Antonin Lieutaghi: the downhill enthusiast who chose an unusual route
Ski champions often share a similar story. Born in the mountains, they are on skis by the age of two, join a club and start competing. Antonin’s story is very different – he grew up in the South of France, discovered skiing at the age of 16 and off-piste snowboarding at 20. He then went on to achieve the highest level in the world. Meet this extraordinary sportsman, who today is director of Evolution 2 in La Clusaz.
Tell us about your business
Evolution 2 is many things – a ski school, an adventure company, and an organiser of sporting events and competitions. In the winter we offer ski and snowboard courses, mostly focusing off-piste, and in the summer we switch to cycling and mountain bike courses.
Why is Evolution 2 different?
Our approach to skiing puts the accent on pleasure. The instructors are a multidisciplinary team of 20 ski and snowboard instructors, and mountain guides from the prestigious ski and mountaineering school in Chamonix, ENSA.
Most of your instructors also have high-level experience in the French team.
That’s true, it’s another strong feature: we have several champions of various disciplines, such as Seb Michaud, international freeride skiing legend, or freestyle champion César Fabre. We can’t be faulted on a technical level, and we all share a love of the mountains and a passion for the sport.
You’re not really a native mountain man?
I’m originally from Forcalquier, in the Alpes de Haute-Provence. My family didn’t ski at all. Our only link to Haute Savoie is through my grandmother, who lived in Cruseilles. We did a bit of sledging, but that’s all.
Which sports did you enjoy as a child?
Cycling, caving, kayaking and skate-boarding – but just for fun. I also studied at the Fratellini / Etaix circus school in Paris when I was 15.
How did you discover skiing?
I skied for the first time when I was 16, on the Lure mountain in Mont Ventoux, in the southern Alps. It was an epiphany! I developed such a passion for it that I wanted to become a instructor. I was lucky enough to be coached by very open-minded instructors at Serre-Chevallier. They saw that I was really keen, and let me catch up in four years and pass my diploma.
I discovered it at the age of 20, when I was studying to be a instructor. While I continued my ski training I really got into snowboarding, particularly off-piste. At that time the sport was still in its infancy, an alternative sport based on American skateboarding, practised on handmade boards. I followed the pioneers like Jean Nerva or Serge Vitelli, before joining the small world competition circuit.
And when you started competing after just two years, you made rapid progress!
I was pretty reckless at the time and set the record for snowboard helicopter jumping. I’m not sure that I’d try that again today! From 1996 to 2003, I took part in the world snowboard freeride circuit. I won two world titles and one European title. I also made some great contacts that enabled me to take on other projects.
You have many strings to your bow: press relations, event organising, competition designer …
In 1999, I offered heliski holidays with Sylvain Saudan – it was an amazing experience. After that I continued to organise this sort of holidays, such as trips to Argentina and Chile with freeride coaching, while designing competitions as race director – the Adrenaline Challenge, the Radikal Mountain, the La Clusaz free session
You are also a national adviser on the Freeride World Tour, an extraordinary competition!
The FWT is a ski and snowboard competition which takes part in five stages across the world, with classes for international riders, women and men. The best of them take part in the legendary Verbier Xtreme in Switzerland. Two skiers from La Clusaz have won the competition: Candide Thovex and Loïc Collomb-Patton.
You are also well-known in the world of mountain biking. What are your plans in this area?
Both to organise competitions such as the VTT Freeride Tour, the Roc d’Azur, the Urban Pro Race in Paris, and big public events like the mountain bike modules of Aravis et Cie. I’ve also plotted the mountain bike trails in La Clusaz.
Not to mention the ski reports and videos!
I don’t do as much nowadays, but I have taken part in a lot of films. In 2000 and 2001 I won the Jury Prize at the international Adventure Film Festival in Val d’Isère and the Mountain Challenge snowboard title for the film “La Nuit de la Glisse”. When I was younger I made a series of coaching videos on snowboard techniques for the Japanese market. The Japanese are very fond of this method of learning!
What do you like most about your work?
Being able to practise my favourite sport in an exceptional mountain area. When we are not giving lessons, I and other Evolution 2 professionals go snowboarding or mountain-biking. It’s a great opportunity. I love to share my experience, to help others discover the pleasures of skiing and outdoor sport. It’s in my DNA!
The best off-piste in the Aravis
Where can you safely ski off-piste, and at what age should you start?
The Evolution 2 Freeride club takes on about 130 children per season in 14 groups. We make it as safe as possible for the youngest ones by sticking to slopes with a gradient of less than 30%. The six to 10-year-olds can start on the off-piste areas at Laquais without any problems. There is also a great area near the Beauregard Plateau.
What about the 12 to 16-year-olds?
As soon as they master the ARVA safety equipment, we can go near the red piste at Combe de Fernuy, near the Encarnes trail. There are nice paths there through the woods and forests.
And the experienced skiers?
I would advise that ski-touring equipment is required on the ungroomed routes near Borderan, Combe de Merdassier, Balme…
What do you suggest for expert skiers?
There are several technical routes in a super valley in La Creuse, La Clusaz. You can access it via Aiguille or Torchère, using ski-touring equipment. There are several routes to virgin sites with short access paths.
What advice would you give to skiers wanting to go off-piste?
Obviously it is important to take care. The Aravis mountains are very unusual, with faces that look easy but have dangerous access with traps. It is vital to know how to use safety equipment (ARVA, probe and shovel at the very least), to check the weather conditions and the avalanche risk, to familiarise yourself with the terrain and the differences in the season. In my opinion, it’s best to take a professional guide to ski with confidence.
When he’s not on the hill you can find Antonin at Evolution 2: www.laclusaz.evolution2.com
1993 World record holder for helicopter jumping with 23m – Mont Blanc
1996/97 Winner of the World Freeride Championship in Alaska
1996/98 Winner of the King of the Hill in New Zealand
1999 Runner-up at the European Extreme Championships at Vars
2000 Winner of the European Freeride Championsips at Vars
2001 Snowboard winner of the Mountain Challenge (for the film « La Nuit de la glisse »)
2003 Third in the Gilles Voirol Classic (X-Trême Format, Verbier)
Third in the FREERIDE world cup at Les Arcs
1997-2004 X-TREME de Verbier, participated seven times, as a competitor and as a judge