Sylvain Saudan (born September 23, 1936) is an extreme skier, dubbed “skier of the impossible.”
Saudan is noted for skiing down large and steep mountains, including those in the Himalayas. In 2007 he survived a helicopter crash in Kashmir.
Saudan is considered to be the father of extreme skiing and that has given him the name “skier of the impossible”. He has the most difficult 18 descents to his credit. In mountains people are usually known for first ascent of high and difficult peaks but he is famous for first descents. He has skied down Mount McKinley, the highest mountain in North America; Mont Blanc, the highest mountain in the Alps; Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa; Nun peak in Kargil; and a number of other peaks in Nepal and the Karakoram.
For his 50th birthday, he skied down Japan’s Mount Fuji without snow . Saudan’s crowning achievement came in 1982 when, at age 46, he skied down Pakistan’s 26,470-foot (8,070 m)-high Gasherbrum I, or Hidden Peak. It was the longest 50-degree ski descent ever accomplished—and very well might still be. Additionally, he pioneered and perfected the ability/technique to “jump turn” on steep inclines. This involves placing all the skier’s weight on the upper ski (le ski amont), using it and that leg to spring leap, and then twisting the skier’s body in the direction of turn. This enabled him to do 180 degree turn on mind blowing inclines.
He is an accomplished guide for heliskiing, one of the first European guides, along with Hans Gmoser to exploit the Bugaboos in British Columbia in the 1970s, with waist deep powder snow (often 150’000 vertical feet per week or more). He later developed his own line of skis that were exceptionally suited for powder skiing. These were relatively short and wide metal skis to be quick turning in powder snow, as well as to be easily loaded outside the helicopters.
Skiing with Sylvain demanded focus and concentration as well as physical stamina. Spring skiing with him above Argentiere, in the Chamonix Valley in France meant skiing all the way out to the bottom. This included going over streams, balancing on one leg down the length of fallen tree trunks. Skiing was like a dance, each move was studied, with a choreography of precision moves.
His extreme exploits involved considerable preparations, studying the mountain, the snow, the terrain over an extended period of time.
At 73, the father of extreme skiing is now a motivational speaker for corporate executives, using his films to demonstrate the leap in courage it takes to conquer new peaks and new challenges.