This was what I wanted. In the mountains I have learned a lot about the strong forces of nature, and I think my experience from a life in the mountains has helped me keep calm and not be frightened.
Aurélien Ducroz from Chamonix isn’t quite like others. He is both an extreme skier and a top-level offshore sailer. Two sports that most consider lethal and extreme. Meeting Ducroz, you quickly understand that both sports are very calculated, performed by rational athletes of both sexes.
Ducroz has dominated the scene of extreme skiing for a full decade. He became champion of the Freeride World Tour in 2009 and 2011, and has made the podium in seven of his nine seasons on the tour. In addition, he’s a three-time winner of the most prestigious competition, Verbier Xtreme in Switzerland. Freeride is a growing sport among athletes and audiences alike.
To Aurélien Ducroz, the kicks and fantastic results from extreme skiing just aren’t enough. He is also working on a new, exciting career in solo off- shore sailing. Hardly even able to swim, he began a meteoric career in 2009 with the ultimate goal to sail the Everest of offshore sailers, Vendée Globe. Solo around the world in three months in a super modern, fast 60-foot boat.
Knowing the mental strength, passion, will, accuracy, and everything he has already achieved, nobody doubts that Ducroz will be there in Brétagne, 2016 for the world’s most extreme solo sailing.
30-year-old Ducroz, whose father is a mountain guide and mother a ski instructor, still lives where he grew up. Far from the ocean, in a little village on the outskirts of Chamonix, with his wife and two little children.
His background in competitive skiing is solid. He began as a young alpine skier, and later in his teens became the French champion of skijumping. A knee injury just before the Olympics in Salt Lake City put an end to that career and led Ducroz to the next one. A career he hasn’t yet let go of but now combines with the surprising effort at sea!
”I was first introduced to solo sailing when I was asked to sponsor a boat sailing the Mini-Transat, a challenging solo sailing tour from France to Brazil in a six and a half-meter boat, without any communication with the world! I found it extreme with such small boats and felt sure the participants were mad! I started following them and was immediately taken. They were incredible athletes, and their performance was enormous.” That’s how mountain man Ducroz was captivated by the sea. He started commuting to the coast to sail with the pros. With the help of his sponsors he bought his first boat in 2010 and started competing without having spent a single night at sea!
”I just loved the atmosphere. Ocean racing is like extreme skiing at sea! I was completely lost and the others were great. I knew nothing! Nothing about fixing the boat, nothing about GPS. Many of the big names in sailing helped me and pushed me to try. So I did! I moved to the coast for eight months and threw myself into a new world.”
Ducroz has talent, courage, and a winning instinct, and soon felt at home in the new surroundings. The two past seasons he has been participating in several ocean races, including the notorious ”Mini-Transat”, alone in the minimal boat. 30 days at sea. Much to everybody’s surprise he was number 14 among more than 80 competitors after the first section to Cape Verde. But then his rudder broke, and he had to leave the competition.
Maybe you ask what makes a person push his own limits that far. And how he manages to combine the two sports. He’s still at the top in skiing, and at the same time developing at a furious pace in offshore sailing.
”I just made my mind up. This was what I wanted. In the mountains I have learned a lot about the strong forces of nature, and I think my experience from a life in the mountains has helped me keep calm and not be frightened at sea.”
There are actually a number of similarities between the two sports, which is one of the explanations to why Ducroz was so attracted by sailing.
Sailing and skiing during the same journey is the ultimate for me. You can come to the most amazing and distant places and reach completely untouched slopes with a boat.
The Lofoten Islands in Norway delivers the perfect back drop. Sail and ski, the ultimate combination. Foto: Dan Ferrer
”They are two free sports, far from federations and rules. Both sports are mentally very demanding. You have but a starting point and a finish line. Between these two you do what you want. It’s a race at your own terms.”
”Choice of direction, flow, analyzing conditons and understanding them. When it all works and you manage to perform exactly what you planned to do, it’s a huge feeling of satisfaction. Your result is the fruit of your own decisions.”
Skiing is usually more physically violent. If something goes wrong, consequences are more severe, according to Ducroz. ”It’s at such a high level that you have to be in top shape not to get injured. In the boat it’s less physical, but being in good shape means you will get less tired. It’s decisive to be able to handle the mental part in solo sailing. It’s difficult to stay emotionally stable when you hardly get any sleep and eat poorly. You have to be able to handle fatigue and hunger, and you really need to listen to your inner self. It’s a very fine line. You or the boat could break down at any time.”
The details are important to Ducroz. ”To succeed you need the mental strength. Fail there, and the consequences can be severe. You need to have a good feeling about it, down to the smallest details. For example, when I choose my line down the mountain, I memorize every detail so carefully that I practically know exactly where I will make a turn. The same goes for the equipment. It’s super important that you like the skis you’re using and the clothes you’re wearing. Everything must work. Nothing can be left to chance.”
Not everything is about competition for Ducroz, who has found a way to combine his two sports. On the side he has a three-year project where the idea is to combine his two passions by sailing to the mountain where he’s planning to ski.
He has already made something of a false start with a number of trips to Norway and Greenland. The plan is to go to distant places like South Georgia, Kamchatka, and Alaska. The project is also about documenting the culture and the environment on location. Norway has become a favourite where our sailing skier keeps returning.
”Norway is simply magic, and along almost all of the coast there’s the opportunity to sail to vast mountains in the most fantastic landscape. Lofoten is completely unique. I’ve rarely experienced such a magical environment, where huge mountains just plunge right into the sea.”