There are Snoweaters. And then there are Snoweaters. Multi-linguist, passionate glisseur , innovative tech guy and event organizer par excellence: the man they call JiPé has been in love with sliding on skis since he was just a little guy. But unlike so many others in the business, it wasn't his parents who gave Frenchman JP Baralo his skiing start.
"I remember two things from my early youth," recounts the inveterate storyteller. "One was watching the Americans walk on the moon in 1969. And the other was watching Jean-Claude Killy win his three gold medals at the Grenoble Olympics in 1968." He stops speaking. Smiles. "I was only five years old when that happened. But it was on that day that I knew I wanted to become a skier..."
The '68 Games, says Baralo, changed everything in his country. "For skiers, it was all the new technology highlighted at the Olympics. The ascendance of plastics and fibreglass and other high-tech materials was revolutionary. Suddenly with the new gear, skiing was so much more accessible. Just about anybody could learn to carve a turn..."
Still, skiing didn't happen for the young Baralo right away. "At first it was all about sledding," he says. "We'd pick a steep road and get a big jerry can full of warm water. When we had shovelled the turns into passable banks, we'd ice them down. The next day the course would be ready to go." It was snow-sliding at its most elemental. And the kids loved it. "We had nothing," explains JiPé. "No helmets, no infrastructure, no adults around to tell us what to do. We'd get on the sleds and push off. First one down wins."
For a while, sledding ruled. But in 1971 his life changed forever, That was the year the local city council decided to send Baralo and his schoolmates for a month of "Classes des Neiges" at the Tarentaise resort of La Plagne. He was eight years old. "It was a month on snow in the mountains," he says. "It was like a dream come true. And it cost my parents less than $100 for the whole trip! It was magical."
For JiPé, it was a revelation. "We all came home totally different from that trip." Another broad smile. "I knew I was always meant to be a skier. But this was the moment I started making the dream come true."
For the next few years, the young skier would take the city bus from Grenoble to the Olympic skiing site of Chamrouse as often as he could. "A lift pass cost three or four dollars in those years," he recounts. "So it was pretty affordable. You'd leave your pack and gear and stuff in the bus. Stealing was virtually unheard of back then."