Opinion » Alta States

Matty Richard — for the love of it



"Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions."

- Dalai Lama

He was The Next One. The Heir Apparent. In the neo-tribal world of competitive big-mountain freeskiing — a world that Whistlerites had dominated virtually from the sport's inception — the unassuming young newcomer was making quite an impression on his peers. Here was a skier, they all knew, who could really make things happen on the hill. Another Whistler kid with impeccable style and big... well, let's just say big enthusiasm for vertical dancing.

Like Jeff Holden before him and Hugo Harrison and PY Leblanc and Robin Courcelles and Ian Macintosh (and so many more)... the oh-so-understated Acadien could put tracks on slopes that most (sane) people would think were beyond reason. And he always made it look so dang easy — smoooooth was his middle name.

But try as he might, Mathieu (Matty) Richard could never quite find the right gear in competition. "I was always consistent," he explains. "Just not the best of the best." And smiles. "It's not like I was totally out of it. I scored a lot of top-ten finishes on the World Tour. But when push came to shove..." He sighs. "I couldn't close the deal."

He says he knows why now. "My theory is that I was too concerned with wanting to stay on my feet. I was too 'careful' with my comp runs." He lets a beat go by. "I'm totally OK with exposure, you know. It's not like I was afraid or anything. It's just that I let the fact that I was in a competition play with my head too much..."

Hang on a second. Before we move forward with this story, it might be worthwhile to put things in perspective. For those who don't follow the esoteric world of competitive big-mountain freeskiing (think big-wave surfing — only in an alpine setting), "a lot of top-ten finishes on the World Tour" is nothing to sneeze at. Indeed, Matty was a contender in every event he entered.

And he did them all: from Verbier to Chamonix, Les Arcs to Snowbird and Kirkwood in the U.S. But given the expectations that surrounded him — and the history of success that preceded him — well, there wasn't all that much wriggle room for the young Whistler competitor.

Eventually, he says, he just let the comp-thing slip away. "Why? I don't know really. Sometimes I really miss it. But then I don't..." A beat goes by. Another. He's smiling again. "The biggest thing for me was that the comps took too much time away from my skiing. I remember one year realizing 'oh my God! I didn't ski Fissile this winter.'" He pauses. Grabs a breath. "I mean, Fissile! Can you believe it? Not once! That's when I realized I just wanted to be a skier again."

He laughs. "I've come to accept that I'm not really a 'competitor.' I'm competitive, no question about that." More laughter. "But that's different. I like going into the mountains and seeing what I can do there. But all the travel, the costs, the lost time associated with contests... it seems pointless at times. Besides, I've done so many more interesting things since I quit competing."

Did I mention that Matty was originally from New Brunswick? From a family that can trace its Acadian ancestry all the way back to 1604 and the original plot of farmland granted to Alexandre Richard in what is now the province of Nova Scotia? I mean, it's not a background usually associated with big-mountain adventures... or downhill skiing prowess for that matter.

But that's what makes this story so interesting.

"I was born in Moncton, in 1981," he starts. "My parents were super outdoorsy and my older brother and I spent much of our youth playing outside — camping, sailing, hiking, whatever."