Heli Ski Guiding In The Chilean Andes
Huge mountains and potential for skiing, great wilderness, untouched terrain, a feeling of adventure, no-mans-land, one of the last frontiers of skiing, wonderful nature, good food, wine and many new friends. Last week I got back from guiding for Powder South Heli Ski Guides in Chile. It was a great adventure and a pleasure working with Rodrigo, Joaquin, Pete, Greg and the rest of the crew!
Based high up in Cajon del Maipo one and a half hour from the center of Santiago, Powder South got two ski lodges with everything you can ask for in comfortable living. From there we take of into the high mountains of the Andes in a quest for the best snow and the most beautiful ski lines we can find. The following days we repeat as long as the legs can hold up and the weather and conditions permit. This is a truly amazing place and definitely some of the best skiing possible to find in the southern hemisphere winter.
I’m already planning to come back next year and if you would be interested to join the adventure, contact me here!
A Winding Testament Of Our Peru Adventure
Dreams. I don’t know where they are coming from. Well, that’s a lie really, so I will keep it for my self a bit longer. What I don’t know is what they are made of. They sipper in through the cracks of my reality, mostly at night, but also in the daytime at times when my mind wanders. They are like invisible smoke dancing in the shadows and I think that it was they Tarkovskij was speaking about in the deserted landscapes of Stalker: “What they call passion is not emotional energy, but the friction between their souls and the outside world”.
They hunt me down whether it’s tenderly with a softish smile or they take me over and make me think they are power enough to live for. Dreams are the dance of heaven and the source of both the beauty and pain of creation. But they need space around them so they can inspire themselves freely and grow with the dance, grow beyond our logical reach and take us with them on journeys we no longer create. That’s where we learn new things and our reality expands, slowly, slowly with every piece of the puzzle put together and we start to nod first insecurely, but then when we get taken my the magic of the puzzle – then we are nodding firmly, agreeing with life, agreeing with everything. Explications are no longer needed and we get a harder and harder time seeing if it’s we ourselves that are dreaming, or if we are already living in the dream.
But then comes when we wake up. That sometimes happens you know, that the glass house get crushed, falls together and the pieces spread out on the floor. We wake up, and instead of thinking that learning is always a upward going process of small victories put on each other in a big pile – instead it’s a up and down going rollercoaster.
And the funny thing is, depending on how we turn our head, up can be down and down can be up and every possible place in between. What we thought was magic at the mountaintops of our lives is everywhere. It’s just a matter on how we turn our head, and how we spin around with the ballet of perception. And sometimes, the only way to win is to loose.
A grin comes to my face. Because I know this, but still in the heat of winning and loosing, my mind is playing for the winning hand. But I guess… that’s only natural. It wouldn’t be a game worth playing at all if we didn’t argued it’s real. Like in a theatrical drama both the hero and the villain has to play their roles to their ends, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to create beauty on stage. In the green room though, they are once again best friends, and from a good and understanding audience, even though their feelings goes to the hero – the villain too, get warm applauds for good acting.
This was supposed to be a story about the mountains, and in many ways it is. It’s just that I don’t like to just scrape on the surface; I like to unwind the code.After three great but hard weeks in the Cordillera Blancas we threw in the white towel and ended the game just when we had laid the foundation and as going to ripe it’s fruits. We were done with the acclimatization, we had all the ground support set up, we were in shape, we had great objectives and good beta. It was the best snow year in a decade.
But there was this major thing that we had against us – a bad gut feeling.
It was there in the background at first, and my mind always start the inner dialogue throwing arguments up in to the air, have them fight amongst each other and then wait to see which one’s are still standing when the fight is over.
Most importantly, I start meditating on the feelings and keep on collecting arguments favoring both sides of the inner discussion. If I have a bad gut feeling in the mountains I turn around straight away, but if it’s during a project, then I become a collector of values.
Hard winds were totally wrecking the snow and storm winds from two different directions came in after our last acclimatization trip to Artosenraju. Freeride skiing was over, and now it was only a story about getting up and down things alive. Many, if not most, things media writes about from big mountain skiing covers this kind of skiing, and it sounds cool, look cool, but it’s actually kind of fake. The question society ask in general is always what was done – and never how it was done. It’s the wrong question to begin with and it goes in the wrong direction when the following story is built on a cracked foundation.
Bjarne and myself have a kind of unwritten rule, and it is to try to not do to many stupid things. And we had put ourselves in a complex situation. The glaciers we had to travel were really complex, and not at all, by any means even thinkable to do unroped. Especially when climbing. So we couldn’t really get to the lines and at the same time do filming from the other side of the valley. It was just not possible. It usually is, but we had misjudged the situation. We were one man short.
A lot of accidents were happening in the mountains. When we were there the first two weeks, three people died, where of one skier. Different mountains, different people, no one we knew. It didn’t have anything to do with us, right? We are doing this from the roots of fun, and young people dying when they are doing something they love can maybe be said to be romantic, but with too many friends parted for the same destiny it’s just sad. More things sounding responsible can be said, but for me it’s just sad, and it didn’t add to our motivation.
