At 28 years old, Frenchman Thomas Delfino is a one of a kind adventurer. The always-smiling rider has a solid freestyle background but in recent years, he shifted his interest towards freeriding. Most precisely, Alaska and its remote glaciers, where he likes to set camp, and live at the mountain’s pace. He lives in Grenoble and tries “to be where the best snow is”.
When we met, about ten years ago, you were a pure freestyler, specialized in half-pipe…
“Yes. After I started snowboarding, I quickly took part in competitions, mostly in half-pipe. It made it possible for me to go to a sports section in high school and as I carved my path in snowboarding, I opened my eyes on the environment around me when I was riding. So I saw behind the half-pipe. I saw what was around and I saw the mountains with lines everywhere! So I started filming with Hara Kiri. We did a lot of backcountry because I came from this freestyle background. But now, I don’t really do any backcountry anymore. I only do freeride and a lot of splitboard.”
How did you switch focus?
“Well, I loved freestyle when I began. The half-pipe was a really good school of snowboarding for me. That’s where I learned to ride. So this brought me to backcountry, and then to riding powder. Once I started freeriding, I got into splitboards. So there’s really a common thread from one step to another, from the half-pipe to the mountain.”
When was your “coming-out” as a freerider? With the Almo video?
“Yes. We went on a trip in Russia with Victor Daviet and David Livet. My first heliski trip, my first freeride line. It was back in 2013. In 2014, I went to the Aleutian Islands with Rome. The weather was bad but we had a lot of fun. We rode difficult stuff. The snow conditions weren’t that good. But it’s fine, it makes for some good experiences in the mountain. It reminds you that things aren’t always easy. After that, I went camping in Alaska.”
To me, Rome really is a freestyle-focused brand…
“Well, they have this image of a core-freestyle brand, but they’re also freeriders. Remember, in the beginning of Rome there were guys like Jonaven Moore. Those guys were killers, pioneers in this field. There’s always been freeriders on the team. We’re not that much right now, but I’m there to represent this side of Rome. And if you look at the boards they do, they have a collection dedicated to freeriding. They don’t focus solely on freestyle. They even do several splitboards, for men and women. So I always give feedbacks on splitboards to Paul Maravetz, one of the brand’s bosses who works on the boards’ designs.”
So, back to Alaska. How did this first trip go?
“The first time was in 2016, for [French video] Crétins des Alpes. Friend photographer Zach Clanton clearly told me I had to join him on these kind of trips. He’s got a lot of experience doing it and he invited me. I was really amped up. It was crazy. You’re camping on a glacier in the middle of nowhere, there’s no one for miles… But it’s not that high, because Alaska is so close to the ocean. I think we were around 4500 feet high. At night, it’s -20°C. Living in the mountains, living at the mountain’s pace, it’s totally different. It allows to be way more focused on what you do, really connected to the mountain. You really have time to observe your line. It’s a whole different process. Not like an helitrip, where you have 10 minutes to choose your line and to take your bearings, and then you’re on top of it, ready to drop.”
“I love taking the time to live with the mountain – way more than heliski, actually. They don’t have much in common. And it’s also way, way cheaper to do things as we do. On the other hand, it’s way less productive. We do one or two lines a day, whereas with a heli, on a good day, you do one after the other.”
“So, last winter I got back to Alaska with Zach. I asked Picture skier Leo Taillefer to join me and he was down. It was his first time in Alaska. We went to an area close to Haines, which is forbidden to helicopters. Our main aim was to ride this face called Stormtrooper. So the only way to go and ride this mythical line, which has been done before us but with helis, it’s to go there on foot. It had been my main goal since October last year and we did it last April. It was so good! We owe it to Jeremy Jones, who started it all with Deeper, Further, Higher. He was the first to use a plane to go deeper into the mountains, land on a glacier, set up a basecamp and go do lines on foot. We just walk in his path.”
We don’t see that much videos where skiers and snowboarders ride together…
“Yeah, but it’s really cool to see these kind of projects happen because we ride the same mountains. There’s no meaning in a war between skiers and snowboarders, in my opinion. It’s a delight to share the mountain with people doing another sport. And I think we don’t choose the same lines: we don’t see the same things in the mountain. So, everyone has the place to express themselves and that’s awesome.”
How do you prepare for this kind of trip?
“To me, it’s important to be in good shape when I start this kind of project. So I try to do a lot of mountaineering, to spend time in the mountains. I do some rock-climbing as well. You have to be able to climb to the top, you know, and then to still have strength to go down! For Stormtrooper, our basecamp was really far away from the face we intended to ride. So we came closer. We made an advanced camp where we dug a big hole in the snow to sleep in, in order to be ready in the early morning. We wanted to enjoy the sunrise on top. So the climb from there was one hour and a half. The approach walks are very steep, so it’s quite fast.”
So what’s the plan for this year?
“Nothing’s set, but I’m totally addicted to base camps and living in the mountains, so it’s sure I’ll be doing something like this again this winter!”