Elastic fantastic: when skiing meets bungee-jumping
Mix skiing with bungee jumping and you get the new adrenaline rush
First published in the Guardian, 23 October 2010
Alexander the Great crossed the raging Oxus on stuffed animals’ hides; Indiana Jones hacked off a string bridge and swung over a croc-infested gorge. But for winter sports freaks jaded with all the known adrenaline-inducers, here’s a new one: Bun-J-Ride, a devilish mid-air experience straddling an Alpine river, every bit as thrilling as skiing and bungee jumping.
Bun-J-Ride is the invention of veteran bungee enthusiast Jean-François Michelin. Having supervised tens of thousands of jumps in Normandy, New Zealand and Indonesia, the Doctor of Near Death has brought his invention to the near-comatose French village of Saint-Jean-de-Sixt, a neighbour of the ski hubs of Grand Bornand and La Clusaz in the Haute-Savoie region of France.
Michelin and his Bun-J-Riders erected a ramp 40m above the freezing river and then strung twin cables to the opposite bank. They strapped on rubber bungees that slide along the cables, and opened their first Bun-J-Ride in May 2009. At €65 a go, the idea is that you ski, sled or cycle down a 28m-long ramp and are hurled in to the open air to fly, and then slide gently to the other side. The point, of course, is the near-death illusion, which even for the hardest stomachs, doesn’t disappoint.
I’ve never managed to dispel a growing unease in the run-up to simulated suicide, as they strap you in (“don’t they know I’m about to die?”). I seek reassurance from Michelin: “Anything I need to know before I go?”
“Non,” is all I get back in reply.
Hardly comprehending what I’m doing, I hurtle down the ramp, absurdly worrying about my ski style. I feel like Eddie “the Eagle” Edwards. Suddenly, I’m shot into the abyss, and I forget Edwards because now I’m a bird – or something. I experience that deep awareness where your brain shuts down and consciousness shifts. I notice that a large mountain is revolving 180 degrees downwards.
That’s a strange direction, I muse. I notice the swirly pattern on my skis, weightless against a deep blue sky. Then the floating ends as my body begins to fall. Adrenaline floods my body and I’m fully into my liminal experience. I perceive that I’m mortal again, which means I have a lot to lose. My harness tugs at the cables and I bounce up, slower this time. Am I safe? Yes I think I’m safe.
My thinking brain returns and I laugh maniacally in the calm descent to the other side of the river. I’m still giggling as a laconic staff member unstraps me from my supine position. “Have I arrived?” I ask, mystically.
He’s seen it all before. “Euh, oui, monsieur.” Yes, there are many ways to cross a river, but few quite so transcendental.
• Bun-J-Ride (bun-j-ride.com) is open every weekend throughout the year. It is open daily from 19 December to 3 January (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day), and from 6 February to 7 March. Advance booking strongly recommended