Winter 2005, my first year in Chamonix, a complete rookie in anything alpinism-glacier. A classic February storm day lapping the top grand montet staying within the resort. On the last bin to the top, 10 pax max, i see that tall agitated guy wearing a back pack and a harness , talking to the lifty excited about a weather window and how he would be first track down the pas de chèvre . All i know about pas de chèvre is i can see it from my balcony , it looks sick and somehow finishes in Chamonix. I waited and watched him disappear into a sun-setting with fluffy snow flying around. I followed his track to realize he wasn’t going into my balcony view. I felt stupid and worry . i kept following the track until i could see what i was about to ski . The rectiligne. “Jeezing my pants” . Spectacular run all the way to where i met with Luca at the mottet hike . He immediately asked me if i’am a mogul skier because i followed his track . I admitted it is my first time and i have no clue of where i’am . He realized i didn’t have a back pack just free riding , he laughed . A friendship was born.
This is pre internet and smart phone. At that time for low income mountain plébéiens like me and Luca, to progress anywhere in Chamonix, without the red lines on runs all over the internet-go pro and a 1000 post per days , required a sense of adventure , a fair bit of stupidity or ” innocence ” and a huge amount of faith. So that day we both realized we’d be a match . I love his other motto “chi va piano, va sano e va lontano” which is very frown upon within the ski -alpinist-royals and elite scene . He sure was taking this to some annoying extreme at times . But this allowed us in years that follow to have many days bivying in the mountains to achieve climbing or riding goals. This is what our companionship was built on. Laugh-tranquillo-good times . The mountains are not an olympic stadium. We are the leisure class .
We both acquired a lot of experiences playing in the chamonix valley/italian mini golf riding zones and climbing . The climbing was by far the most comical but where I gathered the most knowledge. We were both 5c max so our days spent on aiguille de L’M north face , stuck in a lighting storm on the moine integral or climbing the frendo are some of my fondest memories.
In 2007 I had enough confidence-knowledge and along with other friends we started to tackle the bigger chamonix/alps extreme -steep skiing classic test pieces. Many of the north-east faces of the argentiere basin often sleeping at the top of the grand montet station Luca had the keys for , drinking wine , eating good food and having an amazing time . The couloir du diable. the yager. mont blanc west face . Monviso coolidge, of course still keeping it stupid/epic/faithfull with regularly storm riding the Marbree, cosmique , the eugster and anything in between. This period until 2013 is the most epic unreal intense skiing experience i’ve had . I cherish it .
Meanwhile we also lost some of our ski partners and/or influencers: Felix Hentz , Arne Backstrom, Remy Lecluse, Kip Garre .
In 2012 I invested into bigger camera equipment and Luca started to be seriously sponsored . I very fast was getting attention from brands and magazines and in 2013 I was booked on an heli trip to canada for 2 weeks and then in Haines Alaska where i would be the house photographer for a month , taking industry standards photo of pros and possibly work along sherpa cinema whilst they were finishing their movies “into the mind” shooting in Haines . This was a huge step up. Unfortunately , a cornice broke in Haines after 5 days and took all those projects with it. I lost a friend in the process . And this is where i started to loose my faith.
The years that followed , Luca’s professional snowboard career was launching, he skied Layla peak in Pakistan, big mountains in Peru. The shangri-la in Nepal, some first descents in the alps. I was trying to recover among a cycle of tragic accidents which was taking our friends/ski partners one by one sometime 2 by 2 each year for the next 5 years . I also went thru a couple of close call myself, getting beat up one too many times . The result is I lost my faith entirely but most importantly the trust in myself , in my decision’s and others’s . Including Luca.
Since, we spent those years after a bit frustrated. He kept on calling me for every mission he had or every powder days to go out with him , telling me how good it is and how fun it would be. He never understood how loosing faith and trust (in me and other) could block me from skiing anything fun.
Luca was also a big believer , he believed in fate . Everything is written on stone somewhere in the universe . The day we die is written . This is very symbolic that he died during covid restricting all the freedom he based his lifestyle on. The climate crisis is also making us guilty for any travelling, the series of mediocre winters and of course aging is limiting that freedom too. So. Evidently. If there is one guy who is now one of those free choucas up in the high mountains it is him. Give him some pizza .
