This ex-pro rider is a bit like Vegemite: unique, Australian, and a bit of an acquired taste.
STORY BY: Caitlin Kennedy
What’s your name and where are you from? My name’s Antony Gumbley, but my nickname’s Gumby and I’m from Manly, Sydney, Australia. I moved to Europe when I was 20 years old, came to Val at 21, and I’ve now been based here for 21 years. My first three seasons were in Thredbo from 1990 to 1992 then one in Kitzbuhel. The following year we were going to do a season in Chamonix but before leaving I got lost in Paris and I met a guy who told me to come to Val d’Isere because it’s way better than Chamonix, and he was right!
Wowzers That’s a total of 25 winter seasons! Even though I’m sure you know a lot of the town due to having lived here for so long and from your time running Big Day Out (A huge snowboard competition here in Val sponsored by XBox), Step-Up (a charity ski/snowboard event) and VSpot (a bar on the highstreet) what people might not know is that you were a professional snowboarder for nearly a decade how come you keep it so quiet? I don’t like show offs and it was my job to be a media whore back in the day. In Val there was really no need to talk about it, to be honest I found it a bit awkward to bring up – I’d rather say I was a fireman!
With three binders full of your published photos and features I guess it’s fair to say that you got recognized while you were here in Europe. How did that happen? After about 5 or 6 seasons snowboarding here a friend of mine, [Ski Sunday presenter] Ed Leigh, got sponsored by Burton. I thought hell if Ed is sponsored I should be too - we both knew I was a bit further ahead in the riding. Ed agreed we should start shooting so we did with a guy called Mark Junak. The first real photo shoot I did with him was on the Spatule and at the time I didn’t have any snowboard boots so I was wearing Caterpillar boots. It wasn’t planned but we ended up at the top of a massive cliff. Ed hit it first so I could check if there was enough snow for my Cat boots, and there was so I hit it as well. That was my first published photo.
Ha how long did you have the Caterpillar boots for? I was snowboarding in them for years until I got a job in NZ as an instructor and the only condition for the job was I had to buy real snowboarding boots!
What came next? After that we headed over to the British Championships in Saas-Fee and I came third. Afterwards I was playing pinball and a guy from Westbeach came up to me and threw me a jacket and pants.
After that I met a guy called Florent Ducasse who was a local photographer - one of the guys at the bottom of the piste who takes photos – and he’d been looking for some riders to shoot with him and our careers all started to take off at the same time. The following year I left Westbeach and got signed by Quiksilver. I think that came about partly through Michel Killy at Quiksilver here in Val d’Isere. I was really fortunate though, It was back in the day when it was still pretty easy to get sponsored as a snowboarder. I’ve never thought of myself as an incredible snowboarder, but in the 90’s if you could do a 360 or a 540, you could get sponsored so I guess I got lucky on my timing. It was an exciting time because we were taking freestyle into the back country. There were loads of pros riding here at that time and having those guys there certainly helped to move me along.
My big break was getting the Onboard magazine cover. That changed things for me. The first year I was with Quik I had a photo incentive deal where I got paid based on the number of photos of me that got published. With the tight knit snowboard scene in the UK it seemed like I was ending up in every magazine. That year on my photo deal I made more money than I ever did on a set wage. That’s when my life changed and I got a three-year deal with Quiksilver. All of a sudden I was traveling the world, riding in Alaska, living the dream. I managed to do that for about 5 to 6 years. I never got rich but it was good!
What’s been your favorite free-ride adventure? Alaska hands down, it’s so inaccessible to most people because you need a helicopter and a lot of cash just to get out there, so I was super lucky to be able get the chance to ride there on a few occasions. The snow is much more compact and sticks to the mountain better than in Europe, so when you get to the top looking at the mountain as a European it’s terrifying but it doesn’t trigger as easily. That doesn’t mean it’s not dangerous though. The last year I was in Alaska they had 44 meters of snow! A good season in Val would be around 10! From all my travels though and going to other places I realized how shit-hot Val d’Isere is, there’s no other resort with as much good, accessible off-piste.
So why did you give it all up? A couple of reasons. Age was one of them. I’d lied to my sponsors about my age when I got signed in the first place. So when they said to me: “Gumby 30, is getting a bit old to be on the team,” I was actually 35. Also I had a son and I didn’t really want to play Russian roulette with my life anymore. On my last trip to Alaska I was with a bunch of lunatics: Mathieu Crepel, Candide Thovax, Tommy Brunner, Martin Cernik; really gung-ho hard guys. We went to this new place called Haines and it was really, really steep; there was LOADS of snow, and I felt scared the whole time. I just had this horrible gut feeling that one of us was going to die. On the way back I decided I was done with it. I was thinking of my son and my missus, and I remember telling Tommy (The head freeride for Quiksilver) I just really didn’t want to die. It’s really sad because Tommy passed away in an avalanche not too long after that.
Where do you go from there, that lifestyle must be hard to beat? I knew I wanted to stay in Val and that’s when I found the venue for VSpot bar, which I started with my friend Jimmy. I decided to give running a bar a go and with a few investors in we gave it a real bash. We had the last old place in Val and though it was a hole when we got it, we got stuck in and did it up. By the time we opened you couldn’t recognize it. We had a restaurant too called the Phat Frog with a Sushi and Japanese influenced menu. Fresh, healthy, simple great flavours was our base.
Sounds awesome what happened to them both? Surely your experience with V-Spot is pretty invaluable now you’re at Cocorico? They were both really successful but unfortunately due to noise complaints and a few more political issues we were forced to shut. Now I’m at Cocorico which fits in with all my experiences so far. I liked the idea of working with Cyril and Victor, they’re very open and appreciative of the English working and bringing business to Val which, in my opinion, is pretty rare!
One of the best things in a ski resort is the après-ski! We want to push après ski in Val town as well as up on the mountain. The whole idea of après-ski works so well, you get shit faced early, you go to bed early and you get up and ride early!