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 😉
I first met Dave 10 years ago, he was in turn fast talking dave or dave the brave depending on the days. We connected after we randomly -surprisingly stumbled on each other on the streets of the black rock city in 2007 (*maybe) . We had that in common. Dave was really strict on whom he was skiing with and at the beginning i probably did not fit his standard. We were not skiing together. I would just hear or see the stories of his impressive everyday skiing.. He was out every day, tagging big heavy lines every other days . His nose for powder patch was unrivaled . I followed his boot pack many times. He called that bad etiquette. Following boot pack gave me confidence and strenght. I became stronger so later i was skiing with him every now and then . This is how i realized how smooth and stylish of a skier he was no matter what type of slopes he was on. He could ski the steeps and exposed the same way he would ski grand montet. I bought a proper lens camera to document skibuming in the cham valley. His skiing and lifestyle fitted perfectly my vision. I thought he was a good rep for skibuming. His style and comitments deserved stories and covers in magazines. He landed a few sponsors so we spent a season skiing and shooting together. My pictures were not good enough to make it anywhere…Later i got into my share of mountains hell meanwhile Dave surrounded himself with the most bankable photographers friends and well…. pretty much the same day he died he scored an article in powder magazine.
the la Palud lift takes you on the best lift access terrain on the planet. This is why we go there. There is also a nice small family village atmosphere feeling that is completely lost in the industrial disneycham junkfest . This is why we keep on going there.
The marbree is arguably the most beautiful lift accessed run i have skied. It just doesn’t get any better than that if you like freeriding.
Skiing south facing huge powder face is “extremely crazy” by any standard. Many people never go there on powder days. NEVER. I used to not go until i started seeing my friends numerous posts on social medias bragging about the best powder day ever with no crowds around. So i started going feeling i was doing something very crazy . I met with many “not so crazy” regulars there including guides and pros. The “extremely crazy” became just “crazy” . I started going regularly on powder days. You can’t beat the atmosphere and the terrain on the ” italian side” . I could see guided group dropping into the marbree on big days, all kind of people, pros , guides and punters dropping into the exposed Cable runs on huge days or stormy days . Into the entreve. So the “crazy” slowly became “normal” . David loved the marbree . Every thing was normal that day, he took the first lift he could. People skied the run the day before, guided group were ahead of him and guided group were behind him. when he dropped in , he triggered the weak point and the entire face went down on him. Bad luck. Some say it was too late. Maybe so they feel better next time they drop in at 9.30 . No, it is “extremely crazy “ to ski south face powder. period. It is not “normal” . I could stop going there. But in this “instagram-facebook” era we are in , how many posts about the good uncrowded time there from friends-pros and guides is it gonna take me to go back? “another spectacular day in the best terrain of the world with friends and no one around” …1000 times. It is a little like trying to quit heroin whilst doctors are sending you videos on how good it is…
And then again, this type of layers also happens on north facing slopes.
powder Skiing is extremely crazy then. It is not normal. We tend to forget about it in this “dolce cabbana” type advertising ski universe we are in…
That same black friday, brendan o sullivan died sliding down the north face of tour ronde. I didn’t know him well, i just skied a few good runs with him. His resume of achievement in cham and the world can rival any of the big “pro” guys, he was at the top of our game. His list of lines skied is nothing less but impressive. Yet he was not sponsored and people barely knew who he was. He was a true gentleman, discreet and a real skibum . He always told me he would rather work , buy his own gear than bend over to get gear he didn’t choose and have to lie about it. He would rather work and buy his own trips than have to deal with cameras ,instagram, hashtags . I liked that. One of the most underrated snowboarder around.
Si vous voulez voir la nature belle et vierge comme une fiancée, allez là par un jour de printemps ; si vous voulez calmer les plaies saignantes de votre cœur, revenez-y par les derniers jours de l’automne ; au printemps, l’amour y bat des ailes à plein ciel, en automne on y songe à ceux qui ne sont plus.
