Three-times champion at the formidable Freeride Xtreme Verbier competition, Géraldine Fasnacht trains in the mountains in summer by jumping off the side of mountains wearing her wing suit. She flew off the summit of the Matterhorn last year – a world first.
How did you decide from one day to the next that you wanted to fly with a wing suit?
You don’t get up in a morning and suddenly decide you want to fly with a wing suit. I started skiing at the age of two, snowboarding at the age of 8 and it was snowboarding that brought me closer to the mountains. At the age of 15 I decided that I wanted to take part in the Xtreme Verbier and descend the Bec des Rosses together with the best freeriders in the world. So I trained a lot and I entered a lot of competitions in the hope of getting an invitation for the Xtreme. But I realised that in order to be at the very top of my game I needed to train in summer as well as winter. The problem was, however, that I couldn’t find a mountain sport I liked that would allow me to train over the summer… until I saw some footage of base jumpers. But to do base jumping I first had to learn how to parachute, so I did two years of that and 300 jumps. I did another 200 jumps with the wing suit before doing my first base jump.
The first person to do a base jump with a wing suit did so from the Eiffel Tower in 1912.
How much control do you have with your wing suit?
I have total control. I use my whole body to guide the flight. We take a lot of inspiration from birds, how they turn, how they fly, how they orientate their wings… and we try to do the same thing.
Wing suit performance has evolved a lot over time. When I first started we could travel one metre horizontally for every metre of vertical drop and we could fly down slopes of 45 degrees. Over the past three years the wing suit technology has improved a lot, which is what made it possible for me to fly from the summit of the Matterhorn, because the glide ratio has tripled. Now, for every metre of vertical drop I can fly three metres horizontally.
And what about landing?
We open a parachute. The speed I fly at is much too high to land directly and I would need a slope of 16 degrees. I would also need to be able to brake. Not to mention the fact that I would be landing on my vital organs. I wouldn’t really like to try it! It’s not like delta wings. We are trying to make the wing suits bigger but we are restricted by body size and the structure would be bigger. The aim is for us to be as free as possible and thus to have lightweight material. There is a lot of research into this.
What speeds do you reach?
We reach 50 km/h during the vertical drop but we fly horizontally at speeds of between 160 and 180 km/h.
What are your favourite TAG Heuer watches?
I like the Carrera and the Monaco. The Carrera for everything sporty, so when I fly with the wing suit I’ll be wearing the Carrera. But for the evening and for going out I prefer a more feminine watch, so it would be the Monaco.