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 in 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 which i prefer to call ” 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. 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 he 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. I just hope he is a female . Harassed by all those male. 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 😉
that was really fun!
Or how Michael “bird” Shaffer, JT Holmes and Valentin Delluc are showing skiers/snowboarders a new style of getting out of runs without dicking around with ropes or sidestepping shit snow.
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.
experiment on a 2 weeks images…
This pre season started better than the last 4 years, we got hit by a few big storms. Yet we are now dealing with abnormal temp fluctuation bringing the iso 0 from 800M to 2000M back and forth with a lot of precipitations. Which makes it hard to ski anything. It is forecasted for the next 10 days so we have to be patient. I am pretty sure , when the weather will calm down , it will be sick skiing, top to bottom. I had to work most of that time so skiing at lunch break mostly , alone more often than not. I got some epic forrest skiing sometime meeting with fun crews….
A nice early season scenic training hike with Davide De masi and Dyane Dvy
On a lunch break i met with Ross Hewitt, johanna smilla stalnacke and Michelle Blaydon for an epic plan de l aiguille session
A day under the super classic Val Veny cable line with Luca Rolli and Luca Pandolfi.It was new to me and despite seeing that run from the lift as we go up, it is very intimidating and not so straight forward, steep and very exposed. I was happy to be with Rolli who is conservative in the way he approaches this kind of run…
A day at the montenvert forrest delight with Ross Hewitt and Michelle Blaydon
An epic lunch brake with Glenn Plake his wife Kimberley and the son of Remy Lecluse at the plan de l ‘aiguille…
As i am writing this , we have a 5/5 avalanche risk which i have never seen in the 12 years here in cham….or maybe once. Mostly due to heavy snow fall over 2000 meters and heavy snow and rain under 2000 meters
powerful Humans skiing. It is such strong skiing down a gnarly face. Very impressive. I was posted at the very top of a mountain across the face so i couldn’t hear who was going and which start. Getting a shot was alike posting myself in the Zambian bush to wait for an animal to cross path. When it happened , i wasn’t sure who and sometime the time to get my camera at the right spot was too late. Oh well.
My only day off in over a month and the first night it snowed side ways in chamonix all winter. Nicklas told me grand montet was all time yesterday . I’m watching today’s videos of hellbroner italy sort of making my decision .Italy. Morning comes, there is at least 50 cm on the ground, i go for grand montet threatening nicklas to kill him if there is more than 10 peeps and no powder. I drive up. junk show. CRAP! Thinking i should turn around and head for hellbroner. Anyways…after all. it was an amazing days , no people and first time i ski those bottom couloirs in 3 years. it felt like a december . no , really it was.