Before there was “big mountain,” freeskiing, or action sports, there was “extreme.” And no one embraced the concept and pushed the envelope quite like Jean-Marc Boivin (1951-1990).
The charismatic Frenchman was on track for a more traditional life when he began climbing and skiing as an early teenager. By 1973, he was a 22-year-old graduate of L’Ecole Nationale de Ski et d’Alpinisme de Chamonix (The National School for Skiing and Mountaineering in Chamonix). Shortly thereafter, he eschewed any vestiges of a more domesticated life and dedicated himself to adventure.
A review of Boivin’s accomplishments reads as though he was in a high stakes poker game…against himself. Every few years, he would raise the ante of difficulty, risk, and arguably, the reward. Beginning in the early 1970s, he began racking up technical first ascents in the Alps. Come the late 70s, he was following highly technical climbs with historic first ski descents. Then in the 1980s, Boivin was one of the first mountaineers to start linking ascents with rapid descents, by way of skiing, paragliding, or hang gliding, to the start of the next climb. He was fast, technically proficient, stylish, and gutsy.
Boivin capitalized on the burgeoning “extreme” sports market by producing and starring in his own videos. His capacity for self-promotion was as polished as his skills in the mountains, and the former never seemed to diminish the latter, even in the eyes of his peers.
A few of Jean-Marc Boivin’s accomplishments:
- First ascent of Aiguille Verte, via the direct north face, with Patick Gabarrou, 1975
- First ski descent of the Frendo Spur on Aiguille du Midi, 1977
- First ski descent of the south face of Huascaran, 1978
- Speed solo climbed the Schmid Route of the Matterhorn, then attained the first ski descent down the east face, 1980
- Flew a hang glider from the southwest ridge of K2, from Camp IV at 7600 meters, 1979
- Earned the “International Award for Valour in Sport” for the hang gliding descent of K2, 1980
- Soloed the Eiger, via the north face and Harlin Direttissima, in 7.5 hours, 1983
- At 117 meters, set the world record for deepest sub-glacial dive, under Mer de Glace (Mount Massif, France), 1986
- Ascended and descended “Les Quatre Glorieuses” (Aiguille Verte, Les Droites, Les Courtes, Grandes Jorasses) in one day, via climbing, skiing, paragliding and hang gliding, 1986.
- First paraglide descent of Mount Everest, plus the highest paraglide launch and fastest descent of Mount Everest, 1988
Boivin was also credited with opening 200 (!!) ice climbing routes and is largely acknowledged as one of the pioneers in the light and fast style of contemporary mountaineering.
His death was as dramatic as his life. Given his flair for adventure and love of flying, it will come as no surprise that he was of the first alpinists to add BASE jumping to his repertoire. The day after being the first person to BASE jump from the highest point of the highest waterfall in the world, Angel Falls, Venezuela, he made a hasty second jump in the attempt to reach a fellow BASE jumper who was injured below. He was blown back into the cliffs and came to rest in the tree canopy. His injuries were fatal and he died on February 16, 1990.