Interview: Skiing Off The Matterhorn With Matthias Giraud
By johnclarydavies | September 30th, 2011
September 30, 2011
— John Clary Davies
Matthias Giraud wants the "trilogy" of European ski-BASE first descents. The Frenchman, also known as "Super Frenchie," ticked off Switzerland’s Mount Eiger in May 2010. Then, in March, in what he called the gnarliest ski-BASE of his life, Giraud jumped off the Matterhorn. To complete the hat trick, Giraud will look to boost Grandes Jorasses, in France’s Mont Blanc Massif.
“The Matterhorn was trickier than the Eiger,” he said, “but Jorasses is trickier than the Matterhorn.”
If being the first to ski-BASE the 14,692-foot Matterhorn wasn’t dramatic enough, Giraud lost a ski as he went off the diving board. Luckily, he had the wits to turn his momentum into a front flip and float away. Giraud checked in with Tetongravity.com to give his account of the Matterhorn epic. Giraud, calling from his honeymoon in Maui, had just taken another leap. On Sept. 26, during a Hawaiian sunset, he married. After the ceremony, he and his wife took off their clothes and jumped into the ocean.
Last year I was on trip in Europe and the conditions were good and my team manager said, “Can you be in Switzerland tomorrow? I have a heli on the Eiger and you can do a descent. It might work for ski-BASE.” Sure, I’ll be there. Next thing you know, I’m standing on top. It was a pretty rowdy first descent, I wasn’t really ready for it.
When I landed the Eiger, I started working on the Matterhorn. It’s maybe a little rowdy, but it could work. I started doing my homework on it. Next thing I knew, I had the best guys to get on this, and I can see it’s pretty gnarly. I think there’s only one way down.
Did you see video of the avalanche as we ski based? That was my warm up run.
“Can you get here tonight because it’s going to be perfect. We have to take the helicopter because it’s a short window.” The snow was holding, it was pretty rocky, but the next thing you know, I’m in a helicopter flying toward a huge mountain.
When we showed up, it was too steep and really tight, so you can’t land, but they can lower you down with a winch if you want. For sure. We jury rigged a harness.
There’s one diving board there and it’s east facing and really high. There are a lot of rocks but snow sticks to that stuff. I was thinking about building a kicker, but that would damage the in-run more than anything else. I kind of just had to ski it the way it was.
What I didn’t realize was that the snow on that diving board was a little lighter than on the face, so I came in super fast. I skied exactly where I wanted to be, and when I landed on the diving board I sunk in six inches.
My ski hit that rock right when I hit the diving board. The motion was going to throw me forward. The worst-case scenario for ski basing is if you lose a ski. Normally, you should be dead. There’s not really any way to get out of it. I just realized I had to go with the inertia, the motion and try to control it into a flip. I went out into a big front-flip and dived over those rocks. It was definitely a crisis situation.
I hit the rock and I remember thinking oh this is not happening, you’re not going to die like that, this is not happening. It was the closest call I’ve ever had. I can’t believe that I’m alive.
And you know, I remember telling myself before dropping in, “You’re on the Matterhorn. Conditions are fairly good. Five hundred people have died on that. It all seems too easy; something’s going to happen.” I prepared for the worst. I’m glad I did, because I had the mindset to get out of it. On the ride back to France that night I had goosebumps for two hours. I was so tired I just passed out in car.
It definitely created two kinds of reactions. Some said it was stupid; it’s a thing they’ll never understand. Some kind of admired it. I understand both sides of the way people look at it. At the same time, you are trying to explore new lines. Ski-BASE jumping is not just BASE jumping. It’s a tool to ski mountains you couldn’t ski otherwise. It’s like the big wave surfing of skiing. They use jet skis to get towed in to surf these waves. We use parachutes to ski things we couldn’t get out of. It ‘s how you reach new heights and new goals.
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