Geraldine Fasnacht Paints Lines In the Sky
Wingsuits lift the pilot upon the air with a forward momentum that can exceed 100 mph (160 km/h), allowing the closest human sensation to that of a bird. But it is the impetus of passion, inspiration and camaraderie that carry the denizens of this athletic and creative pursuit forward. Geraldine Fasnacht is one athlete that is also carrying the sport itself forward.
In a sport commonly associated with young adult males, a few female athletes have managed to make quite a mark for themselves. Geraldine Fasnacht, renowned snowboarder and base jumper, holder of numerous titles and records, is a prime example that such extreme pursuits hold no gender bias.
Most activities that are now considered to be common and accessible sports were once thought fringe, or widely unknown. The likes of snowboarding, free climbing and surfing all shine as evidence to this. For the most part, they have now taken their place as well known, widely pursued activities. Women in sports isn’t new either, but many sports seem especially gender neutral and based on ability, often cultivating small, niche communities that care for their own as they slowly gain a following.
In Geraldine’s case, she was introduced to snowboarding (the sport in which she would gain first notice) at an early age. Her mother, who’s interest was piqued by the alternative to skis, wanted to learn and looked to Geraldine to share the experience. The two had already spent countless weekends skiing together. After the usual beginner frustrations, she quickly “fell in love with [her] snowboard.” As Geraldine and another female friend quickly progressed on there own, organizers of competitions at the local resort (Verbier, Switzerland) realized they would have to provide accessible categories for the girls, who seemed to be exceeding the skill of many Male competitors.
Sometimes labeled adrenaline junkies, people, like Geraldine, seek to define what physical capability and mental fortitude they can harness while performing under such demanding circumstances. Perhaps, though, it is the incredible focus that they experience that is the true draw, as well as a life exploring the natural beauty and solitude of our world. In fact, Geraldine was regularly seeking excitement and freedom beyond the comparatively crowded boundaries of the ski resort before she had even begun to compete regularly.
Geraldine’s barrier breaking tendencies carried over into other facets of life. Desiring to secure a position as an airline load controller, an area where few women ventured, she worked hard to pass the entrance exam for the apprentice purser position. Though, after winning the Verbier Extreme as one of the youngest competing, in 2002, her passion for snowboarding won over, leading her to commit to the life of a professional athlete.
As with all extreme athletes, injuries are inevitable and often serious. Geraldine’s was during the run at the Freeride World Tour in Sochi in 2008; she blew her knee with a great deal of ligament, cartilage, and meniscus damage. Despite this setback and long recovery, Geraldine was determined that her recovery would bring her back for a life time of rides, directing all of her energy at the goal of recovering correctly and thoroughly. “It is not about coming back for one season, I want to ride for the next 30 years,” she noted. She returned back confidently to her passions a little over a year later with the help of a strong medical crew and therapist.
Often in training, outdoor athletes use there natural environment as a gym. This is often due to the nature of their mobile lifestyles, but the variation and lack of routine that this brings lends well to the demands of such unpredictable conditions in sports like snowboarding and base jumping. “I try to do something physical everyday,” says Fasnacht, “…I might rock climb, mountain climb or go on a long hike to do a base jump.” Though, she admits to having no specific routine. “That’s not my thing.”
Base jumping, of course, has inherent risks. Any mistake can be fatal. But for many those willing to accept such risks, they claim to be well worth it. “It is like a drug. When you do it, you wonder how you managed so long without it,” claims Fasnacht. For others, like Geraldine’s husband, Sam Beaugey, the risks become too great and the pursuit must be discontinued. When questioned about his decision, Sam responded “Yes it was a difficult decision but when your fear has overtaken your motivation, it’s time to find other ways to fly.” As for Geraldine, that fear has not yet reached capacity.
Geraldine and her small group of fellow base jumpers are the focus of the film, One Step Beyond, by the french film maker and mountain guide, Seb Montaz, which provides an intimate peek into the extreme adventures, highs and lows of those who prefer to “paint lines in the mountains and sky.” In the trailer highlighting the film, the audience is certainly presented with all of the beauty and awe of the tight-knit group’s extraordinary life, but also given an honest view of the worries and tragedies that can follow those who choose such daring paths.
One Step Beyond presents beautiful technicolor footage of Fasnacht and fellow friends and athletes, Karina Hollekim, Samuel Beaugey and Giulia Monego, as they glide down the most picturesque mountains and leap from daunting cliffs, planes and even hot air balloons.
Another passion Geraldine has adopted is to share her experiences and love of interacting with and learning from nature with groups of children and adults, alike, at conferences and seminars. This is done through her company Lineprod. Sliding down a mountain or taking part in winter sports are often out-priced beyond the reach of many families, even those who are within striking distance of the magnificent wonders. She has paired with sponsors like Lily, to have two week camps where children get to experience all the thrill and wonder that mountain sports can offer.
In all of her passions and pursuits, one thing in particular stands out about Geraldine: her sheer determination and endless drive. “When she sets her mind on something she’s going to go through with it,” explains fellow athlete and friend, Karina Hollekim, adding “no matter the costs.” This equally inspiring and scary observation presents a truth of what it takes to reside in the extreme world that Geraldine occupies: the rewards can be endless given the will and commitment, but one must be calculated and confident when it comes time to leave worries behind and focus on the task at hand. Perhaps, this is a lesson that everyone can learn from people like Geraldine.