Matthias Giraud Skis Off a 600 Foot Cliff And Lives To Tell The Tale [INTERVIEW]
When 28-year-old Matthias Giraud goes to work, he doesn’t suit up with jacket and a tie. Hailing from the French Alps, Giraud is a respected big mountain skier, BASE jumper, and often combines the two into daredevil ski-BASE jumping stunts.
In 2011, Giraud took a leap that made him a YouTube sensation. The video had a quarter of a million views within the first three days, and is now featured in a commercial for the GoPro HD Hero Camera.
Giraud sat down with us to talk about life, the sport he loves, and what’s next for this crazy flying French man.
GuySpeed: How did you get your start?
Matthias Giraud: I started skiing in the Alps when I was 18 months old, right in front of my parent’s house. When I was 11 or 12, I got picked up by a ski racing team in the Alps so I moved there and started training with the local kids. I was kind of the underdog for a long time, not being born in the mountains and trying to keep up with the locals. My passion and ambition caught up over time and I was able to make my mark in the ski business there.
GuySpeed: For those readers who don’t really know what base jumping is, how would you explain it to them?
BASE jumping is jumping off any static object with a parachute. It could be a cliff, a building, antennae, a radio tower, or bridge. You can jump off cranes, or you could jump up a ladder if it’s big enough! You can jump off of anything that is not moving with a parachute and that is considered BASE jumping.
GuySpeed: You often combine your two passions, skiing and BASE jumping. Can you also explain a bit about what ski-BASE jumping is?
Ski-BASE jumping is like the big wave surfing of skiing. The analogy I use is that big wave surfers use a jet ski to tow themselves to big waves; I use a parachute to survive cliffs that are too big to ski off. When you tell people you ski off cliffs with parachute, they don’t always understand. I use a parachute to ski mountains that are not survivable because the cliff is too big to survive at the end, so I fly away in a parachute.
GuySpeed: At what point in your life did you relocate to the US?
I was about 20; I went to school in Colorado and started competing in some big mountain competitions. Then I met Shane McConkey. Shane was the first BASE jumper I met and he told me how to get into sky diving and BASE jumping. I wanted to BASE jump since I was 9-years-old. A couple years later I must have had a few sky dives, and I started BASE jumping when I was 24.
GuySpeed: You were motivated to pursue this sport when you were only 9-years-old?
When I was young I saw a movie called ‘Pushing the Limits.’ It was a cheesy movie from the 90′s that starred Laurent Bouquet, who invented sky surfing. My Dad also had about 100 skydives in the French military. When I heard all his skydiving stories I knew I was going to jump with parachutes no matter what but when I saw that movie it was like a calling for me. Those guys in that movie became the definition of what a man is for me – a man is someone who has the courage to follow his passions no matter what the implications are and to go all the way. These guys were big mountain skiers, skydivers, BASE jumpers, they did it all.
GuySpeed: What has been your favorite jump that you’ve done so far?
My favorite jump by far a ski-BASE down the Aiguille Croche in Megeve, France. I got chased down by an avalanche, jumped off a 600 foot cliff at the bottom, and flew away in a parachute. You might have seen that in the GoPro commercials.
GuySpeed: How did it feel to see yourself in a commercial?
When the video came out online first I was stoked, and I was curious to see how people were going to react. The next thing you know your phone is blowing up and you’re getting calls from TV stations all across the world and you’re like “Wow, people are digging it.” It’s not really the fame I’m looking for, it’s more being able to share my passion with people and get them fired up. That’s what gets me going. When I saw the commercial, I think I was hanging out at a bar and someone was like “Hey, you’re on TV!” and I was just like “Oh hey that’s cool, Cheers!”
GuySpeed: Have you had any particularly dangerous jumps?
My sketchiest jump so far was ski-BASE jumping down the Matterhorn. I was in a super exposed space and there were a lot of rocks. I knew I could ski it and I skied it fine but then ended up sinking in the snow a little more than I thought when I was about to go airborne and clipped a rock with my ski which sent me cartwheeling down the north face of the Matterhorn.
GuySpeed: That sounds terrifying.
Well if you’re not dead and you’re not hurt it’s a successful jump. It just may not have been graceful.
GuySpeed: A common misconception about BASE jumping is that it’s a man’s sport, but in reality there are plenty of babes who partake.
Yes! Géraldine Fasnacht, Suzanne Graham, and Steph Davis – to name a few of the best in the world.
GuySpeed: Do you have a motto that you live your life by?
Live hard and die laughing, that’s about it. You can die any day. Don’t be an idiot but if you can live balls to the wall as much as possible, that’s the way to do it.
GuySpeed: What’s the worst injury you’ve ever sustained base jumping?
I’ve had a bunch of injuries over the years, but only one because of BASE jumping. I broke a few metatarsal in my foot, and it was sticking out sideways. It was on an illegal jump and I had to run away from the cops on one leg. It wasn’t fun. That kind of made me realize I wasn’t really made for illegal jumping, I did it a few times but it’s not my cup of tea. I blew my knee pretty bad a few years ago too and it took me a couple years to come back from that.
GuySpeed: What kind of precautions do you take with base jumping?
What people don’t understand about BASE jumping is that whether you’re jumping off a 300 foot cliff or 3,000 foot cliff, you’re going to have to go through the same checklist every time. You’re going to have to check the height of the object, pack your parachute accordingly, make sure the weather is going to be right, and be able access the object which can sometimes be more dangerous than actually jumping off of it. Once you’re there you need to check all your gear, make sure the wind is good, and you got to make sure you’re good in your head as well. Some days you’re a little more freaked out than usual, and some day’s you’re a little more complacent than usual so you need to find that balance between fear and joy.
GuySpeed: Do you have any idea how many jumps you’ve done?
I did a lot of jumps right away and later on did less. Now I focus more on jumps that take a lot of preparation and that you can’t do many times if that makes sense. I have about 255 jumps which to some people may seem like a lot and to others not that much. I’ve definitely done a variety of jumps; I go more for the quality than the quantity these days.
GuySpeed: What’s your favorite place to ski?
The Alps, hands down. For me it’s the feel of home, and they are some of the most beautiful mountains in the world. We don’t always have a lot snow but this year is the storm of the decade so I’m going back there in a couple of weeks because it’s going to be the ultimate. In the U.S. my favorite place to ski is Mount Baker in Washington.
GuySpeed: You recently tied the knot. Has being married changed the way you approach the sport any?
I think I’m a lot more careful than I used to be. Before I was like “Well let’s do it, whatever happens happens.” I would send it and figure it out as I went. I take bigger risks than I used to but I’m more calculated about it now and therefore I’m more successful in my jumping. When I’m up there I think about the people I love and the last person I think about before I’m going to jump is my wife, and just remind myself to make it home in one piece and alive.
What’s next for you?
I’m flying to the Alps in a few weeks to attempt a few first descents and ski-BASE jumps that have never been done. There are several peaks there I’ve been looking at since I was a little boy. We’re going to see if we can get those done, that will be pretty cool. After that I’m going to be traveling all across the west from Colorado to Washington filming for an extreme skiing movie production from France kind of following me across the U.S. After that I’ll probably be doing some heli-skiing in Canada, and that’s the plan for the next month.