Fred Fugen talks about SKY SKIING!

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I’ve just got off the phone to Fred Fugen. I can’t stop smiling.

Fred Fugen speedriding after Sky Skiing
Image by Vincent Cotte / Red Bull Content Pool

I’ve been giggling for 20 minutes listening to this very funny, slightly crazy, totally lovable French guy, with his über-cute accent and love of adventure. Fred’s bonhomie, his joie de vivre shine out of every comment. There’s a reason we use these French words not English, they are very Gallic characteristics.

I had to call to find out more when I saw Fred’s latest incredible project – Sky Skiing. He jumps, wearing skis from 21,000 feet – FROM A CHAIRLIFT – ‘skis’ in freefall, chucks in some elegant freestyle, opens his Valkyrie and finishes by speedriding for 3,000 feet down the ski slope. Phew!

How does the chairlift get to altitude? Sit back, find out and enjoy the spectacle in this amazing video!

Red Bull Athlete Fred Fugen goes Sky Skiing

Soul Flyers

The Soul Flyers have been delivering the most amazing stunts to the world for over a decade. While we gawk in wonder at their latest escapade, they are planning the next ones. And although what Fred does may seem a little crazy, he has the intelligence and the wherewithal to put these projects together. This particular one was 4 years in the making and required a lot of research, permissions, paperwork and meticulous planning. Fred’s comment,

“I said to Red Bull, this jump was as much fun to do as it was a pain in the ass to put together”.

We both laugh. The interview’s got off to the right start. Fred explained the concept started originally in 2018, in Haute-Savoie, with his soulmate Vince Reffet, and evolved into a plan. “We did 50 or 60 skydives, together, with the skis, flying head to head. Then we lost the sponsor. Then Vince passed away. Then there was Covid. I really wanted to make it happen this year. I needed to do zis f*cking project!” he laughs.

Fred Fugen training in Dubai for the Sky Skiing project
Image by Vincent Cotte / Red Bull Content Pool

I flew over the desert, with skis on, for a month… people looked at us strangely”

Training in Dubai

It took the whole winter to put together. Fred did 150 jumps in Dubai, wearing the skis, jumping with his friend and cameraflyer Vincent Cotte. “You have to imagine: I flew over the desert, with skis on, for a month… people looked at us strangely” – he giggles again, it’s so infectious.

Fred Fugen speedriding after some sky skiing
Image by Vincent Cotte / Red Bull Content Pool

Speedriding the Valkyrie

Fred is an accomplished speedrider but this jump was different, it was using a Valkyrie 84, designed for skydiving not speedriding. He had to train flying the Valkyrie at the same altitude and slope angle. Normally Fred jumps a VK 75 but for this stunt, he chose a Valkyrie 84. “With the weight of the skis and the ski boots and the altitude, I wanted a larger canopy. It was super fun to speedride with the Valkyrie. Though it wasn’t easy, inflating the canopy… Years ago, we used to speedride with the Velo – the Valkyrie was way more fun. It really dives! So, I had to get used to all the gear by doing all kinds of runs, just to know what I was going to do on D-Day!”

Fred did 100 speedriding runs, training with the Valkyrie at Valfrejus, which is the same height as La Clusaz, where the project took place. I ask if he is a good skier and Fred laughs again “I’m a better skier with a canopy”. Probably true, he’s been speedriding for 20 years in the mountains.

La Clusaz – Ski Slope and drop zone
Image by Vincent Cotte / Red Bull Content Pool

Why choose La Clusaz?

Above all because the spot is close to his heart: “We lived right next door with Vince and we did a lot of things there…” But that’s obviously not all: “The slope and the altitude of the mountain were perfect, just high enough for the combo” he explained. Fred exited at 21,000 feet, the freefall choreography lasted 45 seconds, and he deployed at 13,000 feet above sea level. This put him 5,000 feet above the summit of La Clusaz (8,000 feet) to allow for the speed ride. From 21K they needed oxygen in the helicopter (and had an oxygen specialist in the a/c) but not in freefall. “I wanted to avoid that, because jumping with a mask and bottles is very restrictive. I know that from doing it with Vince for our Skycombo project in 2014”

Working with Dino Raffault, the director of the video, to get all the image angles, Fred did 15 jumps over four days, ten with the full combination.

Fred’s gear, including the UPT Mutant harness
Image by Dom Daher / Red Bull Content Pool

The Mutant

Fred used the UPT Mutant harness for the jump, which was developed by Vince, combining a speedriding harness position under canopy with a freefall rig. “It transforms a classic harness into a speedriding harness by going from a high point to a low point” explains Fred, serious for a moment. “So, you find yourself hanging by the pelvis and not by the shoulders, and you can ski.

