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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

In the heights: Nothing stops Matthias ‘Super Frenchie’ Giraud, 37, a ski base-jumping father who flies off cliffs

“Super Frenchie” isn’t about the largest French bread or the amazing retired French swimming champion Laure Manaudou. Matthias Giraud, an accomplished skier and base jumper, is known as “Super Frenchie” due to his fearless jumps off mountains simply armed with skis and a parachute.

What the average person would perceive as potential suicide, Giraud, 37, regards as a good time. The chances of dying while base jumping are 1 in 60. The numbers are obviously considerably worse for those who base jump while skiing.

Even though a number of his friends have died while engaging in the sport he loves, Giraud is compelled to continue risking his life. The adrenaline junkie is the subject of Chase Ogden’s entertaining and compelling documentary that is aptly titled “Super Frenchie.”

The animated Giraud grew up in Evreux, France, a far cry from a mountainous region. However, it doesn’t matter where you grow up. It’s what is inside a person. For instance, world-renowned mountain climbers the Benegas Brothers came of age on the flattest of land in Patagonia, Argentina, and they are arguably the best in the world at their vocation.

“Super Frenchie” moves by almost as quickly as Giraud as he gleefully skis off the Matterhorn. Some adventurers climb the iconic Alps mountain, but virtually no one would consider skiing off the cliff of the iconic European destination.

“There might be 10 people in the world who do what Matthias attempts,” “Super Frenchie” director Ogden said from his Cheney home. “But there is no one like Matthias.”

And that’s why Giraud is the subject of a documentary. Ogden grew up and lived in Spokane. The Gonzaga Prep alum crossed paths with the charismatic Giraud in Spokane a dozen years ago. At the time, Ogden was producing a show titled “Outdoor Storytellers” on KXLY.

Giraud, who lived briefly in Spokane in 2008, was perfect fodder for the program. The University of Washington alum became fast friends with the daredevil skiier at Schweitzer Mountain after witnessing Giraud engage in risky behavior. “Matthias jumped off of some towers in town, but I don’t think it was exactly legal,” Ogden said while laughing.

After getting to know Giraud, who was grappling with his sister’s recent suicide, Ogden asked if he could immortalize his new friend in documentary form. Initially, the film was going to focus on Giraud and his mentor, Shane McConkey, one of the most famous ski base jumpers in the world. However, McConkey died in a ski accident in 2009.

So, it was a documentary about the impish Giraud or nothing. For two years, it was the latter. While Giraud was building an enviable career for himself, Ogden quit KXLY to earn a master’s degree at Chapman University. After earning his sheepskin, Ogden scored a gig teaching at Eastern Washington University.

In 2011, the documentary project was resuscitated courtesy of a call from Giraud. Ogden jumped back on board immediately after receiving footage of Giraud’s adventures and downtime with his wife, Joann Giraud. The combination of Ogden’s filming of interviews and Giraud’s exploits on the slopes and in the air, primarily via GoPro, make for an informative and entertaining documentary.

Witnessing Giraud take air while jumping off a cliff thousands of feet above sea level is reminiscent of Disney World’s popular ride “Soarin’ Around the World.” His courage or craziness is remarkable. You can’t help but wonder how he can allow himself to take such a chance.

“It’s an insane process when you jump,” Giraud said in “Super Frenchie.” “Before you’re at the edge, your heart is pounding. You’re instinct tells you that it’s so wrong, that you should not be doing this. But you tell yourself it’s OK. Your gear is fine, and the weather is good. I can do this. You visualize the right move, and you force yourself to go, and you know that fear of death is not a valid excuse to give up on your dreams.”

Well, it was seemingly inevitable. Giraud had a near-death experience. He was traveling at roughly 50 mph when he slammed into the granite of Mont Blanc. While watching Giraud’s limp body drift through the air, it’s obvious that at best he’s unconscious, at worst dead.

While watching the footage, it’s difficult to believe Giraud survived since he had no protection. He suffered brain bleeds and a broken femur. Giraud was hospitalized and spent three days in a coma at the same time as his wife, who was having their first child.

After suffering through such a mind-bending near tragedy, Giraud, while holding his newborn, waxed about the way he’s wired. “I don’t know if I’m neurotic or if there something wrong with me, but I truly need to put myself in difficult situations physically and emotionally to be able to reach a state of happiness and peace in my life.”

You can’t help but feel for his wife and their baby, Soren. While on a hike before she became pregnant, Giraud’s wife asked him if paternity would alter his behavior. “I asked what would happen if we had a kid, would this change what you do?” Joann Giraud recalled during the film.

“He would get on a soapbox and say, ‘No, this is my passion. I would never let anyone stop me.’ I respected that this is who he is, and he’s very driven. But now that I’m a mom with a baby, if he dies, what will happen? I think about that all of the time. If that accident didn’t make him learn something, I don’t know what will.”

After convalescing, Giraud, who now lives in Bend, Oregon, with his family, jumped back on his skis and continued his passion. It’s fascinating since paternity changes even the most reluctant father. John Irving said he never rode his beloved motorcycle again after the birth of his first child. But then your chances of dying while riding a hog are 1 in 770, much better odds than flying off a mountain.

However, Giraud has lived to tell the tale with his now 8-year-old son. There aren’t many people in the world even remotely like the bubbly, wide-eyed and forever youthful daredevil. That’s why Ogden made a documentary about his pal. “Give him credit since he figured it out himself after his mentor died,” Ogden said. “There’s no one like Matthias.”

“Super Frenchie” screens at the Magic Lantern Theatre beginning June 4.