When Cham’s famous Midi tram was shut down this year, Shaffer headed up anyway, opting for the long route from the Italian side.
Michael “Bird” Shaffer grew up at the end of the road in a commune. The families there bonded with each other through nature, instilling their values and learning what it was to be a community. Of course, the mountains quickly drew Shaffer in, and he experienced the freedom of sliding early on by following the big kids around on hand-me-down skis.
Skiing became his compass needle and gave him direction, opening the door to see the world differently. It was out there that he connected with like-minded people who became his global mountain community.
Shaffer says: "Alone on my skis, with my wing, I can hear the mountain speak. My mind quiets and I feel what’s right for me. The mountains are a pure resource of energy."
These days, he splits his time between Chamonix and Washington, taking advantage of the unique types of terrain each offer to pursue his passion of flight. TGR caught up with Shaffer after this year’s record season in the French Alps, and he shared some of his favorite moments.
TGR: What's the draw to Chamonix, how long have you been there, what are some of your favorite zones?
Shaffer: Chamonix is the end of the road for the mountain freaks. You can be yourself and go as far as you want, finding your own boundaries. The initial draw for me were the mountains, which speak for themselves.
But, its my weird-ass super friends who share in the experience that keep me coming back year after year.
I first went to Chamonix in 1997 and have been drawn back ever since.
I spend most of my time up Mama Midi, the Aiguille du Midi, she’s our beacon that draws us up into a living alpine world full of possibility.
TGR: The speedriding scene out there is pretty nuts, where'd you pick it up?
Shaffer: In 2002 I first saw guys coming down the Grand Montet, flying and touching down. It looked so damn free and otherworldly. Shortly thereafter, I experienced my first tandem paraglide experience from one of the masters in Cham. I knew then that this flying thing was for me. Home in Washington, I learned the basics of paragliding, and quickly transitioned to speed flying.
TGR: What's special about speedriding to you?
Shaffer: Speed riding is an extension of skiing that allows me to be even more free.
The speed with control is such a positive feeling. I can make turns in places that on skis alone held little possibility. In the last few years I have been using the wing as a tool, skiing faces and wild places to their terminus end above cliffs, ice, or nasty moraines, and exiting with my wing, keeping the flow going all the way down.
TGR: Can you tell us a little more about the Midi tram, why it's so important to skiing there, and what happened this year?
Shaffer: The Aiguille du Midi tram delivers you from the valley up 9000 feet into massive mountains and glaciated peaks. Most people just ride up to catch the view, and for a skier it delivers you into a realm where you can ski a life changing run on any given day.
I was up there that day when the cable to the top station almost broke. Where it was spliced was coming apart, and suddenly our access to the runs we had been waiting for was cut off.
TGR: With all the snow, this season in Cham saw some wild lines being skied, tell us about some other gnar!
Shaffer: Many incredible things were being skied. Not only was it prime conditions, but my friends keep growing with imagination and skill, ticking off lines that to most would be invisible.
TGR: What's the summer looking like for you, more skiing?
Shaffer: There is always skiing to be done in Washington, especially if you want to walk a long way. Last week, I got off Mount Baker skiing 6,000 feet of vert of pretty damn good snow.
It’s time to take a little break, work my job as a wildland firefighter, which grounds me, re-connecting me to my home community, and laying the financial foundation. Plus, I have to get on with my proposals for next year. I’m dreaming big about some zones, and with my forward-thinking partners. I can make some far out plans and have them backing me to ski and fly the dream!