Hansueli Barfuss has been climbing Grisch peak a lot this winter. At the top of the Corviglia Marguns cable car, he skins to the mountain's summit alone before winding his way down an 1,800-foot-long gully and kicking steps back out. "It's a tour I do often, he says evenly. "It's full of powder and it doesn't take long.
That the bearlike, five-eleven St. Moritz helicopter pilot has even three hours to decompress is surprising. In his 40 years, he has learned six languages, earned a B.A. in forestry, become a prestigious Swiss Mountain Guide, bought half of an Indian heli-ski operation, and logged 8,000 hours beneath the rotors—as much as many pilots can boast upon retirement. Barfuss is quite possibly the top gun in a nation of top-gun heli pilots, but he just quietly goes on overachieving.
All winter long, the Barfuss team (he's assisted by a paramedic, a mountain guide, and a doctor) is on call 24 hours a day, five days a week, and Barfuss lives in a chalet right beside the Aurga Swiss Air Rescue heli pad. Every week, he medivacs a handful of injured skiers. But what sets him apart from the 300 other such pilots in Switzerland isn't that he's in the air within five minutes of a call, nor is it his virtually spotless safety record (in his one accident in 15 years, he chopped up a fence with the tail rotor) or his daring maneuvers (he once placed a doctor hanging off a 650-foot longline onto a small ledge on the Eiger—in the middle of the night—to help a Swiss man who'd broken his arm). No, Barfuss stands out because he does all this, and somehow makes it seem routine.
"He's always clean-shaven, humble, and relaxed—very Swiss, says ski mountaineer Hilaree O'Neill, who dated Barfuss for several years in the '90s. "Everything in his life is folded and put away neat. How does he maintain his cool? "My father was a rescue helicopter pilot, and I started flying when my legs were too short to reach the pedals, he says. "It's my dream, my profession, and my duty.
Born: November 6, 1964
That Which Casts A Shadow: "Because he was raised in St. Moritz, a lot of the accidents involve his buddies, says Hilaree O'Neill. "His job has a very dark side to it.
Working Vacation: Shuttling powder-seekers for Himachal Heli Ski in an Indian range 400 miles north of Delhi.
Claim to fame #74: Skied the 9,000-foot, 40- to 50-degree East Face of Monte Rosa.
Better to fade away? His engine once flamed out 500 feet off the deck, and Barfuss wsa forced to land by way of an "autorotation landing" (he rocked the bird from side to side to keep the blades spinning). Very pragmatic.