JP Auclair. Photo: Chris O’Connel
What is pro skier JP Auclair doing laying bricks in Africa?
Anyone who skis knows the joy of flying on fresh powder. In a world based on self gratification it’s good to know there are folks in the ski industry giving back. Freeskiing legend, JP Auclair talks about his ‘Alpine Initiatives www.alpineinitiatives.org not for profit project with Rachael Oakes-Ash.
Mikey Hovey’s interest in humanitarian work started while traveling through Peru in 2005. Here he is with Dennis, one of the meru locals. Photo: Alpine Initiaives
What inspired you to create Alpine Initiatives?
I always wanted to get more involved and active with the world community but didn’t know how, where or when. I found that my good friend Mikey, who I had met through skiing, felt the same way. The idea of REALLY getting involved was spoken about in January 2008, and after spending more time together in the mountains and playing with the idea, we decided to commit and Alpine Initiatives slowly took shape over the course of the winter.
How did you choose the ‘team’ or the founders of AI?
The AI team just kind of happened. It’s not something that we thought through, and members weren’t really chosen. It started as something we would talk about with friends and some just jumped right in. That was the case for Seth Koch and Chad Fleischer, who we also met through skiing. Through Seth and Chad, Lisa Benjamin and Emmanuelle Vital were brought on board, both of whom have become key members of AI over the last year. Another part of our team that has developed naturally is the AI ambassadors. Pep Fujas, Michelle Parker and Julien Regnier are all pro skiers who are excited about what we were doing. Through their own initiatives, they’ve made great efforts to raise money and promote AI. Their support has been amazing!
JP – the powder of Retallak is a long way from Kenya. Photo: Chris O’Connel
A lot of people talk about humanitarianism, of helping others and giving back but few actually get out and do it. What do you think made you and your team take action?
I’m not sure. It’s true that a lot of people want to “give back” but often they don’t know how to get started. The first step for us was to simply to talk about it, to throw ideas out there. It’s through talking that we decided to take action and it’s through talking that AI slowly took shape. By the time we got a game plan, we were all really excited about it and couldn’t wait to see our project come to life so following through was not a problem! If there is something you would like to do, just start talking about it with friends. Some will pick up on it, throw ideas back at you and slowly help you get the ball rolling and next thing you know you’re in Kenya!
What made you choose projects in developing nations with no snow?
Actually there is snow in Kenya. On clear days, we can see the snow on Mount Kenya from the community home. I think Mount Kenya has been skied on two different occasions. When we first started to talk about getting involved and giving back we didn’t have a specific cause or area we wanted to focus on. We went at it with an open mind and were waiting for an opportunity to arise and it did. We have spoken about getting involved in more Alpine settings, but for now we are involved and committed to our project in Meru. We continue to proceed with open minds and and await the opportunities to present themselves, and if it is something we feel is right then we will get involved whether it be a place with or without snow.
JP Auclair in his natural environment – high above a halfpipe. Photo: Chris O’Connel
What can the ski industry do to help the world?
There are countless ways for a person to help the world. The ski industry is a huge community full of dynamic and gifted individuals ready and willing to give back. As simple as it sounds, the first step to help as a collective is to unite and this has been one of our main focus since we started AI; to act as a catalyst and platform for the mountain community to get together.
How do you choose the projects you work with for Alpine Initiatives and what has been the most inspiring one to date?
To be honest, our projects have seemed to choose us. Thus far we have only been involved in one project, the building of the Kitchen and Dining room for KACH. In fact, Alpine Initiatives was created because of this project. When we decided we wanted to get involved we had connections with International Peace Initiatives (IPI)(www.ipeacei.org), so we contacted them and said we wanted to help. Little did we know or understand what this was going to lead to, as Dr. Karambu Ringera, President of IPI, responded by challenging us to raise the money needed for the Kitchen and dining room, organize a crew and head to Meru to physically construct them. Upon being challenged by Dr. K, we talked about it and thought about it and decided we were ready to step up and take this challenge, therefore Alpine Initiatives was born.
Riding to work in Meru, Kenya. Photo: Alpine Iinitiatives
Any thoughts on Armada creating an AI ski for fund generating?
Yep! We’re talking about it..
How has the ski industry reacted to Alpine Initiatives?
The reaction from the ski industry has been outstanding. Many different people and organisations have responded by supporting and joining our efforts. As I said before, there are the AI ambassadors who have personally made efforts to support and promote AI. All the companies listed on the right side of our web page are companies that supported monetarily or with resources. Orage (www.orage.com) and Oakley(www.oakley.com) especially, they’ve step up big time. AI would not be what it is without the support we’ve been getting from the ski industry looking and we’re looking forward to the snowboard industry jumping on.
What has been the ‘moment’ when you knew what you were doing was ‘right’
There has been many of those moments it is hard to know where to start. Seeing the kids flourish is a big part of it. I went back to Kenya in late December to visit the kids and to see how everything was going. It was cool to see how excited they were to show me their report cards from school and how much they had improved.
Seeing the impact that we had on different individuals has been amazing as well. There are countless examples but my two favorites are Simon and Dennis. Simon is the garden manager at the community home. He used to be a bit of an outcast as his job was to manually make gravel out of big stones (a job you do when you’re all out of options) When I went back to the community home this summer, he was a new person! Out spoken, passionate about his new work and inspired. He was so happy at the opportunity that he had been given, he wanted to give back right away.
Simon and other local farmers have been educating themselves about organic farming and organise meetings to teach others how to better use their land. Their group is called Meru Organics and Lisa helped them get started on our visit to Kenya last summer.
The sources of JP’s motivation is an appreciation of nature and the world. Not surprising when he spends a lot of time in places like this – Haines, Alaska. Photo: Elina Sirparanta.
Dennis is one of the workers we hired to build the kitchen. In the last year, Mikey and I have spent over three months in Meru, building and hanging out with the workers. Laborers make just enough to eat and pay rent. For many Kenyans, it’s virtually impossible to improve their life conditions as they can’t afford education or specialized training. Over time, we were able to see which one of the workers was most astounding and we decided to support him with his personal goals.
Dennis wanted to become a delivery truck driver for constructions sites. Before we left Kenya last August, Mikey and I lent him money so that he could go to driving school. When I saw him again in December, he had completed the class. He screamed: “JP! I’m a driver!! I’m a driver!!”
He’s currently looking for work in Nairobi. Once he’ll have raised the $300 we lent him with his new driving job, it will be his turn to select someone he believes in and help him reach his goals and so on and so forth. It’s really fun to follow the progression. Obviously, it is also nice to see the kitchen being built and used. it was a pretty powerful moment when we cooked our first meal in it.
JP did a crash course in bricklaying. Photo: Alpine Initiaitives.
The view of Mount Kenya taken from where the crew was staying. It gave them a little taste of the mountains, Photo: Alpine Initiaitives
JP with Sharon, one of the locals who has benefited from the project. Photo: Alpine Initiatives