My Perfect Adventure: Matthias Giraud

The record-setting ski-BASE jumper tells us that defying death helps him appreciate life, why his perfect day would involve a lot of air time, and how excited he is to meet his firstborn

Matthias Giraud.     Photo: Courtesy of PVS Company

Matthias Giraud.

Matthias Giraud was the first person to ski-BASE jump off Mount Hood. Matthias Giraud’s first ski-BASE jump ever was off Mount Hood.

It’s this brand of all-out living that drew him toward what many call the world’s most dangerous sport. Really, as Giraud describes it, it’s two sports: extreme downhill skiing—and then, when the mountain ends in sheer cliff, BASE jumping. Freefalling, that is, until, ideally, a parachute whips open to slow the way down.

Giraud, 29, started skiing when he was just an infant and became a pro skier before he got into launching himself off the slopes. Besides Mount Hood, his first descents include the Matterhorn in Switzerland, Telluride’s Ingram and Ajax peaks, and France’s Aiguille Croche, where he purposely skimmed an avalanche (the goosebump-inducing headcam video is here).

“Super Frenchie,” as Giraud is known, was born in France and lives in Portland, Oregon, but feels a blood tie to Indonesia and a lust for Iceland. In this interview, he’s just as all over the map, touching on everything from the time he ate whale—and liked it—to expounding on why having a passion is so critical. He also extends a heartfelt lunch invitation to Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Describe your perfect day, from dawn 'til dusk. Where would you be, who would you meet, and what would you do?
My perfect day would start at the Eiger in Switzerland. I’d be standing on the peak in my wingsuit for an early-morning flight with a friend. After giving each other a high-five and a “3, 2, 1, C ya,” we’d both push off and start falling like rocks until our suits started kicking in and flying us toward the valley below, all while buzzing the rock face.

After landing, we’d change into our ski gear and drive straight to Megève, my home mountain, to catch the last chairlift to the top. We’d climb out of bounds for an hour until we got to the top of the Aiguille Croche’s cirque. As the alpenglow set, I’d drop into the peak’s unforgiving face and ski down the mountain in the bright-orange evening light. My friend Stefan Laude would be chasing me down with his speed-flying canopy [a small, high-performance paraglider]. Suddenly, we’d both go airborne off the 600-foot cliff at the bottom of the mountain. I’d pull my parachute and float safely down to land.

We’d wrap up our gear, ski to the nearest tavern, and enjoy a nice cold beer right in front of the deadly mountain that we just turned into our playground. I would then meet my wife at Le Flocons de Sel for an unforgettable three-Michelin-star dinner before strolling the streets of Megève, the most beautiful town in the Alps.

If you could travel somewhere you've never been, where would you go?
Indonesia. My grandfather was from the Netherlands and lived in Indonesia when it was a Dutch colony. He worked for the government there but had to leave before the Japanese invasion. So I grew up around Indonesian culture, and my oldest sister lived in Jakarta for a little while. I’m really looking forward to going there someday and discovering some of what I feel are my roots. I’d love to surf there too. 

Where is the best place you've ever visited?
Iceland is the best place I have ever visited. I could live there—I must have some Viking blood. It’s the ultimate land of opportunity for a modern adventurer. I’ve gone heli-skiing on the Troll peninsula, BASE jumping all over the southern part of the island, wingsuit flying over a volcano, and had an incredible surf session there this fall. It is the ultimate happy land but is also extremely unforgiving. Rogue waves regularly sweep people off the black-sand beaches, volcanoes can erupt anytime, there are glacier crevasses, icebergs, massive waterfalls, geysers, unpredictable winds, and, of course, the legendary killer sheep. Anything can kill you in Iceland. Even the food is intense—we were served whale steak for dinner. It was surprisingly delicious.

If you could have lunch with any athlete or adventurer, who would it be?
Without a doubt, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Being an immigrant in America gives me deep respect for his success story. I find him incredibly inspiring. I’m a very passionate and ambitious person but his drive and energy are on a whole other level. It would be an honor to meet him, so, Arnold: If you’re reading this, let’s meet up for lunch.

What’s something you can’t travel without?
My GoPro Hero 3. There’s always something to film out there or snap a picture of and GoPro perspectives make everything look radical. I used it during my wedding in Maui in front of a breathtaking sunset, while skiing with my niece in the Alps, and during my skiing and BASE-jumping adventures all over the world. It’s so versatile and easy to use. You can film in so many ways and weather conditions—the only limitation is your imagination. 