Le Lys dans la vallée de Honoré de Balzac
[ Balzac ]
Every autumn i go on a work/meditation retreat off the grid deep in the california woods. it is always a very good time to think and ponder. After a couple of weeks my friend Huevos rushed to me with what he could get from a one bar connection on his phone about a very bad news concerning my friends JP Auclair, Andreas Fransson and Bjarne Sahlen. We couldn’t get more than a random page announcing briefly the confirmed death of Andreas and JP. Frustration was high as we couldn’t get anymore info than that. what happened? Bjarne? what the fuck. A month prior i was at a bbq at Fransson with Bjarne and they talked about their chilean project. There was no immediate plans to get down to connections so i just swallowed the news , deep. From deep , there is a howling of sadness… the tears… The tears have not yet been on the outside. I am around people, and I don’t want to be comforted. They don’t know them . Not letting them out. They might come later, the tears. But for now they stop inside, leaving my eyes glossy. Moments come in my mind, those times spent with fransson at the top of the aiguille du midi waiting for windows, remembering his advises and betas on huge runs then rarely skied, remembering the west face of mont blanc and the eugster i would not have skied had he not told /encourage me “you should go you can do it” .
It is so unfair.
Fransson is known as a punk ass skier for his descent of denali or other “no future” type endeavor. Since he started his guide program and met his girlfriend Ali he was tamed. Cautious. Extremely experienced.Focused on details. safe. more conservative in his choices.
i remember meeting jp 5 years ago in cham during the shoot of “ordinary skier” . He was the most unusual pro skier/park head jibber i met. Not looking the part: discreet, smart, well travelled, intelligent, artsy, well read, creative , humble. I remember him telling me how scared he was of alaska and powder, avalanches. I saw him many times after: cragging in cham , I was there on his first descent of the mallory…Later I waited for him when he skied the frendo with fransson in a white out whilst we skied the eugster that day and we all met at the bottom drinking beer.
he just had a baby.
Later, My friend Huevos said it looks like something happened to a “liz “ as well. We couldn’t get more on the short connection. just someone posted ” bye Liz” on Facebook. I immediately thought of Liz Daley but i knew she wasn’t with Fransson. she is in cham climbing “spliiiitttttters” with her newly fiance and good friend of mine Davide Demasi AKA Diamond. I saw them 20 days ago, at a welcome to cham Liz BBQ.
We all decided to go eat pizza in town. Alleluya, connection. I couldn’t wait any longer. The first post i see is the one from Diamond announcing Liz daley’s death. I couldn’t hold it anymore and bursted in tears for a minute in the rough neck scene i am in. pretty. …fuckin hell.
Liz Daley. really?
This is beyond fucked up.
She was so conservative in her choices , she was so safe. I always enjoyed the contrast with her girly manners in a brutal environment, she was always so pro. I was angry when she told me she had to switch from patagonia to Eddie Bauer because patagonia wouldn’t put her on payroll. Why?. She was so good at advertising , her numerous post on TGR were brilliant LINK, full of life, fun. Her few videos were so lively and funny. She was no Peterson but heck, most of us can identify with doing our toe nails at the base of denali more than G-s-ing massive faces in AK. Anyways.
It doesn’t matter. She is dead now.
I am crushed.
3 good people are gone. Again. it is redundant . too many. The usual “ he died doing what he loved” gets me pissed off. it doesn’t mean anything anymore. Andreas said” there are no good reason to die for but the mountains gives me a reason to live for” Ok, fine. My parents who see the numerous dead people post on Facebook dont understand at all. They are worried. I am confused. It is snowing now in cham . I am not excited . whatever. yes . it is snowing. The only thing that keep me skiing isn’t skiing anymore .per say. It is just the people i meet. Without skiing i would not have met such unique characters like JP, Andreas and Liz. This is about the people, those moments. What i remember most are those times spent with people before and after skiing. the skiing is always good, it is just skiing. I am pissed off at skiing right now. …
In La Kesh
A FEW PICTS
I don’t have pictures of JP but here a video he made whilst skiing the frendo/ eugster. It shows his creativity and what he could do with just some go pro footage. So much richer and elaborate than what you usually see coming from the usual ski hipster- pro-park-freeride-facebook-instagram crowd nowadays …
i build more cairns at the signal every time we loose someone…
in one run you can meet a soul mate then brutally loose it all in just one other run. tragically ephemeral. like snow.
