpark for beginner to intermediate riders, with many lines of jumps and jibs for different levels.
- Le Snowpark d’arare: the oldest snowpark in france, it was created in 1993. It is a snowpark for intermediate to expert riders and there is an Air Bag with a video system, so you can watch your jump on a screen at the bottom. There is also a banked slalom.
- The Stash: a “wood park” created in 2007 with the cooperation of BURTON Snowboard.
- The Lil’ Stash: a little stash like the original one but with smaller features, cabin and statues of Shreddie.
- The halfpipe area: two halfpipes, one big and one small for kids and beginners. We maintain them everyday except the days of snowstorms.
- The Burton Kids Parkway: It’s The snowpark for kids in a safe area close the buildings of “La Falaise”. Mum and dad can watch their kids trick on little features from their balcony.
3. ‘The Stash’ was voted the best ski run in the world by CNN in 2014. Please tell us about it?
That was for me and my team a real recognition of our work. The project of the Stash is not finished for me, we can again enlarge it and improve it!
4. As an ‘un-groomed’ run how much maintenance does it require?
A lot ! The Stash is the most important workstation with an average of 7 hours of grooming by night. We have to do the maintenance all of the wooden features during the summer and autumn.
5. It was designed by the visionary Jake Burton. Has he ever visited?
Yes, Jack had the idea of the Stash concept, but we already had a similar park in the forest at Avoriaz before the Stash. Its name was the Biotop, it was smaller and not all the features were wooden – we put edges and plastic on the top of all of them. Shreddie (the Stash mascot) was not even born, but he was already in the mind of Jake.
The first Stash at Northstar, California was made by Jake Burton. One season after, Jeff Boliba from Burton Snowboard came to Avoriaz to show us the concept and we were so excited by the project that we signed at once. Unfortunately, Jake has never been to Avoriaz.
6. How close to the original design is the current Stash, and how much innovation have you added?
Jeff Boliba came with the design of features and the decoration (statues, totem, logo, signs). But the Lindarets’ forest is very different that of Northstar – the terrain is steeper and firs are more close. Also, we preferred a flow, between each features, faster than that of Northstar’s Stash.
7. Make us jealous – how often do you get to ride through the Stash and what is your favourite feature?
When it snows, we always groom the Stash earlier in the night to let the fresh snow falls on the features and on the runs. Normally I have a “shaper” (snowpark patrol) to open all the snowparks at 8.30am, but if it snows the boss (me) decides to open the Stash himself! it’s so fun to ride it alone with this small layer of snow on all the features. I like particularly all the wall rides.
8. Away from the snowparks what is your favourite piste in the Portes Du Soleil?
I don’t like very much ride on the pistes as they are much too well groomed! I prefer the sides of the pistes where we can find natural obstacles. My favourite spots are the Linga area (Châtel) or the Fornet (Avoriaz) or also single track between pines in the forest of Le Crôt (Avoriaz).
9. On a powder day where would you head from some off-piste action?
Locals don’t talk about it! But there are a lot of nice easy off-piste all around Avoriaz, we also have 5 non-groomed slopes – but be the first ones to wake up. Personally I practice split board snowboarding, so I can hike the virgin snow and hit the wild runs.
10. What makes Avoriaz so special?
Avoriaz is fun, there are many different slopes with different ambience. Runway in the forest, steep slopes, easy off-piste, and best of all (of course) many snowparks for all riders of different levels.
If, like me, you are incredibly jealous of JN then get yourself over to Avoriaz this winter. Then you too can ride the best ski run in the world.
You can find out more about Avoriaz by visiting: www.avoriaz.com