For a guy like Luca Pandolfi who started snowboarding at 18 without any alpinist/snowboard royal/elite lineage guiding him , no internet red line , working night shift at the tunnel, to get to the very top professionally, riding the Shangri-la in Nepal with the biggest snowboard legend Jeremy Jones is so impressive . His resume of achievement and fun is epic. No matter how corporate he got , he was still the jester, never bending to the corporate elitism and conservatism. His video riding skyway got 100K at his death. He is happy 😉
Sahara sand storm
Anecdotally, residents in areas of frequent foehn winds have reported experiencing a variety of illnesses ranging from migraines to psychosis. The first clinical review of these effects was published by the Austrian physician Anton Czermak in the 19th century. A study by the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München found that suicide and accidents increased by 10 percent during foehn winds in Central Europe
With only 10 days before starting a summer tedious job I chose something as far and different as possible. I heard of the Gili islands in Egypt in talks about free diving. My bank account didn’t allow for a course or even training session but the highlight of my trip was going spear fishing with a local. Other than that i fully enjoyed the bare foot life style on an island without motor vehicles. I also spent 3 days in Ulawatu , Bali, visiting my friend Manu, Kiwi Johny, Donna, Danzi all from Cham film flam. I Enjoyed Balinese culture , an odd, funky version of Indhuism which has been repressed in most indonesia and in the gilis. The gilis are pretty relaxed however , very touristic and apparently full of a party crowd but luckily i was there during ramadan. very quiet …I spent most of my time snorkeling and walking around the island. Spearfishing with local a couple of time and then enjoying the indonesian version of ocean beach S.F in Uluwatu Bali . Trying myself at on slope surf photography in an obscure corner with a night approach. Scary.
i finally found an excuse or a kick to go to tropical places. I always found it boring unless at some moon parties. Surf windsurf and kite surf are fun , it is a long learning curve, heavy expensive clumsy gear to carry around travelling. Like skiing. Scuba diving seems a bit boring. Freediving is cheap, light , gear easy and business starts at 5 meters down …it is fully immersive, immediate, intense and extreme. Freediving is a huge work on self. Isolated, pressure , depleted of oxygen in a complete new environment with weird noises, odd body feelings . loosen up or freak out and turn around. People don’t go anywhere deep unless fully calm and tuned up. It is an intense forced meditation. Perfect for my anxiety and other PTSD like syndrome. I started in Dahab, south Sinai. It is a bit random, a friend mentioned it , easy and cheap to get too. They have a blue hole which goes straight to 95 meters down. The entire fishing village is a world center destination for freediving, scuba diving. Dahab used to be part of the Nabataean Kingdom , mostly bedouins having a good time from 300 B.C until 106 A.D when the Roman took over and ruined everything . Then the Ottoman came around and imposed their rules, culture and religion. The israeli came in after WW2 and now Egypt. There is an odd mix of culture , rather entertaining. South Sinai is the only part of Egypt situated in Asia. The peninsula acquired the name due to the assumption that a mountain near saint catherine monastery (Roman invasion) is the biblical mount Sinai. Assumption largely contested . The ancient égyptien and bedouins called it “ta mefkat “ or land of turquoise. Turquoise mined not in this turquoise water but in the red limestones mountains you see in the background since at least 3000 BCE. Logic was strong back then. Dahab is mostly bedouin and less Egyptian it seems, a more chilled attitude , very bohemian, the town is very cozy, like a small fishing port without much concrete. People are very nice and everyone is settled back. The water is turquoise, the mountains are red, multicolored fishes everywhere, corals and good food. There is prayer 5 times a day. And plastic trash and other cig butt all over. By comparison Sharm el sheik seemed more like a concrete jungle, expensive, check points everywhere and stressed out Egyptians. I took my classes at the dahabfreediving center who are an awesome cosmopolite crew of passionate freediving bums. The center and classes are tight and very pro. Each coach have their own style which makes it fun . Some were better at pushing me other good at relaxing me and showing me good technique. My progress was a bit slow due to my sinuses exploding a couple of times. It was very fun and i am ready for more.
Dahab is very often windy so windsurfers and kitesurfer have a blast
One of the main subject of the free diving courses is safety. Diving partner need to be able to dive 1/3 of the diver goal depth and follow the ascent looking for signs of loss of motor control or black out and act accordingly . It also helps the diver on the climb to relax. It’s nice on the climb up to see a relaxed body and I usually mimic it , neck and torso loosen up. Tension and stress use oxygen …
my first shot was this. Dahab is beautiful and cute but the trash management is a disaster. Trash don’t get picked everyday and the cats dogs goat and wind get into it first. It is everywhere. I dont think this will be resolved until the international industry stop producing plastic or other non biodegradable products.
that was really fun!
January was as hectic as December if not more. Massive amount of precep, rain, wind, snow . 100 of chalets evacuated, avalanche’s wind blowing chalet out, 2 lifts broken, some buried, road broken. Chamonix mostly closed, twice under avi level 5. We spent most of that time skiing Pavillon in italy , in the lowers hellbroner (skyway) feeling somewhat safe or not (it just happened to be open), eating pizza, drinking beers, enjoying the sun the few time it was around. I was mostly in the dark, sometime under heavy snow falling, testing the limitations of my cameras/lens and my abilities… I had One day only up the aiguille du midi skiing a valley blanche. The other few good sunny days, i was working. I also took pictures of the new marker binding release event …… some images are redundant with previous post. Photos in total disorder. During a couple of sunny windows, a lot of the argentiere basin steep runs got skied. I had to work shuttling people around most those days but that is hope.