The Snow Report
Over the past 10 years, Austrian mountain guide Heli Putz has been involved in some of extreme sports’ most notable conquests. He helped BASE jumper-sky diver Felix Baumgartner train for his record-breaking 2012 jump from space. Together, they scouted—and Baumgartner executed—practice runs in Croatia, Oman, and Austria. In 2007, Putz worked with Axel Naglich to ski Alaska’s Mt. Saint Elias, the longest summit-to-sea descent in the world, a pioneering feat that was chronicled in the award-winning documentary Mount St. Elias. Putz was also at the center of the 2011 Cerro Torre controversy in Patagonia, in which David Lama became the first person to free climb the Compressor Route on the 4,000-vertical-foot wall, a feat that was staged and documented for a Red Bull film. Critics, including acclaimed alpinists Rolo Garibotti and Colin Haley, accused Putz, who was the project’s organizer, of drilling bolts up—and later leaving gear on—Cerro Torre.
Regardless of the controversy, Putz has a knack for dreaming up and carrying out creative and daring undertakings in the mountains. A long-time friend of Red Bull founder Dietrich Mateschitz, Putz was one of the brand’s earliest sponsored athletes. Now he’s a freelance project manager, event organizer, and cameraman for the energy drink goliath. Early on, Putz realized the value of sponsoring events, feats, and athletes—and filming them—and how critical this was to building the Red Bull brand. In 1997, he launched the Snow Thrill in Chamonix; Shane McConkey participated. In 2001, he unveiled Red Bull White Rush with Chris Davenport as a competitor. More than 15 years later, Red Bull hosts hundreds of events a year, creates films like Art of Flight, and sponsors some of the best skiers on the planet: Simon Dumont, Sean Pettit, and Lindsey Vonn, to name a few.
Over the course of his career, Putz has worked with the best mountain athletes in the world: alpinists Steve House and Stefan Glowacz; skiers JP Auclair, Shane McConkey, and Daron Rahlves, among many others. He’s guided for TGR and Matchstick. Along with McConkey, he came up with the rules, regulations, and judging criteria that would later be adopted by the Freeride World Tour. He’s put up over 900 new sport-climbing routes around the world and claims first ascents of two 6,000-meter-plus peaks in Tibet. He’s skied first descents in the Alps, Himalayas, and South America.
At the moment, Putz is putting together a project to conquer one of the last unclimbed walls in Alaska, the Devil’s Paw, as well as a film with Gerald Salmina about a pioneering ski descent, also in Alaska. In April, the Atomic Waymaker, a new ski touring event that Putz schemed up with World-Cup winning ski- mountaineer Kilian Jornet, will debut on the Dachstein Plateau in Austria. Here, he talks about the debacle on Cerro Torre, working with Shane McConkey and Felix Baumgartner, and how the big-mountain comp scene is a bit like kindergarten.
Which skiers impress you?
I think Shane McConkey was the creative mastermind for skiing, showing what you can do with two sticks on your legs. But everything ends up in a big black hole. For Shane, he died. You cannot do endless dangerous things and survive. It’s like what Felix told me, "It’s good to do the next thing, but you have to know what that means."
Talk about working with Felix Baumgartner.
I’ve worked on almost everything with him. We’ve been friends for a long time. He always focused on being better and stronger. His philosophy was, he never did a jump a second time. He always said, "It’s done. Let’s look for something better, the next, and the more creative thing."
He was always looking for a better jump, like McConkey, but also thinking on a more professional level, like: How we can market this? What market needs good footage and film? Which obstacle brings enough power into the project to do it?
He always wanted to do something that no one could ever copy. So did I. In 2007, we found a cave in Croatia, 200 meters deep to help Felix prepare for Stratos. We had no idea how the eye works when you go down so fast into something so dark, like space. We involved doctors and specialists. He did it and then was ready for the next, better thing.