21 December 2016 Environment Lifestyles News Sports

THE POETRY OF THE LINE: JEREMIE HEITZ TAKES EXTREME SKIING TO A NEW DIMENSION

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Jérémie Heitz is not an alien, even if he doesn’t appear to be of this world. When he paints huge, fluid turns into the steepest slopes of a huge mountain at lightning speed, he’s like a calligrapher, letting the brush run smoothly in a uninterrupted flow. The most recent and most ambitious project of the 27-year-old Swiss steep-slope artist, “La Liste”, involves skiing the steep slopes of no less than 15 mountains over 4000 m. The list reads like a “Who's Who” of classic mountain tours: The Obergabelhorn (4063 m), the Lenzspitze (4294 m), the Zinalrothorn (4221 m), Mont Blanc Du Tacul (4248 m), the Hohberghorn (4219 m) and many more. 

Jérémie Heitz is not an alien, even if he doesn’t appear to be of this world. When he paints huge, fluid turns into the steepest slopes of a huge mountain at lightning speed, he’s like a calligrapher, letting the brush run smoothly in a uninterrupted flow. The 27-year-old Swiss steep-slope artist from Les Marécottes in Valais is not a new star in the freeriding sky; he has been lighting up the firmament of extreme skiing for a while now. This winter, however, he has been shining so brightly that his uncompromising riding style has astonished an audience beyond the freeriding scene.

His most recent and most ambitious project, “La Liste”, involves skiing the steep slopes of no less than 15 mountains over 4000 m. The list reads like a “Who's Who” of classic mountain tours: The Obergabelhorn (4063 m), the Lenzspitze (4294 m), the Zinalrothorn (4221 m), Mont Blanc Du Tacul (4248 m), the Hohberghorn (4219 m) and many more. The routes he has chosen are reserved exclusively for very good, experienced alpinists using crampons and ice axes. A descent on skis, however, is reserved exclusively for a handful of professional athletes worldwide. Unlike many of his fellow freeriders, Jérémie Heitz does not ride to the top by helicopter - only the film crew has this privilege. He gets there “by fair means”: skiing to the mountain, climbing to the summit with crampons and ice axes, and then riding back down at full speed in under a minute.

The runner-up at the Freeride World Tour 2015 is not only the best and quickest man on skis, but also an excellent alpinist. He was born with an ability for risk assessment, hazard management and safety for his projects on the mountain. His stepfather is a mountain guide and rescuer, and is his closest confidant and adviser when he plans his trips. “I don’t just head off the mountain faces without a second thought and I always push my limits,” explains Jérémie. If he feeling 110% about his physical and psychological fitness and the conditions, he always cancels his projects. Because of this, he has had to turn back from the east face of the Matterhorn three times. But Jérémie doesn’t see this so much as failure as a control system: “If wasn’t scared, I’d have a problem,” he says. Although he can't rule out all objective risks, he spends weeks planning every project to the last detail. Jérémie knows his capacity exactly, adapts his route to the conditions and always has the right safety equipment with him. Ultimately, however, the mountain has the last word, because on many of the east and north faces that Jérémie selected for “La Liste”, some of which have slopes of more than 50°, the conditions are only very rarely suitable for extreme skiing.

In spite of modern equipment and professional training, Jérémie remains humble and reverential when he talks about his childhood idols and the pioneers of extreme skiing Sylvain Saudan and Dédé Anzévui. 50 years ago they did not have detailed weather reports on their cellphones, they had heavy, deficient material and they had to decide on-site whether descents like the Spencer Couloir on the Aiguille de Blaitière were even possible. With his movie “La Liste”, Jérémie wants to pay tribute to the pioneers of extreme skiing and show where skiing is going in the future.

The movie is about adrenaline-fueled steep descents and is touring from festival to festival this winter. But the project is by no means finished yet. The conditions on the mountains of his choice are usually best between May and July. And when there’s no snow in summer he trains by climbing, biking and hang-gliding for the next round in the coming winter, because Jérémie’s list is not limited to the Alps. The huge faces of the Himalayas are the next logical step for this exceptional athlete.

21 December 2016