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Xavier de Le Rue: Snowboard 'addict' cheats death

By Chris Murphy and Olivia Yasukawa, CNN
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 1259 GMT (2059 HKT)
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France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
France's daredevil snowboarder
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Xavier de Le Rue is a boardercross snowboard world champion from France
  • De Le Rue survived a near-fatal avalanche but says it galvanized his love of sport
  • The 34-year-old narrowly missed out on a spot in the French Winter Olympics team
  • He also tackles big-mountain challenges, including a trip to Antarctica

CNN's Human to Hero series celebrates inspiration and achievement in sport. Click here for times, videos and features.

(CNN) -- Only in the extreme world of big-mountain snowboarding could someone cheat death in an avalanche and realize it had reaffirmed their love of the powder.

But perhaps it isn't surprising when Xavier de Le Rue describes his relationship with nature as a need, or a drug.

It is also a synergy that provides solace in the wake of bitter disappointment, such as finding out your Winter Olympics dream is finally over.

"This huge avalanche took me 2 km down the mountain," the Frenchman tells CNN's Human to Hero series of the moment he feared nature had finally beaten him.

"It was one of these perfect days and you forget that in a split second, things can change radically and then, suddenly the whole mountain broke around me.

"It is a miracle that I survived because I was lying on top of six meters of snow, completely broken with blood coming out of every hole in my body and completely unconscious."

Unsurprisingly, that near-death experience six years ago launched a wave of introspection.

"I asked myself for months whether I should keep going or not, whether what I was doing was stupid," the 34-year-old says.

"I realized that I loved it even more than I thought and but I've always had these rules in my head to be more scared about everything all the time, but at the same time being a lot more focused.

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"I think that right now, if I am freaked out about safety I will do no compromise. If I don't feel something, I'll just go back home."

De Le Rue's discipline is boardercross -- essentially, a race from the top of a mountain to the bottom between a clutch of snowboarders.

He is a four-time world champion, a three-time winner of the overall World Cup title and has three X-Games gold medals to his name.

The only thing missing from his portfolio of prizes is an Olympic medal, having fallen short in 2006 and in 2010.

This particular dream is destined go unfulfilled -- after dedicating the past year of his life to making next month's Sochi Games, a mix-up over qualification points saw him fall short of the benchmark.

"It was really disappointing to get the news as this was going to be the end of my boardercross career," he explains.

"After four world champion titles, three X-Games medals and three crystal globes, it would have been an amazing way to leave the sport, but it has been a hell of a lot more brutal.

"The good thing about everything is that my true place in snowboarding, as well as my heart, is in the high mountains riding powder. I am more fit than ever, and I guess this blowup is a great way to start from scratch.

"I feel a lot lighter in a way, with no pressure. All that energy I have been gathering really makes me look towards my future adventures."

There are plenty more to come.

Snowboarding is what has taken me to the most glorious times of my life but also to the worst times of my life
Xavier De le Rue, snowboarder

Chief among them is continuing production on his own films, with expeditions to Spitsbergen, in Norway, and Alaska scheduled, as well as a commentary stint in Sochi.

Watch de Le Rue's 'Mission Antarctic'

It is clear this connection de Le Rue feels with the mountains is not something that can easily be shaken.

"Snowboarding is many things for me but most of all, snowboarding is what shapes my life in a way," he says. "Snowboarding is what has taught me to know myself.

"Snowboarding is what has taken me to the most glorious times of my life but also to the worst times of my life.

"I think it's just my own tool to experience life, to push myself, to know my limits, to maybe go over my limits sometimes and to be a happy and fulfilled human being.

See de Le Rue take on the planet's steepest peaks

"If I'm in a big city for a while, I start to feel nervous and I know that I need to go back somewhere where there is nothing, where I can touch a tree or a rock or something and then I feel better."

De Le Rue thrives on the thrill of competition -- he describes boardercross as like "motocross" on the snow, as six people battle over a course filled with jumps and obstacles to reach the foot.

But he is just as happy in splendid, snowy isolation on top of a mountain.

"You see those big mountains that are far away and so unreachable," he says.

"Ever since I started snowboarding and skiing, I looked at them and dreamed of getting up there and being up there on my own and even riding them. Yeah, the dream came true.

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"I think if I had to describe one feeling that really stands out above everything; it's the one moment when you're at the top of the mountain, ready to drop in.

"You're on your own, you're far from everything, and you're in a really strong element.

"It's amazingly beautiful and there's something that happens in your head, it's like time doesn't matter anymore. Your daily problems just vanish and it's indescribable."

Born in the Pyrenees, De Le Rue started skiing at the tender age of two.

His four brothers and sisters also took the slopes at a young age, and his brother Paul-Henri looks set to make the French team for Sochi.

But though a medal at the Games was his final wish on the competitive side of the sport, he believes boardercross has evolved into a discipline that has maybe pushed the boundaries too far.

"I think now that the sport has changed," he says. "The young guys are hungry and they're willing to win at any price.

"I'm going to sound like an old wise man but I miss the good old times where we used to respect lines, where we used to have a gentleman's code.

"Right now, it's just full battle with no rules, in a way."

But even if de Le Rue's boardercross days are over, there is plenty more big mountain snowboarding to be done.

"It's a way of kind of getting a bit of control over the mountains but still being humble, asking permission in a way to access it and to ride it and to get this huge immense pride and happiness at the bottom," he explained.

"Everything is recorded in your head and you just go into automatic mode. You're just in a sort of bubble and you don't feel anything, you're just like an animal.

"Once you've gone through all the hard bits and you're straight-lining down towards the end, you get this fire exploding inside you."

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