The Loveskiing Team caught up with ski BASE jumping legend Matthias Giraud to find out some more information about this heart in mouth death defying sport. Matthias grew up skiing at Megeve in France. Matthias started out as a competitive ski racer, before moving into the dynamic world of freeskiing which lead to where Matthias is best known – Big Mountain Skiing combined with BASE Jumping! Matthias’ first well published jump was Mississippi Head on Mt Hood, Oregon. Matthias holds several “first ski” achievements, one of which is the ski and BASE jump of the fearsome Matterhorn, Switzerland, which you can see in the video lower down.
Ski BASE jumping is the combination of skiing and BASE jumping as the name indicates it. It has been around for a long time since the first jump ever made was by Rick Sylvester for the James Bond movie “The Spy Whole Loved me” in the late 70s.
But, the sport didn’t turn into an established discipline until Shane McConkey started combining his BASE jumping experience with his big mountain skiing ability.
Shane evolved very quickly as a ski BASE jumper and took the sport into a different direction by adding a wingsuit to it. He pioneered the combination of 3 sports together – skiing, BASE jumping and wingsuit flying. He unfortunately passed away while ski BASE jumping in the Italian Dolomites on March 26th, 2009.
Evolution of the sport:
Shane’s death was very traumatic for the ski community and most people in the ski industry started criticizing ski BASE jumping which I found incredibly disrespectful towards Shane.
He started a legacy and it is our duty to continue what he started to bring skiing to the next level. It is the opportunity for big mountain skiing to become more than it will ever be by being able to ski a closed out face full throttle. It allows us to charge down mountains that are a complete dead end and turn a non-survivable descent into a new playground.
I would even go as far as saying it allows us to ski mountains the way they are supposed to be skied instead of stopping mid-way to get picked up by a heli, rappelling down, or climbing back up.
Most of the ski BASE jumpers that are active approach the sport as a BASE jump more than a ski descent. In other words, they ski a short ramp to a big cliff.
What I am interested in is the heart and soul of ski BASE jumping by applying my BASE jumping skills as a tool for skiing bigger and more exposed mountains. I want to ski full mountains that couldn’t be skied otherwise. There is something incredibly exciting and peaceful about offering yourself fully to the Mountain and face its magnificence full on and when you add to it the anticipation of skiing a full face first before flying off a massive cliff… it becomes something completely indescribable.
It is the big wave surfing of skiing. Big wave surfers use a jet ski to catch waves that are too big to paddle into. I use a parachute to ski mountains that have cliffs too big to survive.
I grew up skiing in the Megeve area in France and grew up listening to my father’s parachuting stories from the French commandos. I always had a spirit of adventure. The first BASE jumping and big mountain skiing images I saw were in the movie “Pushing The Limits” at the age of 9.
The characters in this movie became the definition of what a man is. My parents didn’t understand it or chose not too. From there on, I decided to live by my own standards and develop my own criteria of manhood and success. I realized that you become a man when you are true to yourself and have the courage to follow your bliss.
I knew I belonged to this world of mountain and air sports where the rules are simple. You either have a spirit of adventure or you don’t. You either have an instinct of survival or you don’t. You are either a “hunter” or a “gatherer”. I knew I was a mountain man born to hunt mountains and my skis and parachute became my bow and arrow.
I acquired my skiing skills through ski racing and then evolved towards derbies, skier cross, big air and park skiing and finally big mountain competitions. But, organized competitions were meaningless for me. I was in search for something different – a quest to ski challenging mountains with big exposure, not skiing for judges.
Joy, Fear, Focus:
My personal evolution as a skier became a search for focus. Focus comes from finding balance between joy and fear and you cannot find those elements in a safe environment.
The most inspiring setting for pursuing my quest was skiing big mountains. The focus that you find when are skiing a couloir or a mountain that is a dead end gives skiing a new meaning. You can truly enjoy every turn your make as you are flying on snow. It’s not the time to be fancy, ski switch or bust out some tricks. It is the time to survive.
When your joy takes over your fear, you become complacent. If your fear overpowers your joy, your instinct of survival cannot be trusted. Therefore, complacency or lack of survival instinct will most likely kill you. The balance between the two is the search for focus to reach the achievement of skiing deadly mountains.
Parachute assisted big mountain skiing brings the most intense focus you will ever experience. The feelings that come with knowing that a monster is waiting for you at the bottom are powerful and way beyond any existential fear. All of the sudden, everything makes sense and life is crisp. And, the feeling of achievement that arises after a descent is the most powerful thing I have every experienced.
Skiing monsters requires a lot of preparation and equipment. It starts with evaluating the angles of the slope you want to ski, the snow conditions and avalanche danger, the possible outruns and safe areas to avoid a potential slide, the wind conditions, the size of the cliff that the end of the run, the angle of the cliff and potential ledges, the altitude and air density that will impact the parachute pressurization and of course the landing area.
I generally use satellite images to calculate the elevation, length of the face and size of the cliff. If I can access the cliff first from the bottom or the top, I measure its exact height with a range finder or by dropping rocks to calculate the freefall time.
Inspection and maintenance of your gear is also crucial from how sharp your edges are (especially in the Alps where the snow can be tricky) to setting your din on your bindings and finally packing your parachute properly based on the height of the object.
I also try to use skis fat enough to power through the crud but skinny enough to ski the steeps. You also don’t want too fat because it could affect your balance in the air. When you are falling for a couple hundred feet, the air could grab your skis and flip you upside-down which could be deadly if you get tangled in your parachute.
I generally like around 105 under foot and the Atomic Coax 192 is a perfect tool. I also started making my own bamboo poles with cork grips to avoid littering and leaving metal poles in the mountains.
Some projects can be tricky when you also have to carry skins, crampons, ice axes etc. It can be a logistical nightmare!
Favorite Location, Goals and Objectives:
My favorite descent so far is the Aiguille Croche in Megeve France. This face had never been skied before and having the honor to be the first person to ski it was amazing especially since it is located at my home resort! The second time I skied it though was probably even better than the first since we had a perfect day and a huge avalanche on our tail!
There are several lines I want to ski though mainly around the Northwest of the United-States, the French and Swiss Alps but there is also a lot to be done on the Italian side. I am looking at South America and the Himalayas as well.
Skiing with a parachute has opened so many more mountains around the world. The list is endless when you have the courage to look at mountains with a different eye.
How to get Involved:
If you want to become a big mountain skier, you should probably start with ski racing. Hitting gates can be very boring but there are a lot of skiers out there that rely too much on courage and confidence who lack technical skills. You should also force yourself to ski any type of conditions as fast and as clean as possible, which will teach you how to handle tricky terrain and manage your speed well. If you are not an A+ skier, don’t even consider skiing big mountains, it will either hold you back or be a disaster waiting to happen. Versatility is a key ingredient in your success as a skier and also increases your survival skills. Don’t get in over your head but also listen to your mind and your body. Nobody can set boundaries for you except the mountains themselves.
If you want to start BASE jumping, you should get some formal training by getting your skydiving license and getting around 100 skydives. Once you have a hundred jumps, find a mentor to teach you how to BASE jump and get about 100 BASE jumps before considering ski BASE jumping. It might sound like a lot but it will help you out in the long run. Also, you want to jump a variety of objects and be as versatile in BASE jumping as you are in skiing.
Finally, once you have the necessary skiing and BASE jumping experience, you will have a good understanding of what skiing and BASE jumping requires. All you have to do is find a proper cliff to ski BASE jump and give it a go! But, like Shane always said “don’t die”!