Picture from Court Leve
http://www.courtlevephoto.com of Christian Cabanilla flying. A good memory of who he was.
I was at the top of the world on that ridge. in shape, sick runs, good people. With a great friend . …Everything IS new and fresh. I was Being a “pro” photographer in a heliski paradise. Imagine that. We had so many projects. so much joy. It all scrambled in one seconds. game over.
IT was a freak accident. Like many other in the mountains. We were not pushing it or trying to be rad. The run was steep for only 200 M. It was not exposed: no seracs/crevasses/cliffs. Not even that much snow. A pretty mellow run by today’s standard really. I was off guard not paying attention. misstep. I’am still unclear on how we could have made it safer other than using ropes. Tom konop was at the safest possible spot, he fell. The short time it took to break, 5>10 mins, tells me it would have broken even with small weight. I had all the tools to make a fast abalakov, carrying cams and nuts even. I didnt think of it. It was just bad timing. Gravity. Weak layers. Not predictable. Our mistake was to be on that ridge. We all wanted to be there. That’s that. Bad happenstance of less than a meter (i could have hugged him just seconds before we fell) or bad luck. Both. I dont know. he is gone, partying with too many of my friends.
i would not trade any minutes i had in Haines Ak for anything else. It was all good times. I was there for my friend Chris Cabanilla last week to second of joy. For his last breath. I documented it. it is the job he gave me. His spirit knew it was time. I fell down with him, close to him. Maybe to realize it is ok. It is a good ride. No pain, no fear. You give it up, relax and fly away. It is a beautiful way to pass. Hell really start when you wake up. I lost him, I lost our pipedreams I lost my health, my skis, my pride. I was there for his last perfect moment of joy. For his ride up and over. brotherhood. i am back in my homeland. Almost recovered .trying get my dream back. Christian cabanilla was a good one, loved by so many, positive, enthusiastic, happy, professional. Heli pilot and guide allowed him to visit the world and give many people the best time of their life. He is remembered and loved by many as a great man, fun to be around .
i have more dust of gold in my heart. I cherish that.
thank you cab.TU M’A RENDU LA MORT PLUS DOUCE.
tchao mon ami. see you tomorow.
Cab wanted more pictures of him guiding and snowboarding. Maybe to market his next “grand scheme plan” as he called it. He needed to be more visible as a snowboarder and a guide. He knew with me around it would get done. I just pull out my camera constently. Bad light good light , good pictures or not. It doesnt matter.I am a social media whore. Unfortunately the 2 hours riding we had together was in the shade and most days we had in AK were cloudy. I didnt come back with the “promised” load of spectacular bankable Haines AK pictures. OH well. Still, each one of those remind me of a smell, of words, a feeling, a moment, a touch.
I dont know why we play that game, It just feels good, riding takes me away from my everyday That’s my real being. it’s an escape TO real life, to what IS an amazing reality. There’s no better feeling then being on top of the world, surrounded by nature.
Christian loved it, the steepest and exposed the better. He was good at it. He wanted to come back to cham for the steep season and for winter again. this is how I was in Haines, couch karma he told me once.
I miss his world
A dreamer like me, we were hiding in the same places. He came into my life, and left a mark. . . his place in my heart is tender; a bruise of longing, a pulse of unfinished business. Just hearing his name pushes and pulls at me in a hundred ways…
may 31 2013
30/06/13. 4 months now. My life is on hold. Since the 3rd of March. I lost my stoke for the mountains. Is it ever gonna come back? I cant stop thinking of that week in Haines.The What ifs? are haunting. Often, i feel like calling, get pissed at him for the accident “little Brash, so you came out fine from “the death sport capital: chamonix”. Im not even a “guide”. 3 runs in your mini playground and game over.You failed, poseur,fuck you!” … tell him to be safe and i care about him. this”loss” is taking so long to heal. I should let it go.
