Jérémie Heitz. Photo Tero Repo


Jérémie Heitz

Finds His Own Speed

This article first appeared in The Ski Journal Issue 15.1

Standing atop the perfect pyramid of Ober Gabelhorn, 13,330 feet above sea level, Jérémie Heitz musters a shallow breath. The face looks steep—fall-off-the-Earth steep. A 55-five-degree pitch careening toward the valley basin. One of the Alps’ most striking peaks is more a sheer triangular wall than a freeride line, but Heitz is locked in. He waves his arms to the cameras and drops. There are no hop turns, just fast and fluid GS arcs—straight down. He muscles his skis through humid spring snowpack, the only snow that will truly stick to a face like this. Where a traditional steep skier takes eight turns, Heitz makes one. Quads hammering, he pushes down the throttle, hurtling toward the world below.

During the last decade, the 31-year-old Swiss freeskier has pioneered an impossible brand of high-speed big mountain skiing, turning some of the Alps’ most consequential faces into adrenaline-thumping racecourses. It’s skiing at its most spectacular—and its most brutal. One misplaced edge or miscalculated turn and the story suddenly reads tragic. But Heitz has found progression at speed, rewriting the history of steep skiing at more than 60 miles per hour. The former racer and Freeride World Tour competitor revolutionized big mountain skiing with his steep skiing documentary La Liste in 2016 and is on pace to do it again this year with a second high-octane film project. Forged from the cradle of steep skiing in the Swiss Alps, Heitz combines meticulous planning and preparation with a humble-yet-infallible mental strength, feverishly reimagining the lines laid down by his heroes nearly a half century ago.

“I’m born and raised in the mountains. I’ve been able to ski my whole life,” Heitz says. “To commit to skiing these lines you need to know yourself well, how far you can push it, but also know where your limits are.”

Jérémie Heitz Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

Jeremie Heitz. Photo: Tero Repo/La Liste

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In between chasing the steepest ski lines on Earth, Jérémie Heitz enjoys a moment of tranquility outside his home in Les Marécottes, Valais, Switzerland.
Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

Where speed meets precision. Heitz drops into high gear while filming for “La Liste” in Zinalrothorn, Switzerland. A line so steep that it can only hold snow in the warmer months of spring, it requires absolute perfection from both skier and Mother Earth.
Photo: Tero Repo/La Liste

For a man whose actions have shaken the foundation of extreme skiing, Heitz is a gentle and modest soul. His quirky sense of humor and his thin thighs allude little to the confident, powerful signatures he’s carved throughout Europe’s high alpine. Heitz still lives in the town where he grew up, the small Swiss alpine village of Les Marécottes, surrounded by the towering peaks of the Swiss and French Alps. From his chalet, a three-story wood structure he helped build, Heitz looks out over the verdant Rhône Valley. He learned to ski at nearby Les Marécottes-Salvan, the same place his grandfather Jean-Robert Heitz started skiing with steep ski legend Sylvain Saudan.

The local skiers call Les Marécottes-Salvan “Little Alaska,” a conglomeration of spines and steep chutes just a snowball’s throw from the resort’s one and only chairlift. It has become a breeding ground for world-renowned steep skiers, a haven of pitchy, technical terrain away from the traditional Chamonix pilgrimage. Saudan cut his teeth there before recording a treasure trove of international first descents throughout the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. When a young Heitz began alpine racing in the ’90s, brothers Nico and Loris Falquet (known as Huck and Chuck, respectively) were leading a rock ’n’ roll freeski movement, launching massive backflips and setting aggressive new lines into the resort’s storied terrain—and getting it all on film.

The brothers’ antics quickly caught Heitz’s eye, and it wasn’t long before the teenager was hiking after the duo, following their tracks down convoluted lines and offering to carry spotlights during their film sessions.

“There was something special with Jérémie and his skiing already back then,” Nico says. “His feeling and ease in the terrain, his precision, his maturity and motivation. He learned and adapted so fast. Few have what it takes to push the boundaries. Jérémie has it.”

