In 1999, Rossignol athlete Matty Richard packed up his things and moved from Moncton, New Brunswick to Whistler, British Columbia. He wanted to shred the powder of legends every day and Whistler was the place to be. For the past eight years, he’s been skiing as a member of Rossignol’s Free Ride Team. As a professional skier, risk is part of Matty’s everyday.
Though he describes himself as being a cautious and calculating athlete, Matty doesn’t wear a helmet. It has nothing to do with being cool, he explains. In fact, the industry has changed so much over the years he feels that helmets are cool and very much part of the image of a skier. “I think that for what I’m doing, it’s so risky that if I fall or if anything goes wrong, a helmet is basically irrelevant. I know it’s a little bit selfish for me to say that, but we’re skiing in such high exposed areas that are super no fall zones.”
The margin for error is microscopic. One wrong move can mean death, and in his opinion, not a helmet, nor an avalanche transceiver will save you. It’s years of experience, knowledge and mental fortitude that keep Matty alive when he goes to work. To keep his body and brain sharp in the off-season, Matty rock climbs. This helps him become more comfortable with ropes while keeping him fit and developing his focus. For example, this past summer he had a fourteen hour day traversing the Tantalus range. “I was so mentally tired because you’re in that zone for so long and every little move matters so much. It’s so draining. I think doing stuff like that keeps you sharp for sure. Keeps you alive.”
Having transitioned into ski mountaineering over the years, he’s happy to have a little less pressure on him when it comes to pushing boundaries. With ski mountaineering, he explains, “People aren’t in their prime until 40-45. I don’t feel as much pressure anymore because I look at some of my peers and mentors and they’re a lot older. I feel less pressure because I have more time to perform and I don’t have to prove myself anymore to my sponsors.” This gives Matty the opportunity to slow things down and take fewer risks.
Whistler presents a unique challenge, he tells us. With such easy access to areas with high exposure, people can find themselves in situations they’re not equipped to handle, physically or mentally. With so many experienced skiers making it look so easy, skiers in the area sometimes step too far outside of their abilities and find themselves in sticky situations. The key, he asserts, is getting lots of time on snow and realizing that your peers may have as many as twenty more years of experience than you do.
It’s important to achieve a balance. “You can read as much as you want and you can take courses as much as you want but I think it really comes down to time on snow and dealing with those risks.” Without stepping outside your comfort zone you cannot grow and develop as a skier. Stepping too far beyond your skill level however, can result in dangerous situations that you’re not prepared to handle.