How do you assess the chances of a snowslide occurring? What do you do if you get caught an avalanche? How can you ride down such steep mountains knowing that a snowslide could happen at any moment? What equipment and knowledge are recommended for this kind of feat?
Have a read through our interview with the friendly Swiss skier to find the answers to these questions. We’re very much looking forward Jérémie Heitz’s next freeski film!
Interview with Jérémie Heitz
Keller Sports: Jérémie, you were only young when you first started out in the Freeride World Tour yet you’ve been considered one of the best freeriders in the world from the beginning. How did you get into this sport?
Jérémie Heitz: It was (and still is) a natural progression. This sport brings me to new terrains every year!
Keller Sports: After the 2016 FWT, you withdrew from the competitive side of things and started focusing more on your personal projects. Why did you decide to do that? What was it about the film projects that you found so interesting?
Jérémie Heitz: From the beginning, I always told myself “Living off film projects would be a dream”. Competing gave me the chance to work on my first project and, with hard work and a little luck, it all turned out fine.
Filming is very different from competing - you go wherever you want to tell a story that matters to you. A simple approach to a simple sport. Keller Sports: A few years ago you turned the ski scene upside down with your La Liste freeskiing project. It featured some breathtaking rides down the steepest yet most beautiful slopes in the Alps. How would you describe the project in short?
Jérémie Heitz: An old dream come true: skiing the most beautiful peaks of the Alps was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Keller Sports: Now you’re planning your next project, which remains a secret. Part of it is supposed to be the completion of La Liste. Due to bad weather conditions, you haven’t been able to tackle four of the 15 featured mountains yet. Do you think you’ll succeed in conquering the Matterhorn this time?
Jérémie Heitz: It would be so cool to ski this mountain the way I’ve planned it. I hope that, when the time comes, I manage it, but for now I’m focussing on the next project, skiing down some sixthousanders. Keller Sports: Now that we’re on the subject of conditions, what role would you say they play? How do you incorporate the conditions into risk assessment?
Jérémie Heitz: The conditions are everything, especially for steep skiing. They’re a huge part of the risk assessment.
Keller Sports: How do you prepare for rides down slopes that could be as steep as 60°? What factors matter most?
Jérémie Heitz: It’s a long process. I’ve always said that it’s been part of my development as a skier. I was born in the mountains, where I could ski every day. It helps so much when you can build up experience in a sport from a very early age. To ride these slopes, you need to know yourself pretty well, be able to predict good timing with regards to conditions, and have plenty of alpinism experience. Keller Sports: Even when you’re well prepared, things can always go wrong. How do you deal with that thought?
Jérémie Heitz: I acknowledge that it’s part of my passion. The reason I give this sport my all is to keep unexpected dangers to a minimum.
Keller Sports: Have you ever been in danger during a descent? On the kinds of slopes you ride, you’re at high risk of avalanches and accidents. Has anything like that ever happened?
Jérémie Heitz: Yes, it’s happened before and I know that it’ll happen again. The good thing is that the more time you spend on your skis, the more experience you gather - and these unexpected experiences are part of the learning process.
We skiers are travelling into an unpredictable and wild environment where you need to be respectful and really careful and you need to learn how to move in that terrain. Keller Sports: What makes you a freeski pioneer is the way you ride the mountains: extreme speeds, very few turns and fluid lines. What role does equipment play? Do you think you could manage what you do today using outdated equipment?
Jérémie Heitz: The equipment you choose is really important, it’s a prerequisite for skiing these mountains with fluidity. My skis are 190 cm long, 115 mm underfoot and pretty heavy.
The boots I use are practically the same as alpine ski boots because they need to be stiff and deliver precision. They don’t come with a walk mode. I’m very careful with the weight and quality of the rest of my equipment - it’s probably why I decided to work with Swiss brands like Mammut. Keller Sports: As mentioned above, there’s always a risk of avalanches when you’re freeskiing. What do you do if you get caught in a snowslide?
Jérémie Heitz: In case of a snowslide, speed is your friend! :) But it’s hard to say what you should do, as every avalanche is different. The best thing would be to avoid the risk altogether. Nowadays, we’re lucky enough to ski with really advanced products like DVAs (avalanche beacons) and airbags - these tools can really save your life if you know how to use them. Keller Sports: Mammut, one of your sponsors, has recently launched a new avalanche beacon. How does it work? Is it an important thing to have on you?
Jérémie Heitz: This tool (the Mammut Barryvox) is impressive, much faster and more direct than the old one; these factors are key, as time is of the essence during a rescue. The brand has also made the tool easier to use. After a little training, everybody is able to use it quickly and intuitively.
Keller Sports: Apart from an avalanche beacon, what other equipment would you recommend to all freeskiers?
Jérémie Heitz: I would highly recommend having an airbag, a shovel and a probe - and the most important thing is to be able to use it all. Do not hesitate to take part in some avalanche safety courses, all mountain guide offices and ski schools provide this service.
Keller Sports: Jérémie, thank you for your time! We’re looking forward to your future projects and wish you the best of luck and fun while pursuing your passion!