Moreover, most of the major lines in the Cordillera Blancas have loads of seracs. And we would need to move under them on every worthy objective we had found. Would the risk equal the rewards to go and ski some shitty but doable ski just to log a first descent or a beautiful line? Not really.
Still I was trying to make strategies, carve around these and many other arguments. Of course there are many more unsaid ones, there always are. But I’m not here to defend ourselves, just to put light on the processes marching by our though streams when we were in the mountains to learn.
I was still trying to negotiate my way around these arguments, and I found a great objective that was really worth checking out. The stars were aligned and my faith returned. We had a weather window before more hard winds were going to come in and this face had been sheltered from most of the past storms.
I told Bjarne my idea, and to time it right we would have to leave the next day. Bjarne just look down at the floor with an empty face. He had had enough.
I had also had enough, unconsciously, but I was trying to find ways to not loose. But with his answer, or missing answer, I knew straight away that we had not played our cards right and we were going to loose this game. One can say we were unlucky or the circumstances were not with us, but I like to see it like we were given a bad hand of cards. And we didn’t play bad, but we would have had to play outstandingly good to realize dreams on this adventure. But as I said before, it’s all about how we turn our heads and how we tune in our perception.
We got both an inner, as well as outer journey in the end. We got to spend time in the beautiful Peruvian mountains and we got to meet plenty of really beautiful people like Aldo, Marco and Elena at Galaxy expeditions, Chris and Isa at Andino and of course our Ecuadorian/Venezuelan friends, all of you, that made our time so truly amazing.
Bjarne and myself split up for our inner journeys. Bjarne went back to his natural elements at the coast, and I went to the Amazonian jungle for three weeks of meditation and reflection. For me it was a big dream come true to experience the deep jungle, living outside, most of the time alone and be close to both the life and the emptiness that is part of creation.
The answers and rewards usually come slowly to me after every time I have been able to totally disconnect from what would be called normal life. But for me it is as important to give space to emptiness as it is to eating, drinking, training, loving and sleeping – because it is emptiness that is implying all the other one’s, and not the other way around.
Now it’s time to be home and see what dreams that will come seeping out from the cracks of creation, spend time with family and friends and get ready for some summer (skiing).
Artesonraju – A conceptual experiment
Last week Bjarne Salén and myself went in to the Paron valley to continue our acclimatization on the mythical and indeed beautiful mountain Artesonraju, 6025m. The mountain is widely known from the Paramount Pictures logo and for being one of the main objectives for climbers (and a few skiers) in the Peruvian Cordillera Blanca. I thought it would be a perfect second step in our acclimatization because it’s very straightforward and doesn’t have any major difficulties neither for climbing nor skiing. But it’s needed to be said again, it’s up there among the most beautiful mountains I have ever seen and I was really psyched to get the chance to ski it.
After an easy hike up to moraine camp at 4800 meters we took one day of rest to really get the feel for the mountains and the conditions. At arrival the mountain looked pristine and perfect after a few days of wet snowfall. But on our rest day gusty storm winds were totally devastating for the ski conditions and plumes of snow were permanent on several places of the face. The result for my freeride dreams of the face was quiet obvious, but I always want to go up there and really give dreams a chance to unfold. You newer know, maybe there would be an untouched corner of the face where the snow would be at least consistent and grippy.
We started at midnight that following day for the summit bid, skipping the high camps, but giving myself time to really walk slow if I would need to. I really down graded myself with the timing. In the middle of the night we reached the bergschrund and before six o’clock I was at 5700m, high up on the face and maybe 1-2hours from the top. When taking of above the bergschrund the feelings for the conditions were not good but I still reasoned I wanted to go as far as I could till I could see what the wind had done with our objective. Bjarne followed me up to the schrund, and waited there together with our newfound Ecuadorian guide friends who abandoned their try already there.
It was a beautiful sunrise, and it was a devastating view to see the face: perfect steep skiing powder destroyed by warm winds and then refrozen through the cold night. The result: ice topped sastrugi as far as the eye could see.
This is a face that has been skied quiet a few times before. Ever since Patrick Vallencant did the first descent over thirty years ago people have come to ski this beauty. It’s arguable what skiing means, but I realized I could not do anything more than sideslip and hop turn this face at best. The dreams and steepness was set up on GS turns and smiles, not doing my best to kick in my edges in to the ice.
I was surprised to get comments later, saying I was giving up to easily and that I should have finished the project no-matter-what. For me that’s totally ignoring the process of why I do things. And skiing, I think, needs a bit more of ideology and style than we have at this moment. It feels like we are where climbing was 30-40 years ago when getting up by any means possible was the only thing that mattered. Success was counted by reaching the summit, and the means, whether they included using oxygen, aid or drilling bolt ladders was forgot in the process.
