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Riding the Matterhorn - by Ueli Kestenholz

18 July 2009

After Speedriding down Eiger, Monch and Jungfrau for our Movie Playgravity, Mathias Roten and I were wondering how we could top those beautiful mountains. That’s when we started wondering whether launching on top of the magic but incredibly steep and exposed Matterhorn would be possible!?

After Mathias passed away I didn’t do any of those big descents that we had planned. Without my friend and Speedriding-Partner it just wasn’t the same. When I got my new wing in January, a small prototype of Paratech’s new 180, I got hooked again as it allows skiing the steepest faces without taking off while having enough power to lift over obstacles.

It was a great winter all over Switzerland. Especially the Southside including Zermatt had a record year for snowfall. That brought back the idea of riding the Matterhorn. So I started looking at photos of the peak, talking to locals, climbers and mountain guides about how much (little) space there was on top and if they thought it was possible to launch from there. “Impossible, really steep, only 2-3 meters before the first rocks, maybe but...” were some of the answers I got.

On some photos I could tell that if there was enough snow to cover those first rocks I would have 10 meters of snow to start and after I could be airborne if I wanted since it’s really steep. All I needed then was a day of light winds, which at this altitude is a rare thing... After a month of waiting, suddenly the winds dropped and within one day the filmcrew, helicopter-support and photographer had to be organized. I also went up on the glacier to practice the starts with my special attachments for the wing as well as testing the angles of my two onboard-cameras.

Early the next morning we arrived in Zermatt. The Matterhorn looked beautiful and intimidating at the same time. But I could see even from the bottom that there was a nice snow layer covering the top. After a quick briefing with our mountain guides, pilots and camera-crew it was time to move on since I wanted to be ready before the winds would pick-up again.

On top we found some good packed powder snow which I was happy about. Not only would it be fun to ski but like that it was easier to dig a pit for my wing and for my skis. It felt good to be on the rope of mountain guide Kurt while gearing up and getting my camera’s set up. It’s really steep and exposed up there...! Luckily the wind was still light.

It’s a no fall zone and there’s no room for an aborted take-off. That’s why I double-check everything, my wing is attached and my lines are nearly stretched so the canopy inflates and is straight above my head within a split of a second. Cameras are rolling and as the helicopter comes around the peak for the second time I drop-in.

After a perfect start I accelerate up to maybe a 100km/h before setting the first ever ski-spray in the north face of the Matterhorn. If feels great and I fly around the corner into the east face. In a little snow-field I can spot Playgravity-cameraman Walter. It was planned that I would touch down right above him, but I guess he was a little surprised to see me only 2 meters away (he claims that the ski track was only 1.5m from his tripod...).

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With some hook turns I was loosing altitude quickly at speeds up to approximately 150km/h. At the level of the Solvay mountain hut it was time for a sharp right turn to be able to land as high as possible in the wide open snow fields. I managed to take out some speed and ski those fields with some big turns. But man it was still going fast at almost 4000 Meters and even though 7m2 isn’t a lot of fabric it was hard keeping my skis on the snow without taking off!

In the lower part there was some turbulent winds. That’s why I decided to play it safe and fly more than planned and only touch down in some safe spots where the downdraft wouldn’t push me into some glacial ice-blocks. After only 2 minutes I landed safely at the bottom. What a rush and what a satisfaction looking back up at this amazing peak. Mathias, this one was for you...! For info about the release date of the new movie with the Matterhorn-footage check out www.playgravity.com.

About Ueli Kestenholz:

Professional Snowboarder, Olympic medalist, X-Games Winner, Worldchampion, Freerider, multisport-athlete, speedriding since 2006, living in Thun/Switzerland.

About Playgravity:

Founded by Mathias Roten and Ueli Kestenholz in 2007 as a platform for their sports of choice (www.playgravity.com), their team name as well as the Name for their award winning multisport-movie. A new movie is in production including the Matterhorn-Ride, Paragliding, Snowboarding and more. -> we don’t fight gravity – we play with it!

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