Profile: James Heim on first descents and his rise to stardom
As seen in the October 2011 issue of FREESKIER Magazine.
He’s been in every Matchstick Productions film since 2007’s Seven Sunny Days. He rails turns like no other, takes cliffs bigger and spines longer than most. He’s a humble, calculated skier: a filmer’s dream.
Whistler shredder James Heim is a legend in our minds, a Canadian boy just out there enjoying the mountains in his. He grew up in Rossland, B.C., near Red Mountain, where there wasn’t a park, so he built backyard jumps.
He didn’t compete on the big-mountain circuit until he was 19, and when he finally did—in 2001—he took second place. Now a ten-year veteran, Heim has earned his keep and then some.
Photo left: Robin O'Neill_MSP
Words: Leah Fielding
YOU’VE BEEN WELL KNOWN IN INNER CIRCLES FOR YEARS; WHY DO YOU THINK IT TOOK SO LONG BEFORE YOU REACHED INTERNATIONAL STARDOM? A lot of it is sponsor based, how much they are promoting you. I’m just getting to the point were I’m ending up in ads. I’ve worked a lot with Head on the big-mountain side of things, and they’ve turned over a new leaf, which is great, since freeride is a growing market right now. It’s funny though, I always get called Mr. Underrated. I don’t really have an answer. Big-mountain comps are definitely getting more exposure these days, so I think that helps, too. After I started with Matchstick, I slowly started to build recognition and it’s just taken a couple years I guess.
LA NIÑA: THE BITCH IS BACK IS ALL ABOUT A RECORD-BREAKING SNOWFALL SEASON. HOW WAS THE SEASON FOR YOU? When I filmed, the snow was good; when I came home the snow was good. It was good snow wherever I went. It was so amazing. There were a few days it was [snowing] so bad that you couldn’t go skiing. Filming was hard because it was a cloudy season. We filmed a lot in trees. But one benefit was that snowpack wasn’t that dangerous, thanks to colder, sustained temperatures.
TO GET THE BANGER SHOTS, YOU HAVE TO SKI IN HIGH-RISK ZONES. HOW DO YOU STAY CALM WHEN THE WORST HAPPENS ON A LINE, SUCH AS AN AVALANCHE OR MACHING OUT OF CONTROL? Hopefully you’ve researched your line. You need to know where you should go for your safe point. You’re so focused when you’re skiing, you just have to rework that focus to get yourself to safety. If there’s nowhere to go, you’re just waiting. That’s scary. Your heart definitely sinks for a second.
As for maching out of control, I’m fighting. Fighting everything, fighting to keep my hands forward. Relying on muscle memory. Every bump is that much harder. I’ve been in those scenarios. I’ll make a weird turn that’ll catch speed or the terrain or snow is faster than I anticipated. But the best is when I can hold it together. Being out of control is exciting for sure, but getting it back is even better.
DOES SKIING PEE-YOUR-PANT SPINES GET LESS SCARY WITH TIME? It all still scares me. Hugo Harrison always said if you’re not scared it’s not going to make the movie. You don’t necessarily have a ton of time to figure out a line, but how scared I am also depends on the line. Some lines are scarier because there are “no fall” zones, and others are less so because you know if you fall you probably won’t die.
IN AN IN DEEP EDIT YOU SAY, “NO ONE’S EVER SKIED THESE LINES BEFORE.” HOW DOES THAT FEEL? PIONEER OR GUINEA PIG? [Laughs] Pioneer. It could go either way but at least you’re the first. If you’re on a ski resort, there are always stories about lines, so you know what to expect, but with some of these lines, all you know is what you see from your binoculars and camera lens. All you have is your ability. There are just so many variables on big lines. It’s never what you expect a line will be, always bigger or smaller. Spending time in the mountains is the only thing that helps you out. But, if it’s your first time skiing a line, and it goes well, that’s a great feeling. I find focus in those moments. Everything disappears. You just ski it.
SPONSORS: Head, Mountain Hardwear, Level Gloves, Whistler Blackcomb, Ryders Eyewear
FILMS: Seven Sunny Days_ MSP, Claim_ MSP, In Deep_ MSP, The Way I See It_ MSP, La Niña_ MSP