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Soul Flyer combines skydiving, speedriding and a hot air balloon in La Clusaz.
Pro BASE jumper, French aerial expert Fred Fugen, 42, put a unique and creative spin on a ski jump in his latest ambitious project that sees him freefall to earth, performing acrobatic manoeuvres with his skis before deploying his parachute to speed ride across the slopes in the French Alps.
After having famously pulled off an exciting fly-past of the Pyramid of Khafre in Egypt and wowed the world by entering a plane in mid-air, Fugen has this thrilling achievement to his list of firsts.
The idea of the project was for Fugen to jump with skis on his feet from an altitude of 6,500m, linking some freefall tricks and landing on a slope for a big speedriding finish. All of that would be a world-first as a combination, but he added in another element: dropping in from a chairlift attached to a hot air balloon.
Before the project could get off the ground some technical innovation was required: namely, the MUTANT harness developed by Fugen’s former Soul Flyers partner, the late Vince Reffet. This, as Fugen explains, allowed them: “to transform a classic harness into a speedriding harness by going from a high point to a low point. So you find yourself hanging by the pelvis and no longer by the shoulders, and you can ski. Without this technical evolution, we might never have had the idea of doing this.”
Much of the training for the project took place in the skies above Dubai, with Fugen accompanied by friend and cameraman Vincent Cotte on over 150 training jumps: “You have to imagine it: I flew over the desert, with skis on my feet, for a month… People looked at us strangely,” said Fugen.
Once the ‘sky skiing’ phase of the training was complete, the focus moved to La Clusaz in the Haute-Savoie region of France for the speedriding element. The problem to be overcome here was that Fugen’s skydiving wing is not the sort usually used for the discipline, which sees athletes combine a mix of freeskiing and paragliding to spectacular effect.
Fugen said: “It’s 8.2m and really bombs along! But it’s a skydiving wing, not a speedriding one. You can speedride with it, but it’s not made for that. I had to get used to all the gear by doing all kinds of runs, just to know what I was going to do on D-Day!”
La Clusaz was chosen as the location for the project for reasons both practical and personal. Fugen said: “We lived right next door with Vince and we did a lot of things there… but the slope and the altitude of the mountain [also] corresponded to what I wanted to do. As the choreography lasts for 45 seconds and sticks with a classic parachute jump at 4,000m, it was necessary to add those 4,000m above the summit that I was going to ride. And the summit of La Clusaz is 2,500m, which brought us to 6,500m. Above that, you need oxygen in free fall and I wanted to avoid that because jumping with a mask and bottles is very restrictive.”
Discussing the unique hot air balloon chairlift jump, he said: “This idea came up following a discussion on the somewhat déjà-vu dimension of the helicopter departure. With Vince, we’d imagined jumping on skis from the back of an aeroplane, but it had never happened because it was too complicated for many reasons. But when someone told me about the chairlift, I immediately imagined it and thought to myself, ‘that would be crazy!’ We looked for a helicopter to which we could attach it, but no pilot would accept. So we moved on to a hot air balloon… and it worked very well! I flew for half an hour on a chairlift. I was very well seated. It was very funny, and above all, it’s unheard of, at least to my knowledge!”
Despite “non-optimal snow conditions and a three-month break between the first training sessions and the production,” Fugen is delighted with the end result. “I’m happy and relieved to have been able to put this complex project together with the help of Dino Raffault, the director of the video. In total, we did about 15 jumps in four days to shoot all the plans we had in mind.”
Watch Fred Fugen’s Sky Skiing in full HERE
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