Is it because i fell down as well, post trauma. It is the first time i am in a ski accident. getting hurt. Maybe because Chris snatched me out of my routine. I was smached back to it violently. It is Not a bad routine but being in that routine completely wrecked phisically, mentally and financially isnt that fun. It pulls me back to that week.
There is the moment before. A moment when life was normal. When I lived with Chris in a small place, sharing life . moments. Hope. the last night was spent talking about life and death. Projects and dreams. Womens. helis. mountains… This moment before the accident I know, but not before I understand because there is no understanding moments like this, the moment before the future no longer matters, before the future is nothing but a wish for the past. fawk! i miss him. I miss his enthusiasm his obsessions. He was driven. crazy. Passionate. Like a spoilt kid flying thru life. So fresh. I didnt just fall down from the ridge. I fell down from his dream cloud.
in a weird twisted way, I dont mind this state of mind right now . Its summer, I am back into the pace of office life. night shift day shift. it chafes. It seems pointless and dull. Boring. My boiling heart and mind- His world and projects in comparison seem alive.
July 22nd full moon : reminiscing
waking up at 5am under the full moon.His livingroom in Juneau. I remember thinking it feels melancholic. I could hear him sleep. He woke up. We smoked a spliff.
It all stopped so brutally. Like waking up from a nightmare. I can remember each and every seconds of the day. Every words we said. When we woke up. His daily happy-good- mood song “goooood morniinnng cedric” , Our breakfast. the guide meeting. Hanging out, smoking in the sun. Each runs. The last heli ride. I remember buckling him up. His face when we heard the whumfs before it all disapeared. That very second before it all vanished. Like an illusion . A day dream. it never existed.
It is mid summer so im started to go thru all my winter stuff. Craving the white fluff moments. Im not much of a video guy but I stumble unto this. Nothing much, you can see cab just a little. It is the first day I met him and skied with him. The video just shows Us hanging out at the bottom of an epic 2500 Meters of knee deep powder run thru couloirs, rollers and forrest in Italy. We are waiting to go on another run. Hanging out. This is what we do mostly: Hanging out. With great people. In between we ski or climb. but mostly: we hang out. We Meet with amazing people from around the world. We Share moments. Priceless epic time. Perfects moments. Until one day some disapears . That does not get any easier.
3rd september. Im out of the shockwave now. I am still not active in the mountains, just trying to get stoked for next winter. I cant stop being pissed off at how it all turned out. Christian wanted me to have the best time of my life, make a lot of money, shoot amazing pictures. He wanted to show me the best of AK, of his zone. It is presisely the opposite of everything that happened. Worst 6 months, worst ski, lost money , crap pictures. WTF. If i had cash, i would go back and make sure to do as planned….like he wanted. To cab it up!
I had to charge my US phone , i open my messages box and found that one ..message from heaven?
I was apres skiing at the fort the night before when i got that message. I went back home. We went to have dinner at that mexican joint, some nice fish tacos , ak shrimps and tons of margharitas. Chris paid the bill, that was his last dinner. We went back home, wasted. Carried on with crown royal. Cab wanted to go check out the borealis outside but i was tired. That is when he said “if it is your last night , you’d die without ever see the borealis”. We went on and on talking about life death and what we would do right now if we knew it was our last night. Odd timing.
Electronic memory is odd sometime.
I managed to get a picture of Cab published in the winter issue of Kronicle Magasine, which is a good backcountry snowboard mag in the USA> he would be stoked. Especially a picture of him in the white room.
