September; 45.1. Voice; Photo: Tero Repo
September; 45.1. Voice; Photo: Tero Repo

The Steepest Skier

Jérémie Heitz skis all over the world, but the steepness and beauty of the Swiss Alps always call him home

PHOTO: Tero Repo

A SPOT ON THE FREERIDE WORLD TOUR is an invitation to the proving ground—the ultimate demonstration of one's ability to ski with both freedom and control. For Jérémie Heitz, four years on the tour (including a second-place finish in 2015 and third place the year before) has served a dual purpose.

It exposed the Swiss skier to some of the best terrain in the world and inspired him to look closer at his homeland, which is the basis for the 26-year-old's first original film, La Liste, out this fall. A two-year project, the film follows Heitz up and down 15 Swiss peaks higher than 13,000 feet while charting the history and evolution of steep skiing. There are steep faces the world over—Heitz has skied many of them—but the Alps in his backyard captivate him the most.

"When he is up in the mountains, he's in his element, just like a fish in the water," says Nicolas Falquet, Heitz' mentor and cinematographer on La Liste. "When Jérémie is skiing he is just so light, flying over the snow so elegant. When you watch him skiing, he has the touch like nobody else."

I began skiing like every kid here. As soon as I was able to walk my parents put me on skis. People in Switzerland live for the mountains. They have the passion.

I did the ski club with friends until I was 16. Then two years into FIS, I quit to start doing freeride. Now, I'm so glad to have spent so much time racing. It's the best ski school.

I want to continue the tour and would like to win. The tour pushes you mentally. You have to find the right line at the exact place and time.

You can have the best plans, prepare physically, and be the best skier, but there are always things you cannot control in this sport.

For the film, I can choose how fast I want to ski, and I can ski straight down. That feeling, to go super fast, is so much work and so much satisfaction.

The timing is the biggest challenge. Some lines are in good condition only a few hours in the year. For those exceptions, we use the heli to quickly reach the top. There is less satisfaction, but we skied it and that is the main goal.

If you're alone and you have to turn back, it's way less painful than saying to the whole crew, 'We're not going to do it today.'

The Ober Gabelhorn was the most powerful to ski. That mountain is so beautiful and perfect. It's actually the face that made me want to do this project.

My goal is to show the evolution of steep skiing by explaining clearly what has changed. Not only show action—it's more than 50 years of history with amazing personalities and visionary people.

The skiers who were here first—in the leather boots, thin and long skis, clothes that were not waterproof—it's so impressive. It's impossible to think about skiing with that material. And they did it without all the knowledge we have now.

There are good skis in every brand, but a good boot is key.

Fear is a good thing. Every time I drop in, that sentiment makes you aware of what can happen. It's good to be aware of risk and use fear to help you focus.

My grandmother doesn't like that I go ski the steep faces, but I think she will like the beautiful images of the film.

Right now I'm drawing some designs for my future house. I just bought the land and I want to start on it this summer. I want a chalet where no one can see me. I love the quiet and having the choice of meeting people or not.

I don't know what I will be doing tomorrow, but I know I will continue to live for the mountains.

This interview was first published in the September 2016 (45.1) issue of POWDER.