As an alpine event organiser and tailor made ski travel operator, I have been challenged a few times.
On my last blog, you’ll remember, we talked about how uncool Schumacher (or indeed anyone dressed head-to-toe in Formula 1 gear) is on the slopes.
However, I firmly believe that a handful of men exist that turn this rule on its head. Men who are not only amazing at 180mph behind the wheel, but are also highly skilled on skis, both on-piste and off. Once such man is Jacques Villeneuve, son of legendary Ferrari driver Gilles Villeneuve who was killed on the F1 circuit and sent Italy into nationwide mourning.
How do I know? The answer, as always, is a rather good story.
One day, I received a phone call from Jacques’ F1 team at the time, Honda BAR. They wanted to do a film shoot of Jacques showing his love of speed both on the track and on the mountains. My job? To take care of the mountain bit. The film shoot was later used to promote both the team and their main sponsors, Lucky Strike. (See the video at end of blog). The shoot would take place in Courmayeur in a remote location – just Jacques, tearing it down the mountain, a big blue sky and lots of speed.
Now, I have had a few challenges in my time as an event organiser, but this one was the biggest yet. First, I’d have to deal with Jacques’ agent and dietary requirements.
I had set up a lunch at the legendary Maison Vieille. A private room was arranged to ensure the party would enjoy the Maison’s famous menu in style. But Jacques didn’t want anything on the menu, his agent said. Jacques only eats Caesar salad, steak and chips, a selection of chocolate bars and Badoit mineral water.
Of course, no-one had heard of Caesar salad in Courmayeur, and we didn’t have Badoit. Badoit is a French product, so I sent my guys to Chamonix to buy a case and gave Chef Giacomo the salad recipe. No harm, no foul.
Jacques, who was busy dating Danni Minogue in Belgium, was three hours late. Rather than arriving first time in the morning in his chopper, he arrived at lunchtime. Snow conditions for the pre-agreed filming location (which had needed a three-day recce) had changed and were no longer safe. Lunch was cancelled – he had a contractual obligation to complete the shoot, after all.
Sorry I am late!
Logistics become incredibly complicated when I find out last minute the film director second from right has never skied!
Off I went to beg the Courmayeur lift company to close off a whole ski slope so we could film with no crowds. Strings were pulled and with some effort, that was done.
Naturally, the French film director – who was from Cannes – couldn’t ski. Off I went to find him a snowmobile and driver to take him up and down. Snowmobiles are not allowed on slopes during lift operation hours for safety reasons, but strings were pulled and it was done.
Same F1 helmet
Jacques skiing beautifully with Mont Blanc in the back ground
If you look carefully on the right you can see three dots. That’s me and the photographer who feature in the film much to the film director’s rage. I think we did a really good job keeping the entire Youla piste closed for JV.
The cameraman was a god send
Thankfully, the shoot – when it eventually took place – was a great success. That is, if you don’t count the heart-in-mouth moment I experienced when one of the two bottles of Badoit fell out of my rucksack. You can imagine what it was like to try and stop it as the tiny bottle of French mountain water hurtling down the mountain. Life and death stuff.
With the ordeal finally over, we had a quick bite to eat. As I tucked into a well-earned bowl of pasta, Jacques asked what I was eating.
“I’ll have the same!” he declared, as he took a slug from a tall glass of San Pellegrino. Strangely, his agent was nowhere to be seen…
Takumo Sato, JV’s co-driver who had never been on snow before came along.
We had him snowboarding in no time
Upon his request Takumo has a bowl of fresh mixed seafood pasta in Maison Vieille.