Jean-Pierre Roy puts Haiti on the ski map (News Feature)

By John Bagratuni Feb 14, 2011, 13:13 GMT

Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany - Haitian grandfather Jean- Pierre Roy is leading a celebrity life at his first skiing world championships.

Here a photo-op with Italian Christof Innerhofer and his super-g gold and downhill bronze medals, there words of encouragement from American stars Lindsey Vonn and Bode Miller, or an autographed poster from Swissski beauty Dominique Gisin.

'For Haiti, all the best,' wrote Gisin on the poster which shows her in a revealing outfit with a new ski boot model.

Gisin also drew a smiley on the poster, and that's what Roy has been doing most of the time in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, smiling and hugging the spotlight as the first skier from Haiti at the worlds.

'It is incredible, amazing, a dream,' he tells German Press Agency dpa during a function of a French ski manufacturer.

Skiing worlds have long had an exotic flair through athletes from Ireland, Argentina, Mexico, and, most notably, Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah-Acheampong aka the Snow Leopard.

Now comes Roy, a 47-year-old grandfather who fled Haiti at the age of two with his family, runs a small IT business outside Paris and readily admits that he is more of a free skier than a ski racer.

But he is on a mission after visiting his nation in October - raising attention and funds for a country still battered by the multiple aftereffects of a devastating earthquake in January 2010.

'It is a dream for Haiti. I have spoken to Lindsey, Bode and others, they all encourage me. All the people are very sensitive to the issue Haiti,' he says.

Roy says that he has already gained some attention in Haiti as well, where newspapers are reporting on him.

'We hope that what we do will give a good view of Haiti. Maybe we can help them have an idol,' says Thierry Montillet.

Montillet is Roy's friend, coach, serviceman and manager. They met four years ago as members of a Paris-based ski club.

In order to compete in Garmisch, Roy first had to found a ski federation. That happened on November 6, 2010, and he now doubles up as Federation Haitienne De Ski (FHS) president and its only racer.

The FHS visiting card shows a skier passing a palm tree, very fitting for the Caribbean nation where snow is virtually unheard of.

Roy gained the necessary points to compete in Garmisch at FIS races in France, his best result being 25th (and last) in a slalom in Val Thorens - more than a minute behind the 24th-place finisher.

At the worlds, Roy is set to compete in the qualifying races for giant slalom Thursday and slalom Saturday. Whether or not he will make it into the main draw is open.

'It depends on the other racers,' he says.

Montillet is not so sure whether successful qualification is really a good idea. While qualifying takes place on the relatively easy Hausberg hill, the races are on other steep and icy slopes.

'Jean-Pierre is a good skier, he can go fast. But in a race you have to go where they want you to go (through the gates). Ice and steep slopes are very difficult for him. If he passes through qualifying he has only 24 hours to get ready for it,' Montillet tells dpa.

'The day before a race he won't talk. It was the same in Val Thorens. He became very quiet, fell on the inspection and didn't want to race.'

He adds: 'You need to be crazy to do it. I wonder why he is doing it. He has a family.'

The answer is of course Haiti, and there is a certain pride among the two men as they get ready for competition on the world stage.

'Everybody told us it is impossible. But now it is no more a dream. It is reality,' Montillet says.

If Roy has his way, Garmisch is not a one-off PR stunt. While probably not competing himself, Roy hopes to attract sponsors to have more skiers of his nation compete at the Sochi Olympics in 2014.

'I would like to set up a ski team for Sochi,' Roy says after sneaking away for a minute or two for the photos with Innerhofer and his medals.