Words by Sam Haddad
When I think of the Kiwi freeskier Jossi Wells, I tend to picture half-pipes and slopestyle courses. I think of him claiming X Games glory and narrowly missing out on a Winter Olympic medal in Sochi. And his slick black and white shots on Instagram. So it’s something of a surprise to be watching him gingerly step out onto a highline, that is a tight-rope suspended between two cliffs, at over 2,500m above sea level in the gnarly French ski mountain of Brevent in Chamonix.
I’m not watching him in person, thankfully, as the tension would be too much to bear and the weather looks awful. His legs are wobbling and the drop below him appears infinite. He’s roped in at the ankle but I can’t be the only one wondering if it will hold when he falls, which he does seconds later, springing up with a fierce bounce. He clings to the wire like a terrified child, his relief palpable.
“It doesn’t give you much security when you’re hanging that high off the ground and seeing that big void.”
The scene takes place in The Free Man, a new documentary featuring Jossi Wells and the Flying Frenchies, a group of acrobatic and slightly surrealist French slackliners and wingsuiters. The premise is to take Wells out of the world of professional freeskiing and to the edge of his comfort zone. The Flying Frenchies, according to the film’s blurb, believe: “Conquering fear on this level is the only way we can be truly free.”
I caught up with Wells to ask about the experience and find out how he’d felt that day at the top of Brevent, as a highline novice in such a ridiculously frightening and dramatic location. “It was completely insane,” he laughs, “it was scary, and the weather made it really intense. People say because I’m a skier and do big jumps I must not be afraid of heights but it’s very different when you’re hanging out there on top of the highline. It’s like: ‘See you later!’ You have a rope next to you but that’s a tiny thought in the back of your head. It doesn’t give you much security when you’re hanging that high off the ground and seeing that big void.”