Paul Coleman has been shaking up Méribel's snowboarding scene for over 10 years and shows no sign of slowing down.
Paul Coleman has been shaking up Méribel's snowboarding scene for over 10 years and shows no sign of slowing down.
Paul Coleman has been shaking up Méribel's snowboarding scene for over 10 years and shows no sign of slowing down.
Veteran snowboarder Paul Coleman was one of the first British snowboard instructors to start teaching in France back in 2005. Of all the Alpine resorts, he set his sights on the moneyed village of Méribel to shake up the staid ski scene with a dose of rebel snowboard culture, co-founding snowboard school Cab9 Snowboarding. Ever the disruptor, last year Paul launched polarized sunglasses company – also called Cab9– to challenge the big brand dominance at prices his crew could afford to lose once in a while. He shares his snowboarding tips on Méribel, how the scene has evolved and why you’ll never need to buy another pair of Oakleys.
What first drew you to Méribel?
I was living and working in Andorra in the Pyrennes and ran a snowboard school there for many years. At that time, due to French regulations, foreigners couldn’t legally teach snowboarding in France unless they were ski instructors. It’s a long story, but a window of opportunity opened up where the most highly qualified British snowboard instructors were able to have their qualifications recognised by the French and granted the right to work in France. So I decided to leave Andorra and set up a snowboard school in France. Up until then if you wanted to take a snowboard lesson in France, in most cases you would end up with a ski instructor who taught snowboarding on the side. It wasn’t very real or authentic. So we wanted to be the first to be 100% dedicated to snowboarding, so you could have lessons with people who lived and breathed the sport, the lifestyle and the culture.
What was it like in those early days?
It was a bit of carte blanche at that stage and a bunch of us chose different resorts. I teamed up with another friend of mine and we set up Cab9 Snowboarding 12 years ago. We were (and still are) the only dedicated snowboard school in Méribel. When we first turned up, these new snowboard instructors from the UK, it certainly raised a few eyebrows with the French as the French Ski School is such an institution here and we definitely met some resistance, but over the years we’ve developed and grown school and we’ve become well accepted in Méribel. There are still only 6 instructors on our team, but we are known as the people to go to for snowboarding as it’s all we do. I’ve no doubt that if we branched into skiing we could be big, but it’s not in our interest. For us, it’s about the passion of highly trained instructors with thousands of teaching hours under their belts and for whom snowboarding is a way of life.
Ok, (forgive me for being an ignorant skier) but what is the life of a snowboarder?
When snowboarding first came about, it was this subculture movement on the slopes. There were only a handful of us and we were breaking rules on the mountain. But if anything, I think it gave skiing a kick up the ass as it’s been influenced by many aspects of snowboarding which has had an impact on things from the design of skis to the clothes that skiers wear and the two sports now run very much parallel to each other.
What hooked you on snowboarding at a time when it was still so niche?
My parents ran a water-sports centre in Spain, so I grew up surrounded by windsurfing and wakeboarding. When I first got introduced to the snow, the board just looked so much more appealing, but what I really love about it is the freedom it gives you. I can ski as well but the big difference I find between the two is how you look at the mountain and play with it; you scope out the terrain and look at ways to ride it creatively, so you feel much more of a connection to the mountain. A lot of skiers are locked onto skiing the piste, but with snowboarding, you are always looking further afield than just the runs.
How does Méribel measure up as a snowboarding destination?
When we first arrived it was very ski focused. Traditionally this was a middle-to-upper class resort for British skiers, so it probably wasn’t the best place to set up a snowboard school initially, but over the years the scene has developed a lot. Now DC Shoes sponsors the main snow park and they’ve put a lot of money into making it a world class freestyle area. They bring their international pro team every season and staging their photo shoots here, so that has definitely elevated the resort from a snowboarding perspective. Also, the terrain in the 3 Valleys is some of the best you’ll find in any ski resort worldwide, the options are almost unlimited, so it never gets boring.
What is your favourite secret snowboard spot?
For off-piste, one of my favourite runs comes off the top of the Olympic chairlift. Once you get to the top, the peak is called Roc de Fer and from there you turn right along a long ridge, then drop down into your choice of a selection of couloirs followed by open powder fields before working your way through a forested area till you end up in the tiny mountain hamlet of Le Raffort. It’s not dangerous, but as its completely off-piste and outside of the resort boundaries it’s important to go with a guide as some areas can be avalanche prone. It’s a fantastic snowboarding experience and you really feel like you’ve been on a little off-piste adventure. I usually spend the next day buzzing about it. When conditions are good, it’s mind-blowing.
Where do you snowboard in Méribel when you want to avoid the crowds?
When I want to get away from the crowds I take the lift to the top of Tougnete, and from there you can drop over the other side and take a run called Pramint which takes you down towards another little resort called St Martin de Belleville. This is great as its a wide open piste with some decent challenging sections, but most importantly, it’s very easy to avoid the crowds and conditions are usually good even in poor snow. Either side of that run there’s easily accessible off-piste, so if you aren’t an expert but want to get into some easy powder without veering too far off course, this is the ticket.
Teaching or Guiding?
We do everything: Group lessons in the mornings and then private lessons in the afternoons, alongside some specialist lessons and free-style clinics for snowboarders who want to learn some freestyle moves or work on perfecting their tricks. We like to balance the riding element of our lessons with teaching. Even if a client books us for guiding we normally end up helping them to eliminate bad habits and fine tune their technique
So where do the sunglasses come in?
For years, I’ve had in the back of mind that there’s a market for good quality inexpensive sunglasses. I kept listening to friends complain about losing yet another pair of $150 Oakley’s, or buying cheaper pairs and have them break or potentially damage their eyes. So finally, I got my act together to create good quality sunglasses with polarised lenses at affordable prices.
What makes Cab9 Eyewear a market disruptor?
Their price point combined with the quality and design. We are offering high quality, stylish polarised sunglasses at way below the rate big brands charge. Our niche is definitely from the snowboarding background and that’s really important, as it enables us to test drive our sunglasses in real life conditions. We are on the snow all the time and it’s the perfect environment as you don’t get harsher sunlight conditions than in the mountains. If they stand the conditions here, then they are definitely going to work for the beach and everyday life. We use our instructors to really test the products as they are the experts, and they also give us guidance on the design – snowboarders are pretty style conscious! All our products have polarised lenses and full UV protection – in our industry it’s vitally important to protect the eyes – and they meet or exceed all international standards.
What’s lies ahead?
We are quite young, it’s only a year and a half since we launched and next year we will intro more models, we’re also working on a snow goggle design with the same ethos we’ve applied to the sunglasses – high quality while seriously undercutting the pricing of major brands. If you knew what a pair of Oakley’s costs to actually make… let’s just say… it’s mind-blowing.
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