Speedride Chamonix

Swooping the tram lap at Brevant

At the end of February, I flew to Geneva to spend 5 weeks in the Alps.  Yet again I was rolling all-chips-in, without a huge buffer.  But I had some work lined up for my return, and I was confident that the experience gained would be worthwhile in the long run.  It was my first trip to Europe, and I have long anticipated and desired the cultural experience.  On my father’s side I am first generation American, so I was psyched to be going to the land of my ancestors.

My primary focus was speedriding, which involves the combination of skiing and flying a very small canopy called a Speed Wing (similar to a paraglider.)  The idea is that the wing is very small so that you do not primarily fly, but rather that you ski while kiting the wing overhead.  This bizarre combination enables you to ski in places that could not normally be accessed– one can fly over terminal cliffs or impassibly steep terrain – only to touch down again and ski in pockets of beautiful but otherwise inaccessible snow below.  In the United States, there are very few ski resorts that allow this dangerous activity.  Even the ones that do only permit the athlete to launch at the top and land at the bottom, but not to touch down along the descent. Therefore it is rather slow to progress, as experience must be gained in the backcountry with hike-to access.  Many European resorts, on the other hand, allow speedriding within certain regions of their terrain.

Sliding turns on the edge of the abyss

So while I have quite a bit of foot-launched speedflying experience (which feeds off my paragliding experience,) plus a lifetime of ski experience, I have had little opportunity to combine the two.

I started my trip in Chamonix, which is known as one of the birthplaces of this sport.  Expecting to encounter speedriders in hoards, I was shocked instead to learn that they are very few and far between.  A young French athlete that I joined for a few laps told me that there are roughly 10 highly active and competent speedriders remaining in the valley!  Very few.  So aside from time with a couple friends passing through town and some brief new acquaintances, I spent the majority of my time riding solo laps trying to stack up vertical experience.

Touching down

A write-up from my time in Chamonix, with more pictures and also a short head-cam video, is posted on Black Diamond’s Ski Journal.  Check it out 🙂

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