Chamonix Bans Wingsuits – Are Some Extreme Sports too Dangerous?

This week Chamonix issued a temporary ban on all wingsuit flights after the eighth wingsuit death there this year.   

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Chamonix is known to skiers and climibers as the birthplace of alpinism.  Some of the worlds best skiers travel to Chamonix-Mont-Blanc to test themselves against some of the most challenging and extreme terrain in the world.

Chamonix is also known for its “hands off” approach where skiers and climbers are left to face nature and deal with its risks in its pure unmitigated form.  Coupled with the fact that Chamonix offers year-round lift access to the highest and most dramatic peaks in Europe, its no wonder it became ground zero for wingsuit flying.

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If you are not familiar with wingsuit flying, its a sport that is about as extreme as it gets.  The flyer wears a suit that makes him/her essential into a flying squirrel.  The flyer base jumps off a cliff and glides away, hitting speeds of around 125MPH or more.

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With 35 wingsuit related deaths this year, eight of which occurred in Chamonix, mayor Eric Fournier announced a six month ban on wingsuit flights in Chamonix.  This followed a tragic crash where a wingsuit flyer crashed into a recently built chalet.  He explained that the risk to the public was too great, “We can’t consider that flying over inhabited zones is something that’s normal, when they’re putting residents at risk.”

According to the most recent update, Chamonix issued a municipal order banning wingsuit flying indefinitely while regulations are developed on agreed start points, flight trajectories and landing areas.  For “hands off” Chamonix, a playground for extreme sports, this is a significant move.

I’m all for letting people assess their own risk in the backcountry – and letting them live with the consequences.  But, I have to agree with Chamonix’s decision this week.  When an extreme sport like wingsuit flying puts bystanders at risk, some regulation is needed.