He continues, “The Mutant is the whole reason why we imagined this project. We were jumping it every day for freefly jumps. Then speedriding at the weekend. Eventually we came up with the sky-skiing-speedriding concept. Without this technical revolution, we might never have had the idea, and maybe it wouldn’t even have been possible.”

Fred on the world’s highest chairlift
Image by Dom Daher / Red Bull Content Pool

The Chairlift

I’m not sure Fred understands the concept of ‘not possible’ but I soldier on, asking where did the idea of the chairlift come in, and how much fun was that?! Fred laughs again and explains they wanted to do something different for the exit than a plane or a helicopter, to keep it fresh. “It was actually a guy at Red Bull France who came up with the chairlift idea. I was like, WOW! That’s such a cool idea. I could imagine it so easily”.

They contacted a bunch of helicopter companies asking them to suspend the chairlift underneath the heli. Unsurprisingly, they couldn’t find a willing pilot! “We realised it wouldn’t work like that, so we got in touch with some hot-air balloon pilots… and we found a really cool guy, he was fantastic. But, it was super hard to organise the permissions.” Fred made one jump with the chairlift for the video, at 10,000 feet. “In the end it worked very well! I flew for half an hour on a chairlift. I was very well seated (laughs again). It was very funny! I thought to myself it would be crazy – and it really was!”

Fred Fugen jumping from a chairlift attached under a balloon, above the Aravis Range
Image by Dom Daher / Red Bull Content Pool

I question what was the biggest challenge (apart from the chuffing paperwork). “The hardest thing was the weather. We wanted blue skies, fresh snow and no wind but just before the shoot we had so much wind it blew the new snow away. We had nil wind for the jumps but the slope was a mixture of snow and ice, some patches were very hard, it was not so easy to ski.”

I wonder if Fred knows he’s far from normal and ask, what makes him want to live this lifestyle ? “I’m just looking for fun you know, I love doing cool shit”, he says, laughing again, but continued more seriously, “We have always been doing this, Vince and I. And every time you work on a project it’s a way to train, so you keep progressing. You’re learning all the time. I don’t like to do the same thing, I get bored.”

Vince Reffet, Cathy Bouette and Fred Fugen winning the World Championships as Team Babylon, France, 2008

I realise the Soul Flyer stunts were a natural progression for Fred and Vince, who won three World Championships in freefly together. They still wanted to push themselves but in many new directions. Each project requires a lot of training to get the precise skill set for the result.

Because Fred’s nature is to push the limits, no-one can even coach him this stuff, he’s figuring it out for himself, a true journey. There are very few World Champions, I respect them all immensely. But, there will always be World Champions, following a similar path, and Soul Flyer Fred is making his own path, most of which has not been walked (or skied or skydived) before.

Fred Fugen flying his own path in life
Image Vincent Cotte / Red Bull Content Pool

I ask the elephant in the room, how it is to finish a project on his own that he started with Vince. “I’m not on my own. Every project I have a great team around me. After he passed I am very lucky to be surrounded by good friends. Especially Vincent [Cotte] and Aurélien [Chatard], these guys have a lot of motivation to do stuff, it’s a good energy. We work on some nice projects like Cedar Lines, and we have fun. But, you know, this project is above all a tribute to Vince. It mixes different disciplines, very much in the spirit of the Soul Flyers.”

I quiz Fred about what’s next. He says he’s happy to have completed the project right at the start of the year. “Now I take a little rest. We have some plans for 2023 and even 2024 … but right now, it’s time to relax. After what happened to Vince… I really want to have fun and enjoy my time. I still want to do cool shit like this. But to just enjoy spending time with friends, jumping with my wife, my friends and family, hanging out, this is really important, it’s what life is.”

Final question Fred, how long will you be doing this kind of stuff? He answers with what I can imagine is a Gallic shrug of the shoulders, “As long as I still have ideas in my head, well, why not?!”

Fred, as long as you have ideas, we want to watch them! Thank you for being you and continuing the Soul Flyers spirit. 😍 😍 😍

All Photos kindly provided by Red Bull

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Lesley has been in love with skydiving for 35 years. She is a multiple world and national record holder and a coach on 20 successful record events worldwide. She has over 100 competition medals spanning more than 25 years and has been on the British 8-way National team at World events. She started Skydive Mag to spread knowledge, information and passion about our amazing sport.
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