Heading for Japan and its powder snow to ease himself back into its pleasures having broken both heels two years ago, the freerider was back on the right track, the one which will lead to Alaska at the end of the season. In his luggage was half a century of Lange expertise to put him at his ease so he could be at one with his boots and with his aim to get back to skiing, pleasure and living.
13 January 2017. Paris. Charles de Gaulle Airport.
As he took off towards his potential and much hoped-for resurrection, Rich’ was experiencing an intense desire to ride, excitement tinged with fear. The almost miraculous comeback was achieved one step at a time almost a year to the day after his serious skiing accident.
On 24 January 2016, Richard’s calcaneal bones (heels) literally exploded. After a blank season, the first in 15 years, he had been feeling very low for several long months. After a major operation to fit three screws in each heel and two months in a wheelchair, came seven months of rehabilitation. He had to grit his teeth as on coming out of hospital he refused medication.
Boot Capsule - The work on Richard’s boots began long before this trip to Japan. It took months of testing to adapt the boots to his pain and calcination-swollen heels, so that when he put them on, he regained that intoxicating mixture of power and accuracy in his lines, creating “a feeling of comfort, the impression of wearing slippers”.
For the skier, this collaboration was a way of reaching maturity, “no longer being just a ski consumer, but knowing exactly what I have under my feet and playing a part in it – seeing things as those who now support me see them.”
Carrying on regardless of the injury without all the drugs which pollute the body and mind was one more challenge. Then, like a rebirth, the sap started to rise in his thighs to rekindle his desire to ride and to jump. However, hard snow was not an option so the conditions in Japan were to enable him to ski again without concern. He had to find powder snow to be able to land without causing himself further suffering straightaway. In his luggage were mountains of doubt and a pair of lightweight boots made for his convalescent feet, prepared with him and for him.
16 January 2017
In Hakuba on Honschu, the North Island, on his fourth trip to the Land of the Rising Sun, Richard found what he had been looking for. The fresh snow attained even more Dantesque volumes than usual. It was to be his best trip there - ten blessed days circling round Hakuba, disappearing in unsullied wreaths of spray, drowning to feel alive, having never seen anything like it and finally feeling the pleasure overriding the pain he had learned to live with every day and which had become familiar. This was a relief coupled with a strange feeling of skiing better, infinitely better than he could walk and a hundred times better than he could run. It was the only activity that he could do with 80% of his capacity. As soon as he took his boots off, he started limping again!
20 January 2017
The Buddhist Temple in Nagano
He went to Japan to ride, but not just to ride. He went to say hello to the snow monkeys in the thermal baths, to meditate in the calm of the temple in Nagano, to spend the whole night at the Fire Festival. It was a break after all those years on tour - a break to imbibe and imprint these feelings, to carve out the route. Thinking that it was curious and daring to have a pair of boots made in order to start skiing again when he had lost his bearings at the time of the injury, it was a jump into the unknown.
He had been told his penance would last two long years. It did not even take a year. In the calm and serenity of the temple, Richard repeatedly replayed his smooth landings in the light snow, the most magical he had ever ridden on. Sometimes at the end of the day “it felt a little tight”. And he has an amusing memory of the ski resort of Tsugaike (Nagano), one of the rare resorts where freeride is officially allowed and where he had to prove his ability by taking a lesson, wearing an armband.
24 January 2017
Tokyo Haneda Airport
It was already time to leave. Japan was only one stage on the road and there was still a long way to go with numerous demanding objectives and the ultimate ambition of ending the season in Alaska, the Holy Grail, because there was nothing more exhilarating than being Richard Permin again, stronger, more flexible and lighter, without even feeling his feet. He was at one with his boots, at one with his goal.