Weekend Warm-Up: Trail Running Legend Killian Jornet Skis the Steeps

“Steep skiing is a very, very unique discipline. Basically, it’s skiing faces you would normally climb. It’s places where you aren’t supposed to be there with skis.”

If that sentence doesn’t give you the heebie-jeebies, you aren’t human. Luckily, the man saying those words in the opening seconds of this week’s film barely qualifies as such.

“Superhuman” is a word tossed around a lot with respect to Killian Jornet — a mountain-running legend with so many FKTs and ultra-race wins to his name that it almost defies belief. This journalist will never forget the sense of hopelessness he felt when he was thinking about attempting an FKT on the Tahoe Rim Trail only to give up immediately after discovering Jornet held the title at the time.

In any case, in this video, the multi-disciplined Jornet lets gravity take the wheel by hurling himself down slopes probably best descended with ropes. And heart-pounding doesn’t even begin to describe it.

a pov looking down a steep slope

Jornet’s skis are visible in the bottom corner of the frame. Yikes. Photo: Screenshot


For Jornet, extreme skiing came later

In between stunning POV shots of Jornet descending steepies that — again, this can’t be emphasized enough — a mountain goat might prudently decide against, viewers discover a little more about this unrecognized side of the champ. Jornet grew up skiing both alpine and cross-country, two pursuits he eventually merged into competitive ski-mountaineering.

a photo of a young man in ski-mo gear with mountains in the background

Photo: Screenshot


Already well into a successful mountain-running career, Jornet picked up his new adrenaline-inducing pastime of steep skiing after moving to the Alps in 2012.

“For the last ten years, it’s been one of my biggest passions,” the legend shares with the casual tones of a middle-aged man describing a sedate hobby like woodworking.

“One of the fun things about steep skiing is that you are really in the zone. Nothing else exists outside your bubble, because you need to be concentrated,” he continues. “Because you need to be thinking about what’s going on in the next second. You are not thinking about what’s going on in the next minute, or what’s been happening in the last ten minutes. You are just thinking about the next second.”

a man climbs up a mountain with skis on his back

Photo: Screenshot


Careful preparation

Jornet is known for his fluid, graceful style as he bounds over rocks and obstacles in his mountain races. He’s no different on skis as gravity propels him through chutes and down exposed faces. But like any good mountain traveler, Jornet puts in the work on the front end, meticulously planning each ascent and descent to minimize risk (in as much as that’s possible!).

a group of people look at a map

Photo: Screenshot


Surviving such endeavors requires a synthesis of conditions, both external and internal. This is where Jornet’s long experience as a fast-and-light mountain traveler comes in handy.

“Some days, the mountain was in good condition, but maybe that day we weren’t feeling ready,” he shares. “Other days, we were feeling super-excited and good for going, but then there was something in the mountains that was not good. When you do a project like this…you have to analyze what can be all the possible outcomes.”

a man climbs a vertical face with skis on his back

Photo: Screenshot


“What makes you feel alive? For me, to do these projects in the mountains, that’s what makes me feel alive. Even if I’m taking some risks. Sometimes, I can feel stupid to be there. I’m on the edge of my comfort zone, and I know that a mistake here could mean I would die. But I believe we need to get out, we need to do these things, we need to expose ourselves [to danger] to feel alive. And that’s how I believe life is,” Jornet concludes.

a pov looking down a steep slope with skis visible in the bottom of the frame

Woof. Photo: Screenshot


Wise words. Just remember — there’s only one Killian Jornet.

Andrew Marshall

Andrew Marshall is an award-winning painter, photographer, and freelance writer. Andrew’s essays, illustrations, photographs, and poems can be found scattered across the web and in a variety of extremely low-paying literary journals.
You can find more of his work at www.andrewmarshallimages.com, @andrewmarshallimages on Instagram and Facebook, and @pawn_andrew on Twitter (for as long as that lasts).