Some get their thrill by climbing mountains.
Snowboarder, BASE jumper, and wingsuit pilot Géraldine Fasnacht gets hers by jumping off of them.
When was your first wingsuit flight?
In 2001. I prepared so much for it. Practicing my way out of the plane, my position to fly, my movement to safely open my parachute. But I could not imagine this magic feeling, to fly like a bird. It was so incredible that I just flew straight away from the airport and forgot completely to fly back. It took me two hours to walk back there, but I was the happiest girl on earth.
You’ve participated in many adventure sports, including BASE jumping, speed riding, and snowboarding. What’s the common thread in all of these?
It is like being a painter in front of a white canvas. I am an artist, I am drawing lines on the mountains, trying to follow the shape of the ridges, the light of the sun, to compose my flight or my [snowboard] ride, to be part of the elements. It is like a dance, a communion.
These sports can be dangerous, and you’ve experienced the tragedy firsthand. [Fasnacht’s husband was killing in a high-speed skiing accident in 2006.] What keeps you coming back? Would you ever retire?
I love being in the mountains. They are my inspirations and my way of life. It is my place and I feel lucky that I have found my passion where I can totally express myself and be part of the evolution of the sports. I will continue so long as my body is feeling good, and I [can maintain] the high level of training [needed] to realize my projects and objectives. If one day I cannot do these things anymore, then I will feel too unsafe, and I will retire, yes.
Can you explain the differences between wingsuit flying from an airplane and wingsuit flying from a mountaintop? Is the sensation different? Is one more exciting than the other?
It is totally different. From a mountain, just the way up makes it already special, climbing or walking to the top, being aware of the weather conditions, the shape of the mountain for the exit and the line I would like to fly, getting geared up at the summit and enjoying the view. Then I am analyzing the conditions again to decide my way down, visualizing and memorizing my line. There is just me at this present moment, composing with the shape of the nature. I know that my movements have to be perfect from the take-off to the landing. No mistakes.
From the plane, you are flying in the middle of the sky, starting from 4,000 meters high. When I am doing my last checks before my flight, like, when I prepare my plane before taking off, I am very focused. Then I walk to the edge of the cliff and I do my countdown—3-2-1 BASE!—and draw my line along the mountain.
In YouTube videos, you sometimes see wingsuit pilots throw a stone off the mountain before taking off. What is this ritual, and where did it come from?
It was our way to calculate how many meters vertical drop we had to jump off the cliff. One second equals five meters. Two seconds equals 20 meters, three seconds equals 45 meters, four seconds equals 80 meters, five seconds equals 122 meters, six seconds equals 176 meters, seven seconds equals 240 meters, and so on. Now I use a laser. It is much more precise and more convenient, as I can also know the exact [grade] of the slope below, to know if it is steep enough to fly over. This is very important for the technical jumps, like the top of Mont Rose, which is 4,634 [high] and [has a] 60-meter vertical drop, as I have a very short drop to take off.
You grew up in Switzerland, near Verbier. What do the mountains symbolize to you? What do you love about them?
I feel lucky that my parents always let me do what made me happy. Being outside in nature, playing with my friends, snowboarding, skateboarding, building huts in the forest. Not so much “girl” activities. The mountains are my inspiration, and growing up here made me imagine more possibilities. Not only the way up, but also enjoying the way down. I was born at the perfect time to live an incredible evolution of snowboard free-riding and wingsuit flying. I could explore and open a lot of different lines that were not possible before. Enjoying the mountains in winter make me imagine lines for summer, and knowing the fields in summer made me able to realize lines with my snowboard in winter. My first flight was from the top [of the Matterhorn] in 2014, which I imagined after snowboarding down the east face in 2009. I just had to wait to have a wingsuit high-performance enough to do it!