Pro skier Matthias Giraud, 26, was the the first to ski B.A.S.E jump off Mt. Hood, Telluride's Ajax, and southwestern Colorado's Engineer Mountain. With his trademark charm-your-pants-off French accent, he dishes about managing fear, losing his mentor Shane McConkey, and how to take the leap yourself.
The Powder Feed: It's early season. What have you been up to?
Matthias Giraud: I've been cruising all over the Northwest and hitting all the cool spots along the way. I just jumped off a 700-foot radio tower antenna in eastern Washington at night, then I went to Seattle. I had some epic days on Mt. Baker and Mt. Hood, then I had a call from some friends who were going to go jump a cliff near Stevens Pass, so I got four hours of sleep, jumped in the car and next thing you know, I'm standing on top of 370-foot cliff with a parachute on.
Finding yourself on a cliff—does that happen often? Are you doing more skiing or ski B.A.S.E. jumping?
I've been focusing on first ski descents and first ski B.A.S.E. jumps. It's been a lot of fun to be able to ski something and you know you're the first person to do it. The fear factor is way higher but it's really exciting.
A lot of people would ask, why do it?
Why do it? I mean, why not do it? It's the coolest thing you can do, literally. You are jumping off things and plummeting to your death but then you fly away with a little piece of nylon. Skiing is so great by itself, then you put the two sports together, and it's all even better. You can ski things no one else can ski. With a parachute, all of the sudden these impossible lines are survivable.
So give us a sense of why the experience is so cool.
What I love the most about it is that it allows you to ski the fastest you would probably ever ski and really get to that point of no return. And when you think you're skiing as fast as you can and the edge of the cliff is only 100 feet away, you point it and go even faster. The last thing you know, you hit that edge and you're flying 100 or 200 feet away from the wall before you can pull your parachute. You're flying in mid-air. I think a lot of people are kind of bashing ski jumping. They say 'oh it's not skiing.' Well, it's more skiing than skiing would ever be. You're pushing skiing as far as it can be, you're going as fast as you can, as long as you can, then you get a cool parachute ride out of it, too. You look at the line you just skied and you go 'oh my god, it's outrageous, not in my wildest dreams did i think i could ski something like that and come out of there in one piece.'
That does make it sound really awesome...and terrifying.
It is. I'm not going to lie. Before each jump I'm absolutely terrified. I have to push myself to do it. You have to be in that Zen mode and tell yourself 'everything's ok, you've got it, you've done this before.' You've got to be really focused. But as soon as you drop in and start making a few turns, it's just another day skiing.
How do you get into ski B.A.S.E. jumping? It sounds a bit, well, specialized.
Ski B.A.S.E. jumping is more skiing than B.A.S.E. jumping. You've got to be able to ski gnarly terrain clean and fast and stick it. I grew up racing in the Alps. My coach would set up a GS course where he would take us in the forest, then you'd have to do GS turns through a mogul field, then he'd put a kicker in the middle and be like, yeah you have to go 360 on that. He was crazy! At first we were like 'you're out of your mind!' but then we were doing that for fun. Once you're comfortable skiing really fast, you start jumping cliffs. You hit five and then ten and then 15 and then 30. After that, if you want to get into ski B.A.S.E. jumping, do a bunch of sky diving. Get about a hundred sky dives, then find someone willing to teach you to B.A.S.E. jump or take a B.A.S.E. course. Once you feel comfortable and you get a good understanding of how this sport works, with the wind and the types of objects you jump and all that, it's time to go ski B.A.S.E. jumping. But nobody can tell you when you're ready for that. It's very personal.
Shane McConkey was your mentor. How did his death affect you and the sport of ski B.A.S.E. jumping?
Shane was the first B.A.S.E. jumper I ever met. We were talking almost every week before he died. He was giving me a lot of advice, even personally, like simple questions like how do I get life insurance? We were always kind of helping each other out. But I think everyone in the ski industry felt like Shane was their new best friend. His accident really affected a lot of us. Some people took a step back, but I was like *%$# that. He wouldn't want us to be reckless, but he'd want us to keep going out there to try new things. The day after his memorial, I jumped Ajax in Telluride. The first B.A.S.E. jumper gets to name the cliff, so I named it after Shane. It's a gnarly cliff and a sketchy jump and Shane would have loved it.
In that vein, what's your next project?
I have some first descents and jumps planned but I don't want to jinx myself, you know? I'm going to Iceland and Norway, France, the Alps, Switzerland, and Italy to do some B.A.S.E. jumping and wingsuit flying. You know, keeping the traveling circus going.
How about the agenda tomorrow?
I'm going to go ski all day tomorrow and have a good dinner and do it all over the next day. So that's it. Just stoked to go make some turns.
--Interview by Kate Siber