AS SEEN IN THE 2012 FREESKIER BACKCOUNTRY EDITION—WORDS BY TREY COOK
During Andreas Fransson’s first trip to Denali last spring, he managed two warm-up runs down the Orient Express (a 5,000-foot, 45-degree couloir high), a 33-hour ascent of the Cassin Ridge (one of the most famous alpine climbs in the world, rarely climbed in under 36 hours), a casual lap down the Messner Couloir (a 45-degree, 5,000-foot shot) and a first descent of the coveted south face of Denali (a route Chris Davenport last year called “the baddest unskied line in North America”). All this in three days and on three hours of sleep. It was also the Chamonix skier’s first time above 15,782 feet (the summit of Mont Blanc).
(PORTRAIT) Tero Repo.
“Where Andreas greatly differs from a lot of people getting after it in Chamonix is that he really embraces the mountaineering component of ski mountaineering,” says Chamonix skier Dave Rosenbarger. “He’s less concerned about snow conditions and he’s willing to go ski stuff when most people won’t.”
When the Swede arrived in Chamonix in 2006, he wasted no time rattling cages with his complete disregard for old-school rules. Skiing the Mallory (the famous route on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi) in autumn, linking three once-in-a- lifetime descents in a day, a first descent in the middle of the Chamonix Aiguilles in 2010… these feats were unheard of until 28-year-old Fransson showed up.
While Fransson’s alpine shenanigans may appear reckless from the safety of a barstool, his consistent performance on life-threatening lines is actually founded in a hyper-focused, zen-like devotion to training and the understanding of skiing’s micro-mechanics.
I’M A CHALLENGE-ORIENTED PERSON AND THAT’S what differentiates me from a lot of my friends in Chamonix. If I feel like there’s a challenge, or a problem to be solved, that’s what interests me. There doesn’t need to be perfect snow. Skiing the Mallory every time it snows just doesn’t appeal to me because I’ve skied it 13 or 14 times already. On the other hand, skiing the Glacier Rond when it’s icy… or eight times in one day—that’s the challenge I need.
When I moved to Chamonix, I started skiing with American Dave [Rosenbarger]. In the beginning there was a kind of initiation to see if I could ski. There was this older group of skiers who were entrenched in their own way of thinking. Because I looked at things differently, I think I gave some people the wrong impression.
My first season, everybody was doing these classic ski tours and that just wasn’t me. The thing I love about Chamonix is the lift access. I couldn’t understand how people wanted to go on these tours that would take them all day to get 300 meters of skiing when I could go and ski the Gervasutti Couloir in the morning and then the Mallory and the Eugster in the afternoon.
When I ski a big line, I’m not afraid because I’ve worked through it so many times in my head. I know I can do it. I go through the descent in my head time and time again and from every different angle, so that when I get to the top, the decision is not whether or not I can do it—that decision has already been made—the only decision is whether the conditions are good or bad.
Nightmares, meditation, drugs and shamans all tell you the same thing: you have to face your fears. Everybody has nightmares of trying to run away from something, but if you turn and look the monster straight in the eyes, you’ll find that nothing is there.
It’s difficult to find partners who want to do the same things as me. Of course it’s more enjoyable and safer to have a partner. But it’s hard to find guys who have the alpine skills as well as the ski skills—with most people it’s one or the other. I’m sure they’re out there, but guys like Marco Siffredi and Fredrik Ericsson [both deceased] who had the climbing skills, the skiing skills and the strength to keep up are really hard to find.
On a guiding level, I’d like to help really good skiers find good skiing. That gives me something back. It’s a pretty lonely game doing all these runs just for yourself—you don’t meet a lot of people. But as a guide, you can share your experiences with other people who love the same thing. – Andreas Fransson
THE BEST OF ANDREAS:
DENALI, SOUTH FACE, FIRST DESCENT (ED, 5.4, E4, 2600m)
AIGUILLE DU MIDI, VOIE MALLORY in AUTUMN (TD+, 5.3, E3, 1500m) – Following a knee operation, it was my first ski of the season with all new equipment and it took about 40 minutes. Everybody told me that I couldn’t do the Mallory in autumn.
PAIN DU SUCRE, NORTH FACE (TD+, 55 ̊, 350m)
– After drinking coffee for three hours at the lift station in a snowstorm, Arne Backstrom, Tobias Granath and I decided to go for it. We found perfect conditions and still caught the last train back to the valley.
(RIGHT) Andreas in Chamonix, shot by Tero Repo.
COL DE L’AIGUILLE VERT, DIRECT (TD, 5.5, 50-55 ̊, 850m)
– Most people ski the easy variation and claim the grade for the Direct. I’ve skied them both and there’s a big difference.
MONT BLANC, WEST FACE (TD+, 5.1, E3, 45-50 ̊, 900m) – Tobias Granath and I did it in one day from the first lift and were back in Courmayeur by 3pm.
AIGUILLE DU PLAN, EAST COULOIR of the GRANDE GENDARME, FIRST DESCENT (TD+, 5.4, E4, 700m).
AIGUILLE DU PLAN, NORTH FACE (TD+, 5.3, E3, 45-50 ̊ pass. 55 ̊, 500m) – with Tobias Granath.
AIGUILLE DU MIDI linkups – Skiing the MALLORY, EUGSTER (TD+, 56 ̊) and COL DU PLAN (TD) in one day.
Ever wondered what gear it takes to nail a first descent on Denali? Or to link three infamous Aiguille du Midi shots in one day? Click here to see Fransson's gear, dissected.