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Playing a bird’s way: The North Face of the Col du Plan with wings

Would you find rippers like these on the water? Guys who would have the same idea to ride the sea during a storm.  Up here, in Chamonix, France, it’s like Wiamea Bay and the heaviest surfers in the world are paddling out toward a huge swell.

It was early May and it had been storming for days. In most places you would’ve waited for a week to let the snow stabilize, but this was not most places. This was Chamonix—and the maniacs were ready to play, to ride big exposed spaces and have the rides of their lives.

As only skiers who have experienced the Aiguille du Midi on one of those special days know—the unimaginable is possible up here.  When the bin is full of your crazy and proficient friends, the only rules are “respect the mountain” and “stay alive,” while riding the lighting on a pow-buffed face.

Pure blue skies, a lot of new snow and I had a wing in my bag.  I knew if my bros could carry the ropes, I would have a shot at taking off from the rappel point on the Col du Plan. It had only been done once—by me the year before. If I didn’t have to deal with the rope, rappels and deadly slough in the hanging exit couloir, I knew I could send it off the huge ice cliff and fly down.

Bird’s flight path. PHOTO: Ross Hewitt

Of course, the conditions would need to be ideal for the critical launch, but if all systems were not a “go,” I had my friends to back me up. This was an opportunity, to truly ski the best and ‘fawk the rest, and freeride with a speed wing all the way back down to the valley floor.

Straight off the lift and out of the tunnel, it was a bit of a race. Of course, some other friends were thinking of the same descent too, and we found ourselves in a little competition of who would be there first.

Fortunately, Papy Millet was the quickest out of the gate and at the entrance of the col, he laid it out that me, him and Ross Hewitt would open this baby up while the others, waited expectantly with smiles and focus pasted on their faces. But I was having a hard time focusing, not because of the intensity of the situation, no no….it was worse…

I had a problem in the lower chakras—if you will—and if it wasn’t fear gurgling, it had to be something I ate? Has any other freeride extreme skier had to take a bathroom break while on the North Face?

Papy used the rope for about 10 meters and then straight-lined onto the face, letting his skis run with big, arching turns down to the rappel point.  Ross and I knew it was on, and could let it go on cold stable snow, having some of the best turns of the season.

At the rappel it was totally calm. Mystic clouds, no wind and near perfect conditions for a takeoff…

I said goodbye to my friends as they descended out of sight, and stomped and hacked a launching place out of the steep face. Patience proved easy, as it was obvious if I set up my wing before the other crews came down then it would get sloughed out, making it easy to relax and watch as eight other riders descended down to me.

A glimpse of Bird, mid-flight, before disappearing into the valley below.

There were three groups now: Victor de le Rue and Camille Armand; Loic Chamel, Titi Gross; and appearing from around the corner high on the Tournier entrance sliding on thin snow over blue ice, the Cham guides, Jonathan “Douds” Charlet, Medhi Bidault and Deschamps, all making gorgeous turns in the early morning sun-spotted light. Only in Cham would you have this many riders from around the world celebrating the ride of their life in such an exposed and powerful place.

As I prepared my wing, it was an honor to have my brothers watching on, giving way to extra focus. Double checking my  lines, I heard Medhi say “take care Bird,” and, chiming in, Douds and Victor added words of positivity and strength.

Then it was time, I leaned out over my ski tips towards the abyss, embracing that frozen peaceful moment where time becomes irrelevant— and then my wing was up. In two seconds, it was as if I was shot out of a canon towards outer space.

PS — And little did they know, well except for Ross and Victor, that I had the first known poop while descending la Face Nord, Col Du Plan.

This video was shot on Rylo.

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