As a racer, Heitz realized early on that he felt comfortable with speed. “Speed helps me,” he says. “I feel safer and more fluid on my skis and I pass through delicate passages faster.” It also helped him catch the eye of the blossoming Freeride World Tour, and when the tour passed through nearby Verbier, France in 2007, the then-17-year-old became the youngest forerunner on the mythical Bec des Rosses at the Verbier Extreme. At the age of 20, he became the tour’s youngest wild card. It wasn’t long before he was a consistent presence on the FWT podium.

During his time on the FWT, Heitz met Sam Anthamatten, a competitor from Zermatt, Switzerland with generations of ski mountaineering in his blood. When Heitz was busy racing gates in his teenage years, Sam was climbing harrowing routes with his brothers Simon and Martin, acquiring impressive experience at an early age. He was comfortable with exposure and experienced with big lines. Through Anthamatten, Heitz saw a new avenue to push his skiing, and the two quickly became friends and expedition partners.

“When I first started skiing with Jérémie, he didn’t have much experience of mountaineering, but he was so motivated,” Anthamatten says. “With his competitive mind, he worked hard and really raised the bar to get into that area.”

Despite his early success on the FWT, Heitz struggled to crack the top spot. Speed and aggressive line choices were his calling cards, but the competition had moved toward big mountain freestyle. His skiing turned heads, but it never fully translated.

In 2015, however, he finally found the right medium for his craft. While still skiing on the tour, Heitz and Anthamatten teamed up with Heitz’s old mentor and film producer Nico Falquet to film a project unlike anything ever seen before. Dubbed La Liste, the film followed Heitz and Anthamatten as they attempted to climb and ski the 15 dream faces on Heitz’s personal hit list. The crew ticked off 11 over the following two seasons and released the film in November 2016. The project immediately sent shockwaves through the ski world—classic steep skiing lines off 13,000-foot peaks done at breakneck speeds. Where Heitz once struggled to get the attention of the competitive ski world, he was suddenly too impossible to ignore.

With the success of the 48-minute film, Heitz entered an exclusive circle of European steep skiers. Overnight, pioneers he grew up idolizing—names like Saudan, Patrick Vallençant, Jean-Marc Boivin, Anselme Baud, and André Anzévui—had become contemporaries. Still, a few decades on, Heitz had done it in a way his predecessors never imagined.

“It’s a natural evolution,” he says.

Jeremie Heitz. Photo: Mattias Fredriksson
Jeremie Heitz. Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

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Heitz scaling one of the many ridgelines near his home in Les Marécottes. Known to locals as “Little Alaska,” Les Marécottes is popular for steep skiers looking to avoid the crowds of Chamonix.
Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

Heitz was barely a teenager when he ditched race gates for a different kind of rush in the burly terrain at Les Marécottes.
Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

Heitz navigates a razor’s edge. He knows things can go very wrong very quickly and considers meticulous preparation the key to not only success, but also survival. Along with Anthamatten and Heitz’s stepfather and IMFGA mountain guide Raphaël Richard, Heitz charts and analyzes weather and temperature changes in his ski expedition zones year-round, inspecting faces via flybys and long camera lenses, and carefully tracking conditions as they align. He knows some of his lines are only skiable for a few hours every year, so every variable needs to be accounted for. It’s an attention to detail mirrored in his chalet’s gear room, where the Swiss skier spends hours organizing his expedition materials and micro-adjusting skis and bindings.

For Heitz, the key lies in understanding each and every face he skis. That means climbing up—laden with nearly 50 pounds of gear, skis, skins, crampons and an ice axe—every mountain he rides down.

“The ascent is an important part of the process, of my mental preparation. I get to know the snow, feel if there is any nearby ice, rock or other formations in the snow. From there, I memorize my run,” Heitz says, noting that his crew has a strict policy of not dropping in if something doesn’t feel 100 percent right. “We never stress a descent. If conditions aren’t ideal, we wait.”

Yet mitigating risk doesn’t mean eliminating it—especially in the Alps. Hundreds of crosses, many bearing the names of Heitz’s heroes, stand in testament to that. In 2016, Heitz got a taste of just how close he toes that proverbial line.

