If you’ve ever spent any time reading or watching video of the Adrenalists who populate this site, you should be familiar with the French town of Chamonix. Nestled underneath the austere, grandeur of one of the highest peaks in the Alps, Mount Blanc, the pastrol kens and vertiginous cliffs of snowy Chamonix provide the perfect background for some of the most hair-raising avocations in all of Europe.
Chamonix is one of six stops on The Unified Freeride World Tour and it also plays host to the World Climbing Championships, featured in our Best Rock Climbing Events article. The city’s short warm season provides a brief lapse from the bitter cold of the region and the perfect opportunity to do some BASE jumping, wingsuiting, paragliding and hiking.
Unfortunately, not all these adventures come without risks. Because of the high-octane heights and speeds reached in wingsuiting and BASE jumping, some people have perished. A French skier, BASE jumper and speed flyer, Antoine Montant, died in October last year after a Chamonix BASE jumping accident where his parachute failed to open. A couple weeks ago, a Norwegian daredevil, Joe Inge Hovda, died in a wingsuit fall. The next day the Chamonix-Mount Blanc mayor, Eric Fournier, banned wingsuits in Chamonix and said, “for us, adventure doesn’t mean extreme risk. We have to ask questions of responsibility and respect for other sports.”
This past summer, wingsuit-clad speed flyers dotted the French sky as more and more aficionado’s found videos showing flights from around the Chamonix area, like this POV descent from Brevent Peak. The easily accessible mountain peaks of Chamonix—blanketed in snow for most of the year—had become the perfect environment to make multiple wingsuit jumps a day (something unheard of when you jumped from a plane or helicopter—which is the norm), but that all changed just a day after Hovda’s death.
The move by Fournier angered some within the wingsuiting community, including Tore Hovda, the brother of the departed Joe Inge Hovda. Tore told CBS News, “people should be able to jump if they want to… It would be wrong to put a ban on it.” Chamonix isn’t the first locale to institute a ban on the practice. California’s Yosemite Park doesn’t require safety gear for rock climbing, but has banned the use of wingsuits.
Even though the ban has already been put into law, some—like French BASE jump president, Roche Malnuit—believe even the compressed experience of flying in a wingsuit is worth the potential risk because “With wings, you truly arrive at flying…You can steer, you can accelerate. You’re truly in flight.” For the time being—and with a nod to the inherent danger of the sport—the French mayor of Chamonix-Mount Blanc has grounded these aerial adventurers until more guidelines are in place.