LIFESTYLE Passion, Powder, and Perseverance : Discover Freeriding

8 min

What goes on inside the head, heart and body of an extreme skier? Wadeck Gorak, one of the world’s best freeriders, lets us know.

A sumptuous white landscape, a mountain face of 10,000 feet slashed by vertical cliffs, a descent that appears impossible to mere mortals – and  figure barreling down at over 60 mph, leaping, bouncing, turning in the air, still accelerating… the visual impact of freeriding can take your breath away.

Born Free

Everything is in the name. Freeriding consists of going to ski wherever you want, however you want, as simple as that. For Wadeck Gorak, that means “riding with your state of mind, with your way of taking on a mountain, without filters and without constraints. It’s total freedom of expression on skis.” His personal signature? Impressive backflips. Like the one that helped lead him to victory during the finals of the Freeride World Tour on the face of the mythical Bec des Rosses mountain.

In competition, freeride skiing is a little less “free,” but the essence of it remains the same. A starting point on a mountain and a finish line, with the goal of going as fast as possible, jumping over the biggest rocky ledges, and having a style that is beautiful and original but also clean and in control. All these criteria go into awarding a final score and thus a global ranking. “It’s a bit like figure skating, but on mountains.

Wadeck adds a third element to freeriding: filming. For him, showcasing what you love and transmitting energy is a key part of the sport. “The idea is to share the pleasure you get when skiing and to spread that happiness around. For example, we did a shoot in an ice cave for the launch of the Aquaracer Professional 200, it was incredible.” And what’s more, it’s pictures of other iconic skiers that have inspired him, like that of the legendary Seb Michaud pulling off a 72-foot backflip or, more recently, the feats of the gifted trailblazer Candide Thovex, who is not only a freerider but also a video maker

Wadeck Gorak, professional skier

Moving Mountains

Every freerider has a personal connection to the mountain. It’s the mountain which makes them, inspires them, revitalizes them and challenges them. Wadeck Gorak started on the slopes of France’s Southern Alps at the age of two, zooming down the hills as soon as he climbed down from his grandfather’s shoulders. “On the mountain, I’m looking for energy, a feeling. I keep going back there because it makes me feel good.” For him, protecting the mountain is a necessity. “I want my kids to be able to come across a deer by the side of a path, or catch sight of a hare, or a wolf.”

Wadeck’s journey is typical of a freerider. A childhood spent at ski resorts, intensive downhill skiing practice, a transition to freestyle skiing for more creativity, and finally a return to the mountain made possible by freeriding. “The freeride equation is mountain + freestyle + downhill skiing. Extreme skiing requires skills in each of these areas.”

It’s impossible to start off skiing with freeriding. The inherent danger of the discipline requires not only an excellent talent for off-track skiing but also experience and professional support. “The danger is real, especially for young people who want to follow those who are more experienced. I know what it’s like to lose a friend in an avalanche. So don’t hesitate to ask me questions. You can even write to me on Instagram!”

Wadeck Gorak, professional skier

Come Winter, Come Spring

The training routine of a freeride skier is structured by the seasons. November to the end of April is ski season, with training and, more importantly, competitions. Wadeck tells us that he loses between 8 and 11 pounds every winter because of the intense pace. “Afterwards, I take two months of vacation where I do absolutely nothing, my body recovers and my brain decompresses.” 

In June, he gets back to athletic activity in the mountains – hiking and cycling, without necessarily working on anything specific. That comes in July, when a fitness trainer arrives to help him get into condition and restore weight – four times a week. Starting in October, he works more on cardio, muscle toning and proprioception – that ability to have an unconscious awareness of the exact position of one’s body and each of its parts. It’s a sort of sixth sense that’s indispensable in freeriding, because, during a run, everything is a question of reflex. Backflips are worked on in the gym, on a trampoline.

Wadeck Gorak wearing the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 (WBP2111.BA0627)

Eye Spy

Going down a steep mountain face without knowing the weather or the terrain would be suicidal. In competition, binoculars and archive images are the only ways to prepare – it’s forbidden to ski the mountain face ahead of time. “It’s one thing to look at the size of a boulder from 1,000 feet away, but that doesn’t tell you what it’s going to be like when you’re approaching it from 30 feet away. You really have to be very careful, because the view from afar has nothing to do with the view from above. That’s what’s really complicated about the sport.” 

Before the run, forerunners hurtle down the slopes close to the runs to give freeriders an idea of the quality of the snow and to find a route that suits them best: it should be as original as possible, but also the least dangerous, all while being one that’s exciting enough to allow them to win. It’s a real art!

Nerves of Steel

The moments just before attacking the descent – usually called a “run” – are particularly intense. Managing your emotions is important, especially in competition, when the intensity and risk are at their peak. “Sometimes I think about dying when I pick up speed. Falling. An accident. EMTs. The helicopter. And then I snap back to reality; I’ve seen the worst that can happen, so now I can take control and go all out.”

The thrills that are characteristic of freeriding come from this uncertainty. There’s always a part of the unknown that can’t be controlled. You have to pay incredibly close attention and be aware of all the elements. You have to take any premonitions seriously, whether good or bad, because you can’t reach the perfect blend of letting go and concentration with too much fear in your heart. All while knowing that a simple error can be fatal. “There are these moments of apprehension, of doubt, that make sure that we remain alive. You always have to be aware of the danger.”

And during the descent? Freeriders find pleasure in the act itself, pure and simple. “During the final that I won, I felt like I was going down a green circle slope in my hometown. I was so focused, I was doing exactly what I wanted to do, right down to the slightest turn, the slightest inch. Everything seemed simple. I felt good. Everything was flowing, whatever I decided, everything was going to work.”

Wadeck Gorak, professional skier

Pushing the Envelope

Freeriding means going beyond your limits, over and over again. “Ever since I was little I’ve been a competitor. But it’s always a competition against myself, I’ve always wanted to go further. I can’t see myself living without that.” 

It’s an attitude that isn’t always easy to accept, especially for the friends and families of these athletes. Risk-taking is unavoidable. For Wadeck, the positive side is that you get smarter and more experienced with age. During filming a few years ago, he had a big accident and broke both legs. Two months later(!) he was back on his skis, more humble and more determined than ever.

The dream of every freerider? Alaska. “I dream of these big descents with enormous amounts of snow, an infinite playground. Simply skiing and expressing myself, without getting caught up in anything, being in the present moment.”

Discover our new campaign featuring Wadeck Gorak wearing the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Professional 200 (WBP2111.BA0627)