When filming his documentary La Liste, a short film about the history of steep skiing, Swiss freerider Jérémie Heitz struck upon an idea. Having tackled some of the most impressive 4,000m peaks of the Alps, including 11 mountain faces with 50 degree steeps or more, he considered his next challenge: a giant slalom race from the 4,129m summit of Switzerland’s Hohberghorn – a descent akin to skiing off a cliff face.
American Daron Rahlves was the natural choice for his competitor; the retired Olympian amassed 12 World Cup victories and three World Championship medals during his career, ranking fourth in the world at the time of his retirement in 2006. He is also Heitz’s childhood hero.
With Red Bull on hand to film the pursuit, the skiers accepted their challenge. The project was two years in the making – not helped by a knee injury Heitz sustained during the third leg of the Freeride World Tour in 2017. The race eventually took place in the spring of 2018, following more than a month of waiting at base camp for optimal skiing conditions: thick snow that sticks to the ice, with little to no wind to ensure that the snow is compact.
A large crew accompanied them on the climb, taking charge of safety, production and logistics, and setting the course as they scaled the mountain face. The team set a 430m course with 10 gates and an average slope of 48 degrees.
The night before race day, the team slept in the advanced base camp at Riedgletscher (a glacier in the Pennine Alps), which, at 3,596m, is in close proximity to the course. The plan was to get as early a start as possible to ensure they took advantage of the best weather conditions. They awoke at 4:30am on race day and began the final ascent by foot, allowing the skiers to learn the course as they climbed. With a nearly vertical face, Hohberghorn can only be skied in perfect conditions.
The two year project was over in seconds. Rahlves went first, completing the course in just 26.44 seconds. Heitz followed with a 27.27 second speed, crowning Rahlves the Hohberghorn slalom champion. The race was documented in a new short film by Red Bull, aptly named Race to Face.
Available now on Red Bull TV, www.redbull.com