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France’s fourth annual Mondial du Ski kicks off winter season with Gallic flair

By Michel Beaudry

Les 2Alpes, France -- November’s first snow fall has left a dusting of white on the steep hillsides above this high-mountain resort.

But in the valley below, the air is unseasonably warm. Hikers, climbers, runners, joggers, cyclists – mountain lovers of all kinds – are happily taking advantage of the sunny weather and stunning alpine vistas. The hills, as they say, are alive with people.

It’s not surprising. There is enough happening here this weekend to satisfy anyone from 7 to 77.

High above the valley – 6,000 feet higher in fact – nearly 7,000 happy skiers from half-a-dozen countries rip around on one of the most extensive glaciers in Europe. And there’s a bonus this weekend. A tent city of ski distributors offer demos of the latest and greatest gear for the coming season. And it’s all free. Some people don’t even bother putting skis on, however, preferring to watch the world’s best New School aerialists strut their stuff on the daunting kicker situated conveniently in front of the main restaurant.

But the glacier is only part of the show.

Back down in the valley – in the centre of town – a massive, near-vertical halfpipe dominates the main square; DJs spin French and American hip hop tunes while an announcer exhorts the crowd. Skaters and bikers and bladers – the cream of European extreme – are doing their best to defy gravity. And they do it with style. Hundreds of young teens and twentysomethings roar their appreciation.

A hundred metres away, a terrain park is being worked by the same mixed group of bladers, skaters and riders. Only the scene here isn’t quite so intense. It’s more of a work-out than a show. Half the group is still in their ski gear. Their poles and boards are leaning against the wall just outside the park. "It’s kind of cool," says Whistler’s Ryan Oakden. "The park is on the way from the lifts to my hotel. I love this place. I get to ski all day on the glacier – work on my tricks on the Big Air kicker – and then I hit the park for a skate session on the way home."

Oakden is definitely one of the featured freeriders at the Mondial this year. But he is not the only Canadian to be feted here.

"It seems like you Canadians keep coming up with a new freeriding star every year," says veteran journalist Claude Borrani. "It’s like the Crazy Canucks all over again. And with the same easy-going spirit too."

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