Just a few weeks ago, we featured a travel update from Seth Morrison. He filled us in on his recent trip to Chamonix where he'd been shooting for his film, The Ordinary Skier.
Seth brought JP Aucliar along on the trip, and JP, being a first timer to the famed ski resort, had much to do in the way of preparation. Seth gave us his perspective, and now, we give you JP's.
Jp's Travel Update:
Prior to the trip, I was trying to imagine what it was going to feel like to ski here. Besides a couple of movies from the 80's and a few stories, the closest thing I had in mind were the heli-ski trips I had taken in Alaska in the past. I thought I could compare the two, simply because I felt like they both had big, long, steep and exposed terrains.
For the most part, I just accepted that I was about to be taken out of my comfort zone, so I did as best as I could to be prepared; I worked on my cardio, hiked as much as possible, asked a lot of questions about equipment etc, did a little brush up on the knots and I put on my "open-to-new-things" attitude.
On the first day, we went up the Italian side of the Mont Blanc. I had been feeling quite good up to that point, taking things as they came and trying not to anticipate too much. But on the third tram up to the Helbronner, just as I realized I still hadn't caught my breath from the 30-meter walk between the trams, it hit me: “I really don't know if I'm cut for this shit!”
Looking out the scratched tram window, everything seemed so big, so long, so steep, so exposed, and with the current conditions, so icy… I had seen big terrains before, but the idea of navigating on the ground the whole time and climbing up those big faces made me feel smaller then I had ever felt before. It became hard to tell whether I was out of breath from the altitude or if it was the anxiety settling in.
A couple days into the trip, I was pleased to realize the anxiety had been replaced by calmness, great respect and a slight sense of comfort. It turns out my saving grace was also the main difference when comparing helicopter to manpower access to big lines: the pace at which you access the slope.
"It's obvious!" you might say, to which I would reply, "I agree." But that factor has a much greater impact on me than I could have imagined. It's as if after 13 years of high pace travels and skiing, I finally had taken the time to slow things down a bit. And it felt so good!
I got thrown into a heli for the first time in 1998, straight from Quebec, right to the Monashee mountaintops. It seems like ever since that point, it's been all about speed and efficiency, sleds and helis. Helicopters are the epiphany of quick access. One minute you're in your hotel room, and the next, you're on top of 2000" run, which just got 2 feet of fresh, and because of the roll over, you don't get to see what your line really looks like until you're half way down it.
It's fast, committed and aggressive. For sure we take time to observe, study, assess. Precautions are taken, but it all takes place at a tremendous rate. Everything is "on the go", the heli is loud, communications are difficult, and the whole experience can get really intense… As far as I'm concerned, there aren't many better ways to get the heart rate up in the morning.
It feels so much more organic to access the slope by foot. It becomes so much more intimate. In some of the terrains we chose to ski, the consequences can be greater than the ones I might put myself up against in Haines for example, but the approach is so much more gentle. You get to spend several hours in the snow, so before you even make your first turn you get a real feel for the snow conditions, the run itself, the cruxes etc.
As I ski down a steep, exposed, icy line, instead of thinking about the run as a whole, I think about each turn one by one. One step at the time on the way up, one turn at the time on the way down. I've never been so focus on my turns before. On each turn, it's like I feel everything… It's an amazing thing to be spending all that concentration on such simple actions. It's feels good on the soul!
First impression on ski mountaineering: I'm all about it!