The Great Yank-Euro Ski-Off

The Players

Mar 1, 2006
Outside Magazine
Micah Black & Dominique Perret

THE NEXT DAY: Perret (in blue) and Black arrive atop Whistler to begin the ultimate showdown.

Black, 36, is an all-star jock by any measure. In 1995, he became the first American to snowboard the north face of Chamonix's infamous 12,605-foot Aiguille du Midi. On skis, where he's even more adept, Black has notched first descents in France, Alaska, Wyoming, Norway, Bulgaria, and New Zealand. In 2003, Powder readers named him one of the top three freeskiers in the world. A heartthrob and chat-room darling, he inspires swooning threads on sites like "He has a dope name"; "Micah is drop-dead gorgeous"; "I mean, I'd let him jib my rail anytime."

Now a bona fide "skilebrity," Black has humble roots. He was born in Whitefish, Montana, and grew up in Spokane, Washington—an only child whose parents, Jim and Joyce, put him on skis at age two. In time, he distinguished himself from the pack by contorting his six-two frame into tricks and spins normally performed only by monkey-size jibbers. While ski-porn purveyors Warren Miller Entertainment and Matchstick Productions have filmed him, Black is best known as the carcass-hurling star of Teton Gravity Research, lighting up recent films like The Tangerine Dream and Soul Purpose. His talents earned him a gig starring in a 2000 commercial for the Nissan Xterra in which he threw a front flip over an SUV parked on a snowy mountain road.

Off the snow, Black rolls loose. He wears a tangle of dirty-blond hair, held back with a wide headband, à la Kid Rock. When he's not making ski films (14 so far), he parties with Lars Ulrich from Metallica and Tommy Lee from Möey Crü In 2002, Cosmopolitan named him Wyoming's representative in its Hottest Hunks in the U.S. issue, which got him an invite to Live with Regis and Kelly. Ski-movie headliners are often themselves called rock stars, but Black likes to point out that he's actually cooler than that. "Real rock stars don't scare themselves like we do," he says. "They don't live with the massive anxiety of a big-mountain descent."

In stark contrast, Perret, 43, is a clean-cut, thunder-thighed, six-foot native of La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, with a master's degree in mechanical engineering, a very healthy ego, and starchy opinions about his freeskiing brethren.

"Freeriding shouldn't be about a strange haircut or a bad attitude," he says. Rather, it should be about strength and skill, both of which he has in abundance.

Perret's high-altitude skiing is nearly peerless. In 1996, he attempted the first ski descent of Everest's entire North Face. Climbing without oxygen, he made three summit attempts but was repeatedly turned back by minus-140 temperatures and 125-mile-per-hour winds. After 76 days in Tibet, many spent above 18,000 feet, he bailed—but not before skiing the North Face from 27,887 feet.

An athletically gifted youth from a ski-racing family—his father, Louis-Charles, was a Swiss Olympian—Perret grew up negotiating the trees and cliffs of La Chaux-de-Fonds, where he learned to ski very well and very, very fast. In 1991, he ripped down a speed-skiing track in Portillo, Chile, reaching 131 miles per hour (at the time, the seventh-fastest run on skis; the current record is 155). The year before, at Champéry, Switzerland, Perret nonchalantly threw a 120-foot cliff jump—a world record at the time—for kicks during a long downhill run. And in 1998, he set a world record for skiing endurance, sliding 353,600 vertical feet during 75 runs in just over 14 hours.

Well known throughout Europe from his tenure as a ski model, Perret has become an industry unto himself, grossing more than a million dollars a year. He's published two books on "the Dominique Perret experience" and has produced and/or starred in 23 films. Natural Born Skier, Speed Is My Friend, Soul Pilot, and others have aired on TV in 100 countries and won 60 awards. And Perret's fans love him: In 2000, European sports journalists and fans named him the 20th century's best freeride skier.