Contributed by: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin

Celebrated July 1976 ski/parachute jump off Canada’s Asgard Peak by ace ski-jumper Rick Sylvester for The Spy Who Loved Me. The idea for this stunt, the most daring of the James Bond series, came to producer Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli via a Canadian Club whisky advertisement in which Sylvester was pictured flying off the Asgard. Sylvester later admitted that the Asgard jump for Canadian Club had been faked, and that he had really jumped off El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.

For The Spy Who Loved Me. Sylvester accepted the $30,000 fee to jump the Asgard. He would be doubling Bond (Roger Moore). While on a mission in Berngarten, Austria, Bond is attacked on the ski slopes by four Russian agents carrying machine guns. After killing their leader (Michael Billington) and performing some amazing stunt maneuvers himself, Bond reaches the edge of an enormous cliff – which he jumps without hesitation, eventually losing his poles and skis.

Will he plunge to his death? Of course not. At the perfect moment, a parachute billows forth adorned with his country’s Union Jack.  It is one of the most spectacular moments in the entire Bond series.

Rick Sylvester explained why Baffin Island’s Asgard Peak was chosen in the first place: “The first requirement is a vertical cliff. Not vertical in the layman’s sense, but in the climber’s denotative, meaning a true 90 degrees. Overhanging would be even nicer. Once I sail over the edge with the skis and a closed parachute, I achieve very little horizontal distance.

“Second, there has to be skiable terrain— snow—leading to the edge.

“Third, the cliff should be high, the higher the better. In fact, the higher, the more spectacular—but actually safer too. More vertical means more time to get rid of the skis and deploy the chute, not to mention more time to react if something goes wrong, like bindings not releasing, chute malfunctioning—the usual unthinkables.

“Fourth, I need a suitable landing area, and fifth, suitable wind conditions.” [1]

For Sylvester, the Asgard proved ideal. It was a three-thousand-foot narrow-ledged peak in the Auyuittuq National Park, an arctic wonderland on Canada’s Baffin Island, fifteen hundred miles north of Montreal in Inuit country. The Asgard’s summit was a football field’s length, covered with a carpet of snow and accessible only by helicopter.

While the world prepared for the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal to the south, second unit director John Glen assembled his crew of fourteen. In addition to Sylvester, the group included his friend Bob Richardson, an expert climber who would handle safety on the Asgard, working with the camera rigs and keeping a watchful eye on those less experienced in mountain work; Jim Buckley, a parachute expert, who would be in charge of repacking Sylvester’s chute, if need be, and keeping track of wind conditions; Monsieur Claude, the proprietor of a Montreal film production company, who would serve as local liaison; a doctor; René Dupont, the film’s production coordinator in Canada; Alan Hume, the principal cameraman; two other cameramen and one assistant cameraman; two helicopter pilots; one helicopter mechanic; and director Glen.

John Glen’s crew was airlifted out of Montreal in early July 1976, and headed north to Frobisher Bay (now Iqaluit), Baffin Island’s largest settlement. From Frobisher Bay, they boarded a DC-3 for a two-hour ride over Cumberland Sound to the little village of Pangnirtung, which in the local vernacular means “place where the bull caribou meet.” Here in Pang, ensconced in a comfortable hunting lodge, the advance guard of The Spy Who Loved Me waited for the appropriate weather conditions.

The Asgard was fifty miles away, a quick hop in the unit’s $400-a-day rent-a-copter. For ten days, they waited for the perfect conditions that would allow Sylvester to make his stunt magic. During the interim, Glen shot some test footage, as well as the approach shot showing Sylvester skiing to the takeoff point.

Long hours were spent determining responsibilities and camera positions. Glen had to make sure the stunt was captured properly on film. After ten days of waiting, the calls began to come in from London: “Has he done it yet?”[2] Back came the negative replies and the grumbling. But there was no other choice. Sylvester wasn’t going to risk his life unless the conditions were perfect, and Glen wasn’t going to be able to shoot the stunt unless the clouds cleared away from their perch above the Asgard.

The crew remained in Pang, playing cards, watching the Olympics with a decidedly Canadian slant on the cable television, exercising, and making the twice-daily reconnaissance trips to the Asgard. Sylvester had to continually refurbish the prepared run with ice rakes to assure a smooth takeoff.

On a crisp Monday morning, after a night of late television and beer, a tired, grumpy Sylvester took the morning patrol up to the Asgard. After 5:00 am, the helicopter entered the valley. But the clouds were still there, and a heavy rain had set in. Sylvester yawned, Glen frowned, and the crew returned to base. Sylvester went back to sleep.

Six hours later, the noon reconnaissance returned to the peak and found the Asgard spotlighted in sunshine and the clouds backing off. Glen radioed the base camp and ordered the crew to scramble. It was time. “What?” mumbled Sylvester into the shortwave. “It’s okay,” replied Glen. “The wind’s died down and the clouds are staying away.”

The wind was Sylvester’s biggest fear. A harsh breeze could push him against the cliff face, making his parachute useless. He recalled those moments in preparation: “The operation suddenly geared up. I was on the first shuttle. We flew in and found the Asgard surrounded by clouds but standing out. And somehow hardly any wind stirred. We had to hurry, though—the clouds looked like they were regrouping for another move.”[3]

At midafternoon, the cameramen were in position. The Jet Ranger helicopter hovered nearby, out of range of the cliff face so that the propeller draft wouldn’t interfere with Sylvester’s parachute. Alan Hume manned the helicopter camera, which was to take the master shot of the sequence. The other two cameras, positioned on the edge of the cliff itself, were of secondary importance.

Exactly three minutes before a huge cloud blotted out the sun and enshrouded the Asgard in shade, Sylvester received his confirmation from Glen, drew in a sharp breath, dropped down into the egg position, and started his ski run. He bumped across a miniature ice bulge, remained steady, and then shot over the cliff, virtually inches above the head of one of the cliff-positioned cameramen.

Down, drop poles, his mind cried mechanically, and the ski poles went shooting off into space.

Pull off the skis, and his skis fell.

Pop open the chute, and it opened.

“I see the skis rush by. Hmmm, seemed to take a long time for them to catch up with me. How am I doing? Not bad. Heading out from the wall beautifully, toward the broad silky glacier below.

“I see one ski hit at the wall’s base, roll down, then get stuck somewhere on a series of ledges.

“The other one swooshes down the steep snow slope leading from the base of the wall. A strange spectacle. Now gently gliding to a stop. And down I come, under the nylon. Lower, lower, lower, touchdown! Up to my knees in snow. It’s over. Again?”[4]

On top of Asgard Peak, Glen was too busy cueing his cameramen to actually see Sylvester’s stunt. He was already learning that despite the tests and the painstaking precautions, Hume, in the helicopter, had lost Sylvester soon after he dropped over the cliff wall. It was up to the ledge cameramen to save the day.

After the doctor confirmed that Sylvester was okay, the film was rushed by helicopter to Pang, where René Dupont personally transported it to Montreal and to a Canadian processing facility. All hands waited for the news. Sylvester anxiously wondered whether the stunt would have to be performed again.

In a very emotional moment, the telephone rang in the crew’s converted hunting lodge, and everyone crowded around Glen. “Really?” Glen smiled as Dupont described the film as adequate. The helicopter had indeed lost Sylvester, but one of the ledge cameramen had found him and had caught the entire stunt intact. The parachute had opened, if not perfectly, to reveal the Union Jack—and it looked beautiful.

Glen hung up and smiled at everyone. A cheer went up and Sylvester bought a round of drinks. It was time to pack up and go home.

[1] Rick Sylvester, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, Los Angeles, January 15, 1978.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.


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