When you arrive at a new destination, what’s usually first on your agenda?
The first thing I do is check the weather forecast and snow conditions. Being a big-mountain jumper means I always have to know what I’m dealing with. Nature dictates everything I do. I hate losing time when I’m on an adventure, so if the weather’s favorable as soon as I arrive, it’s go time. If it’s bad, at least I know how to organize my schedule to give myself the best chance to safely reach my goal.

What motivates you to keep ski-BASE jumping?
The sense of accomplishment and fulfillment I get from it. It is such a demanding sport that it impacts every aspect of my life. Every time I do a big-mountain ski-BASE jumping descent, every element of my existence is amplified before, during, and after. It comes from the fact that I’m dealing with a giant ready to crush me at the smallest mistake. It helps you appreciate everything in life. Nothing can be taken for granted because the mountain doesn’t discriminate. By standing on a peak, ready to ski a huge face that dead-ends in a monstrous cliff, my mind feels omnipotent but my twisting stomach makes fear a part of my body. As a result, I reach a level of focus that I simply can’t reach in any other situation. The combination of two extremely demanding sports is the ultimate definition of living large.

As a child, what was your dream job? If you gave up that dream, do you have any regrets?
I remember wanting to be a pirate or a stuntman. I guess being a pro skier and BASE jumper is a blend of the two, since I can create my own rules, take calculated risks for a living, and squeeze every drop of passion out of life. I did go to college and had regular jobs but eventually had to follow my true calling. I’m definitely fortunate to say that I have no regrets.

When and how did you start getting into jumping off mountains?
I started skiing at 18 months old and raced until I was 14 years old. Ski racing was a great way to acquire the technical skills to ski anything fast. At 15, I started jumping off cliffs and doing flips. At 22, I got my skydiving license and right after I turned 24, I started BASE jumping. I did my first nine jumps all on the same day, off a bridge in Idaho. The following day, I jumped off a 330-foot cliff near Salt Lake City. A few months later, I did the first ski-BASE jump off Mount Hood, on the south side of the mountain into Zigzag Canyon. It was also my first ski-BASE jump ever. A month later, I tackled Engineer Mountain in Durango, Colorado. From then on, I knew that I’d found the kind of skiing I had always dreamed of.

What advice you would give to an aspiring adventure athlete?
Listen to your gut instinct. When you make an educated decision and accept the risk, nobody has the right to tell you what to do. But if you’re going to take big bites, make sure you can chew. Survival is a skill that must be practiced, and it takes a strong man to say no. It is vital to stay humble, so don’t ever feel too shy or too cool to ask for advice. The more educated you are, the longer you’ll enjoy the art of surviving. But in the end, you’re the only one who makes the call. 

Who has been your most influential mentor? What did he or she teach you?
My professional career as an athlete started with Sven Brunso, who’s been a huge influence in my life and a great friend. He’s been a professional skier for 20 years and is a great father and husband—he’s an example on so many levels. When I met Sven, he took me out on photo shoots, connected me with some of his sponsors, taught me the ins and outs of professional skiing, and introduced me to legendary athletes like Shane McConkey and Glen Plake. His mentorship went a long way.

Do you have a life philosophy?
Having a passion is the true meaning to someone’s existence. If you have the chance to have a passion, you must find the courage to follow it. It will not be easy, but it will be rewarding. If you choose comfort over fulfillment, you will settle for a life of mediocrity.

Have you ever made a mistake that made you think twice about going out again?
Close calls come with the job. The old expression is true: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” and I’ve been able to learn from those situations. One that stands out was the first ski-BASE jump off the Matterhorn. I discovered the hard way why it’s the deadliest mountain in the world. As I was about to go airborne off the mountain, my right ski snagged a rock and I went cartwheeling in the air over the north face. In the end it worked out but it took me a few weeks to deal with it emotionally. But if you’re not hurt or dead, it’s a successful jump. I learned from it and kept going. Again, it’s not easy to have a passion, but you must find the courage to pursue it.

If you had to choose a different career, what would it be and why?
I’d want to be a pro big-wave surfer. Surfing has been one of my passions for a long time and I absolutely love it. If I’m not skiing or jumping, you can probably find me catching some waves.

Name three things you still want to cross off your life bucket list.
To keep finding the inspiration to ski big mountains and BASE jump until I’m too old to move.

To become a father and watch my son grow up to be a man (my wife is pregnant with our first child).

And to surf a 30-foot wave.

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