Hurtling down the 13,727-foot Grand Combin de Valsorey, he popped over a tongue of ice and felt his left ski binding release. In an instant, Heitz was left to battle an exposed face on a single ski or fall to an almost certain death. Focusing all of his energy on a single edge, he jammed his downhill ski into the slope and arced toward softer snow, finally slowing down and stopping—on his feet—in the middle of the harrowing run. It happened in a matter of seconds, but it would be much longer before Heitz could fully face the gravity of the moment.

“Nature always has the final say,” he says. “It took me three years to process the incident. It was really tough mentally. I started to doubt. It’s that kind of experience that makes you age prematurely. It could block you forever.”

Heitz’s family knows it won’t be the only time the young skier finds himself in a life-or-death situation. His mother Corinne Heitz, a former alpine racer from the valley, works to make peace with this reality on a near-daily basis.

“There are a number of times that other mothers have told me they’re happy not to be Jérémie’s mother,” she says. “But I know what he’s capable of. Of course, I’m scared too. It gets worse with the years, but I have no choice [other] than to be happy for him. It’s his life and he is living it fully.”

Richard echoes this sentiment, saying that while mishaps are always possible in the high-consequence terrain Heitz frequents, he has chosen to trust in his stepson and his abilities rather than fear for the worst.

Fear is the constant black cloud looming over the world of big mountain skiing. On the one hand, fear helps us survive, preventing us from plunging off a 200-foot cliff or walking into oncoming traffic. But fear can also cripple us during decisive moments, inhibiting reactions and ultimately putting us in the very situation we sought to avoid. For Heitz, fear walks a middle path, helping him keep his feet on the ground—while pointing them straight.

“Fear makes me alert and more focused,” he says. “If you’re too confident, it’s easier to make mistakes, but you can’t give fear too much space.”

Standing atop peaks that often only have room for a single pair of skis, Heitz tries to block negative thoughts before his descent while going through a mental checklist of equipment and each turn it takes to reach the bottom safely. “There’s nothing better than reaching a peak and looking down toward the valley where you’ll be standing a few seconds later,” he says. “When you finish that run, feeling lighter but with the adrenaline pumping through your veins—those feelings are stronger than the fear.”

Jeremie Heitz. Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

At just just 17, Heitz became the youngest ever Freeride World Tour forerunner on the infamous Bec des Rosses in Verbier, Switzerland. He hasn’t slowed down since.
Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

Over the past three years, Heitz’s love affair with steeps and speed has led him away from his alpine valley, and toward the highest peaks on Earth. As part of his newest film project, “La Liste: Everything or Nothing,” Heitz and Anthamatten have shifted their focus to peaks above 19,000 feet, skiing with the same fluidity and speed as always.

Skiing that high above sea level implies a whole new challenge, and not regarding the descent. The pair have embarked on long-distance expeditions to remote areas in the Andes, the Karakoram, and the Himalayas—places few people have traveled, if any. Most of their most recent descents have never been skied and documentation has been scarce. There’s no local guide knowledge; rescue, helicopters, and civilization are dangerously far away. If the pair were searching for exposure before, there’s little doubt they’ve found it in their newest venture.

In 2019, the duo skied a 50-degree line off of 19,767-foot Mount Artesonraju in Peru (the iconic mountain in the Paramount Pictures logo). After COVID-19 derailed spring missions in 2020, Heitz, Anthamatten, and a film crew from Sherpas Cinema recently spent a month in Pakistan, tackling high altitude lines in the Karakoram from their base camp on the Biafo Glacier—one of the world’s longest glaciers.

“When you want to evolve and drive things forward, skiing in higher altitudes is the natural progression for us,” says Heitz. “Even Saudan told me, ‘You have to go explore at higher altitude. The Alps is over. You’ve done it.’ This is the logical next step.”

It’s a long way from his family and comfortable chalet in Les Marécottes, but there, at the edge of possible and among the steepest, most unforgiving terrain on the planet, Heitz is gaining momentum.

Jeremie Heitz. Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

Jeremie Heitz. Photo: Tero Repo/La Liste

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Much of the preparation for Heitz’s lengthy missions is done from his living room table in Les Marécottes. It’s hard to not be inspired by the panoramic views of the Rhône Valley.
Photo: Mattias Fredriksson

Heitz carving his own signature through the glaciated terrain of Switzerland’s notorious Ober Gabelhorn.
Photo: Tero Repo/La Liste


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