It is chris’s B day in 5 days Facebook tells me. I just realize i took that picture last year on the 21 st of december. I didn’t know him then, he just happened to be there with a mutual friend the day we were shooting picts and film. I remember seeing him shredding down that run like a pro, thinking who is that dude…We didn’t know it was his bday. we were joking about the Mayan end of the world calendar thing…. A friendship was born that day …
It’s been a year now. They say: everything happens for a reason. I am still searching. I haven’t had fun skiing since then. I ski because that is what i do. I have good times but feeling changed since then, Not the same stoke. Im not so psyched. Oh well. it will come back.
Alaska. The end.
April 28th. 2016
3 years now. Skiing changed so much . Since that day i lost Magnus Kastengren, David Rosenbarger, Andreas Fransson, J.P Auclair, Liz Daley, Brendan o’sullivan, Scott siderstrom. What a waste. The steep skiing frenzy is more popular than ever. But skiing doesn’t really give me a reason to live anymore. I tried to fall back on ski photography with no success really. I am a free man trying to figure out what is next. Photography probably. I’m still skiing. But it is so far away from that pipe dream we had.
For a ski bum photographer like me to go on a heli ski trip in the ski dream land haines alaska is a pure phantasy , a dream alike seeing unicorn shitting rainbows. That was until i met with christian cabanilla in chamonix ….after a few days showing him the best of chamonix , a road trip thru switzerland and a month worth of a platonic internet relationship he made it clear that i will enjoy the AK powder this year. Wether i want it or not. i am happily kidnapped. He hooked me up with seaba (south east alaska backcountry adventure) , organized my itinary , paid for my lodging and a month worth of food. When i arrived in juneau, we immediatly floated to haines where i met with the seaba crew and the fort seward lodge . I was thrilled and exited , everyone there is hearthy, genuine and are characters. The guides, the cooks , the owners every one is the embodiement of awesome. There are no plain , boring persona. The fort seward lodge is unique and it is clear that you are here to ski. You could easily compare seaba/ fort seward lodge with chamonix. It has the same vibe the same kind of people. A skier’s dream. The first 5 days were shitty weather :we went slednecking , met with awesome locals. Chris was sick for 2 days which i spent making a cattrack with nick trimble (one of the owner of seaba) for future catskiing. When the first clear day came up, i was hired by guests to take picture of their day. That day was my first day skiing AK, my eyes wide open looking at the endless snowporn in front of me. . The second day, cab and myself were given a seat with 2 AK locals who come and ski here frequently. They are good riders so the pace is fast and the runs bigger and steeper. I am skiing the dream: Haines, AK. Cab is so stoked to see me having a blast . living the dream. …. But. Unicorns dont exist and the fuckin ridge broke off. In 3 seconds i fell off from heaven thru the 300 meter asshole of hell and with no rainbows. Its like a nightmare, an out of body experience. I could see my body bounce off stuff and fall thru darkness. Painless but frightening. Cab is dead. And im here in haines ak, in his house , in his bed, in the middle of his clothes . Broken up, heart broken and completly lost. I was not expecting a 7 days trip in haines. it was more a month worth of skiing a safer-than-cham snow heaven . but destiny decided otherwise i guess, the bitch. why so short? why chris?. WHY now?
The seaba crew and guests helped me a lot recovering, trying to see the light. I m poping oxy like candies. Drinking beers smoking. Trying to figure out what to do, what to think, what to understand. What did i learn from cab’s death, from that fuckin accident. Nothing really. Or nothing i didnt know already. I will go back to haines . To the fort seward lodge skiing with seaba. (well! without cab’s loving generosity it might just stay a dream. )
Time will take care of the my loss: Chris Cabanilla. my beloved friend. my brother in arms. it’s been way to short, i had important stuff to tell you . you had to show me your playground. fuck. it sucks. rest in peace.i am swimming in a dark cloud.
For now, i am trying to heal and I cant wait to get back on my skis and honor Chris Canabilla with skiing the rad and fast.
here are some pictures. unfortunately, i only had 2 days riding and i thought i had a months shooting lifestyle…so its limited to a few runs…