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Intelligently Crazy

Not being scared to jump off the face of a cliff doesn’t mean you’re not scared to build your own house, says wingsuit jumper Roch Malnuit.

Wingsuiting is one of the world’s most dangerous extreme sports. There is no official school offering ‘how to’ courses, it is just determination that drives these brightly colored adrenaline junkies to the edge of the cliff. Roch Malnuit, from Chamonix, is one of them.

His youtube videos have the adrenal glands pumping to a techno beat when he nonchalantly pushes off the Aiguille du Midi and reaches insane speeds of 180km/h in just under 120 seconds. And he learned this daredevil behavior from none other than his father, a skydiving pro and the first ever base-jumper in France. But the apparent craziness depicted on screen doesn’t always reflect the true psyche of the person. 
In his beautiful home in Chamonix where he relocated to from Lyon in his teens to follow his passion for the mountain, the multi-talented mountain guide, snowboarder and father of two girls talks about why it is much harder to take risks intelligently, and why building a house required more guts than jumping off a cliff.

What was the best advice you got from your dad?

The best advice he told me is to calculate your risk because life is too short anyways.
You can always say no and come back the day after. I am not competitive in that way, I love doing what I do because I enjoy it. 
I got the feeling that he might have told me this so that I would one day pass it on to my children. 

This moment of fear – how do you deal with it?

It is good to have fear. It is a feeling of preservation. Not being afraid of something is dangerous. If I stop feeling fear, I would stop to jump because it would mean I am getting too confident. Also the level of fear is not the same every time I jump. When I am standing at the edge of the cliff my body is excited. I do a last mental check whether everything is in place, the weather is good, I feel ok … If I get a yes, then I go. If I get a no, then I go back down again. 

Does that happen?

Yes. But I also enjoy these moments when you are all prepared to go but you feel it is a no because you are too scared. That means the mountain does not want you. 
Then I sit down for a while and watch my friends go. Just having the feeling of being strong and to say no counts for a lot. 

You probably get that feeling for a reason?

Yeah, it is because I am in tune with my body, my mind and my family.

So you have a mental check box you tick before you jump?

Absolutely. First I check the gear and the parachute. My heart is pumping at a super high rate but I am trying to stay relaxed and calm, I take a deep breath, and only think about one thing at a time.

While you are flying, do you think at all? Do you have random things popping into your head like ‘I forgot my keys in the car’?

There are different jumps. For some, performance needs to be reached to pass the mountains, to pass the glacier. You are focused, sometimes the adrenalin makes your vision a bit narrow. You don’t breathe anymore. Some jumps are easy and you can shout at your buddy jumping with you. But I can’t think about other things. The moment of the jump requires big concentration. Sometimes you even have to push yourself a little. The body is in a situation of danger and is focused on how to get out of it. That’s why the body makes adrenaline. It is an organic drug.

Does this make you also more focused on tasks in daily life?

I think that comes with sport in general. Athletes learn to be the best of themselves. I mean look at me, I built my house here.

Was that a big challenge for you?

Well, at the beginning I just kind of panicked a little, because I had to do something I haven’t done before, on my own. I was just thinking how all of this can be done with two little children… But then if you do it step by step and pay attention to do it right, you will manage. You have to set your mind to it.

That also requires trusting yourself. How do you know when you can trust yourself?

It is part of the progression. Like in life when you progress with a partner, finding the balance between two different people living together. It is not an easy task obviously. And in sports it is finding a good balance between risk and what brings you happiness because you don’t need that much risk to achieve a little bit of happiness. You want to prove to yourself that you can do something even if it scares you at first.

Anything you do to balance your side of extremism?

Family makes you calm down and be patient. I love to ski with my children or just spend a day at home. I don’t need the rush. I would say the crazy people don’t last in extreme sports. Everybody can do that. But making something crazy intelligently is much more difficult. You know sometimes before I jump I call my girls and tell them to look out for me when I land in our garden.

What will you do when your girls want to try and jump one day?

I will teach them step by step. First start out with something easy like skiing. They might discover that they don’t even like sports. And if they do, then I start with parachuting. You just have to give them a first taste. And let them decide. I am definitely not pushing them.

Living here in Chamonix, what is your connection to the mountains?

Being up there, I forget about everything that is on my mind. These moments of calm are precious. It makes you feel good. But you also have to learn to read the mountain because after all it is a little game too.

Text: Sandra Pfeifer
Photos: David Payr //

April 13, 2016

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