Off-piste on virgin snow: Freeriders like Jérémie Heitz enjoy the freedom of skiing where it doesn’t get any better. Audi is the wintersports partner who takes them there with the Audi RS Q3, Audi A6 allroad quattro and Audi S3 Sedan—all equipped with quattro drive, of course.
Don’t we all want to make our mark on the world?
To leave behind the safe, well-traveled paths that others before us have taken and be the fi rst to conquer new terrain — to venture where no one else has? This is the spirit of exploration that has molded Jérémie Heitz into an exceptional athlete. “There are no tracks, no traces of grooming machines. It’s just you playing a game with the mountain, moving through a space that’s wild and absolutely pristine,” says Jérémie, rhapsodizing about his unique sport. That makes him sound like Roald Amundsen or Reinhold Messner even though he’s only 24 years old. Jérémie Heitz from Les Marécottes in Switzerland is not only one of the youngest but also among the best freeskiers in the world. At the Freeride World Tour’s season opener on Mont Blanc in January, he came in third, and holds a top fi ve position overall. Now, backcountry’s boy wonder has set his sights on notching up his fi rst win on the tour.
Watching the footage of his previous races online will take your breath away. You see Heitz standing on the summit of Cresta Youla — 2,624 meters above sea level — at the start gate of the tour’s fi rst event in Mont Blanc with the snow-covered Savoy Alps in the background. Just before the starting signal, he shifts his skis nervously forward to the right and then the left. Hovering over the edge of the abyss, he lets out a piercing primal scream. Then he’s off. The rest of his run is captured by a camera mounted on a helicopter. The terrain is so steep and treacherous, there’s no other way of shooting. When the camera zooms out, Heitz looks like a fl y on a beach. He twists and turns on a whim, as if he’s been doing this all his life. When the camera zooms back in on Heitz, it becomes clear how gravitydefying his movements are. Later, when on fl atter ground, he chooses a line all his own through deep powder unlike any taken by his closest competitors who’ve already passed this way. Jérémie Heitz always chooses the most demanding and least skied faces of a slope to carve his personal course down the mountain. The closeups reveal that, at times, the Swiss skier is crouched so far down in the deep drifts that you can barely see his legs at all. As Heitz says, “During competition, I’m totally centered. I focus on my line and getting to the bottom with a smile on my face.” Which is exactly how he frequently finishes — grinning.
The mountains are home to Jérémie Heitz.
The mountains are home to Jérémie Heitz. He grew up at 1,700 meters above sea level in Les Marécottes in Switzerland’s western canton of Valais where his grandfather was a mountain guide and his father is an enthusiastic hang-glider. Testing and defining his limits in nature is part of his DNA. In summer, he often joins his father cruising the thermals. Ask him what makes him happy and his response is simply: “Freedom, solitude, speed and powerful emotions.” At age two, he fi rst stood on skis and has spent nine years competing in alpine skiing, including two years racing in FIS events. It was only a matter of time before he earned respect in Kitzbühel, Wengen and Schladming as a fearless, class act. But then he decided he wanted something else — to choose the slopes that spoke to him and decide for himself if he could adapt to the snow’s condition. “Skiing has developed off-piste and so have I,” comments Heitz. “Backcountry is the freedom to ski slopes that haven’t been specially prepared. I can really push the envelope because, aside from the safety precautions, there are virtually no rules. Freeriding is a natural progression from alpine skiing.” Hitting virgin snow is what he refers to as “new school.” Which makes Jérémie Heitz sound like a grizzled veteran.
Not that extreme skiers have much to do with the mainstream international sports industry anyway. Freeriders consider themselves to be athletic artists with a taste for the ultimate adrenaline rush. They seek out the most inaccessible slopes, hopping out of helicopters to sail gracefully over slopes with ice couloirs and deep drifts. The Olympics are by no means fi rst prize. Heitz spends a lot of time photographing and making movies that take insane to new levels beyond what’s possible in competition. His most famous video to date, A Secret Spot, bears testimony to what puts Jérémie Heitz in a class of one. Heitz knows the risks of going off -piste, which is why he believes to be a good freerider “you have to know what to do when there’s a serious threat. That means knowing and understanding the mountains.” Heitz is steeped in the science of avalanches and carries an avalanche airbag, transceiver and wears body protection. The fact that backcountry skiing has become trendy and Average Joe and his uncle are heading off-piste into the powder comes as no surprise to the Swiss skier. As he says, even his little brother is now following eagerly in his footsteps. And, of course, he wants
to see the sport’s popularity grow. “On the other hand, it bugs me to see mediocre skiers on the big mountain who have no safety equipment and are part of the reason our sport has a bad reputation.”
Despite his youth, Jérémie Heitz is not a reckless daredevil and has remained down to earth about his fame, spending his summers at home in Les Marécottes recharging his batteries. For five months over this period, he works as a qualified landscaper in the community. Heitz talks appreciatively about how his boss has always been very accommodating with regard to his training. “Taking a break is important for me. That way, I don’t lose touch with real life and, by the time December arrives, I’m extra keen to get back on my skis.” Even with a long season almost behind him, his enthusiasm hasn’t dwindled. Quite the contrary. Heitz has earned his place among the world’s best in his sport and is within reach of his fi rst victory on the World Tour. Verbier, where the final event of the season will be staged on March 22, is only 40 kilometers from Les
Marécottes — pretty much his home turf. So what would he like to take away from the climactic race? “Why not a win?” he says, answering with a question. But perhaps that’s a response better capped with an exclamation mark.
Thilo Komma-Pöllath (copy) & RECOM (CGI)
Freeride World Tour
Audi has been a principal sponsor of the German Ski Federation (DSV) for almost 30 years. In fact, the Ingolstadt carmaker backs a total of 16 national skiing teams and is the title sponsor of such top-rung winter sporting events as the Audi FIS Ski World Cup and Audi FIS Ski Cross World Cup. What’s more, as of now Audi is also partnering with the Nordic Combined FIS World Cup and the Freeride World Tour. “Our new commitment to the Freeride World Cup perfectly complements our wintersports program. By presenting the Ski Cross World Cup, we’ve started to address a young target Group and are now logically continuing to pursue this path with the Freeride World Tour,” says Florian Zitzlsperger, head of sport marketing and brand partnerships at AUDI AG. The 2014 Freeride World Tour kicked off in Courmayeur, Italy, on January 22. On March 22, 2014, the fi nal will be staged in Verbier, Switzerland. Only the skiers in the top standings overall are invited to participate. And it’s not just victory in Xtreme Verbier that’s at stake but also the men’s and women’s world championship titles for freeskiing and freeride snowboarding.