The story of Paddy Graham and Legs Of Steel’s attempt to build and ride the world’s most massive freeski jump is told in the new film ‘Same Difference’ – RISING was at the London premiere to find out how the crew embarked on this next-level challenge…
1. Imagine A Monster
The UK’s stop freeskier, Paddy Graham, originally sketched out his concept for the stunt that could take him into the record books with a freeski jump that had five seconds airtime on a piece of paper. When he took is scribble to snow park engineering firm Schneestern they told him it would need to be twice the size he imagined. ‘When they started to build the jump I couldn’t believe my eyes – this construction just grew and grew – it was mind blowing.’ In fact it took four weeks to push the 100,000 cubic metres of snow by snowcats and diggers working around the clock, 24/7. ‘This is a jump that is totally on the edge,’ said the chief engineer who built the monster in Livigno, Italy.
2. Find A Crazy Cat Driver
The jump’s landing was at a 47.5º angle. Nothing that steep had ever before been groomed with a snowcat, which was essential to make it smooth enough to land on. French snowcat driver Phillipe ‘Filou’ Juliot was recruited to drive the machine as it was being winched up the face by two other snowcats on top of the jump, in the rain, wind and snow. ‘The big problem was that once that the snowcats went over a certain degree, all the oil and the fuel wouldn’t go to the engine so they could break the machine. But it worked and Filou proved them wrong,’ says Graham. He must have had some sand – the monolithic structure was so intimidating to look at that the villagers at the bottom of the face phoned the police – they were scared the whole jump was going to slip down and crush their village.
‘The skiers were hitting the takeoff ramp at 115kmh (72mph), too fast to see the speed readout’
3. Pay Attention To Detail
‘For a jump this big everything has to be safe. If one of those details is incorrect it’s going to reflect on the whole situation; if you go a little bit too fast or if the take off isn’t steep enough it could bite you in the ass,’ said Graham. The crew practised their run ups with a speed gun. ‘We had to take a bit of time comfortable going that fast – we started off slowly, building up speed and hitting the jumps to the side, doing multiple speed tests and checking that with a speed gun.’
In the end the skiers were hitting the takeoff ramp at 115kmh (72mph), as fast as they could, but at those speeds the speed gun read out screen was hard to clock. ‘You’d ski past the speed gun and then put the brakes on and shout back ‘How fast was I going?’ Honestly having that speed gun there was no use at all.’ They just had to trust to their instincts…
4. Recruit A Solid Crew
‘For a project like this and the challenge you are taking on you need the right crew around you – if you don’t trust those guys you’re with then it’s not going to happen, basically,’ says Graham. ‘We had seven skiers to hit the jump. And we were doing speed checks over one day. By the time we came to hit it there were three of us stood up there. I was like, “where is everyone? Oh, OK it’s just us three. I was a little bit surprised.’
5. Man Up To Go Next Level
‘I was quite excited that it been built but quite nervous thinking about what we actually had to do after that,’ says Graham. ‘We were on the edge of what’s possible and we’re taking those risks but that’s what skiing is.’ The day of the first proper jump the guys were doing speed checks to prepare and psyching each other up at the top of the jump, feeding of each other's commitment.
Graham was set to do another speed run. Then I got up there and these guys were like ‘Let’s go, we’re ready.” So I was ‘OK cool’ and I stood back a little bit and was waiting – then Lucas said something and I was like: “Shit they’re not going to go, I’m going to have to do it!” If I had taken another speed check then I would have lost my rhythm and those guys would be waiting. We were confident and we were ready. It’s a feeling and a scene that I’ll never forget.’ All three hit the jump with straight airs (no tricks) to see what it was like and make it without injury, but then the wind picked up so they called it quits, setting the stage for the second day…
‘It doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, everyone falls, everyone gets back up’
6. Be Prepared To Put It All On The Line
SPOILER ALERT, DON’T READ ON IF YOU ARE GOING TO WATCH THE FILM! At the speeds Graham was skiing it’s hard to tell if you are 2kph too slow or too fast and that small margin was enough on this jump to make the difference between hitting the sweet spot on the landing, hitting the flat knuckle, or overshooting and hitting the flat past the landing. In Graham’s second jump he came in too hot. In the movie he’s swearing and his limbs are wildly windmilling as soon as he takes off. He overshoots the sweet spot and crashes so heavily you think he must be seriously injured. ‘The moment I left the lip of the jump I knew I was going too fast. But if I had run out of degree to land on then I would have been in a much worse place – I have done what thousands of other skiers have already done, a ruptured ACL and a ruptured meniscus, as well as a small fracture in my other ankle – I came away pretty unscathed,’ he says.
7. Failure Is Part Of The Game
The original goal may not have been achieved – to land a trick – but the skiers were still in the air longer than anyone else has been, over four seconds. ‘It doesn’t matter the discipline, it doesn’t matter if you are a beginner or a seasoned pro, everyone falls, everyone gets back up. As much as you give to the sport, you’re always going to get something back. I’m going to get back up and I’m going to get back out there no matter what,’ says Graham. ‘With skiing and everything you do in life you want to do it the biggest and best you can. In my eyes I’ve hit so many jumps and you always want to go the biggest and spend the longest time in the air, and just see how much you can do.’
Follow the writer @mattfitnessray