Now we are kind of in the same situation in mountain skiing as climbing was in back then. It’s all about just getting down things and no one usually ask how we did it. Any descent skier can technically get down any classical ski run. And that might be great for them, but no one usually asks how (style, technique, reading conditions, avoiding risk) and the mainstream focuses instead on what (the name of the run) we did.
Of course, skiing the hardest and steepest things out there will never look pretty, but skiing classical lines by the high standards of the skiers of today – should, look amazing – if the timing of the right skiers are at the right place at the right time in the right conditions. It’s just a personal opinion, but I think the ethics of skiing need to catch up with those of climbing to preserve some of the esthetics mountain skiing really deserve to have. But behold: don’t be afraid of going out there and try! With trying comes defeats, but it’s the only way of reaching for our dreams!
So this is all that went through my head on the higher slopes of Artesonraju, one of the most beautiful ski mountains I have ever seen. I knew I would reach the summit in an hour or two, but I also know I would only sideslip the upper 400 meters with an ice axe. It would be a kind of mountaineering micro success, by reaching the summit and then get back down alive. Down climbing was, at least for my ability, a no-go with the soft unreliable sugar snow below the ice topped surface. It would have been a nightmare. But with skis on, it felt ok, but it was for sure not pretty.
If I have a dream line in climbing that I really dreamt to do free, and if I was almost at the top before the crux pitches and it started raining. Then I wouldn’t try to go up there by any means. I would be there for the experience of climbing those pitches, not for getting to the summit. I would smile with the wind and rain in my face with equal joy and disappointment. I would just turn around and if the dream was strong enough, then I would come back one day. But I would definitely take a defeat for a defeat, knowing that it’s part of life and the only ingredient in life that creates the room for the sweetness of success.
I made a platform, clicked in to my skis and effectively lost vertical meters quickly making a turn here, a turn there. Side slipped where I felt like I had to.
I got down to Bjarne, Estalin and Pablo – We high-fived and returned back down to camp.
There was not much to be said. Everyone there knew the ways of the mountains and topics was already on the next one to be tried, the food, the drinks and the friends down in town.
Accelerating Time – Climbing Mode, Guides Exams And Breathing Thin Peruvian Air
After the season finale on Pain du Sucre a few weeks ago I totally switched to climbing mode for two weeks of intense training to get ready for our aspirant mountain guide exam. Every second day I was rock climbing and every second day up in the mountains practicing my short roping skills. It was a good and fun period spent in the mountains with good friends.
Then came the exam, which was our last aspirant exam after one and a half year worth of courses and tests. It was to become an intense week in the mountains around La Grave with beautiful traverses, ridges, snow climbs, long rock climbs and alpine ridges. Fortunately it went well and everyone in the group did an amazing job and passed the tests. Now we are all aspirant guides and are about half way through the Swedish UIAGM mountain guide education.
The day after the exam I would have loved to rest and relax after some hard weeks of training, but I just had to wash my clothes and repack my bags. The following day early in the morning I met up with Bjarne Salén and we went to Geneva airport to catch a flight to Lima, Peru.
We had the most effective journey I have ever experienced, and about 35 hours after I left my front door we were rolling in to Huaraz, the mountain capital of the Peruvian Cordillera Blancas.
Here we met with Aldo and Marco at Galaxia Expeditions, and they helped us out with accommodation and logistics for the area. The next day we were already bound for our first acclimatization trip to 5700 meter high Shaqsha.
We spent four days at around 5000meter with one failed attempt on a beautiful line on Shaqsha due to bad ski conditions. But the big objective of breathing thin air was accomplished and we really feel we are in a good phase so far on our little adventure.
Two days of rest has followed and it’s my first real rest days in over a month and now we are ready and motivated to go back in to the wild tomorrow. It’s always interesting to see how the body reacts to the altitude but I feel slightly positive so far and if just the ski conditions are on our side, then I hope to ski some beautiful lines before the month is over.
It’s great to be out on an adventure again with Bjarne and we are both looking forward with excitement to the weeks to come!
Season Finale On The North Face Of Pain Du Sucre
The north face of Pain du Sucre in Chamonix is one of my favorite ski lines in the world. It’s steep, it got a short approach, it goes in to a valley rarely visited in the winter, it’s difficult to get it in good conditions and important, it’s extremely beautiful. I skied it a few years back with Tobias Granath and Are Backstrom in really good conditions and I have since then always wanted to come back.
Bjarne Salén and myself have been trying to ski and film the line three times this winter, but have been let down by bad gut feelings, weather and conditions. It’s one of the most fun but also most frustrating things about difficult steep skiing: you have to time it perfectly.
This last Sunday, on our fourth try, we went for another attempt together with Samuel Anthamatten and with a film and photographer crew consisting of Guido Perrini, Tero Repo and Tim Burgess waiting at the heli base for our call.
The approach went fast and smooth and arriving at the top of the line we found perfect spring powder conditions awaiting us. We called the boys in the valley, clicked in to our skis, and then the action ball was rolling.
It’s one thing skiing this line by our selves, but it was totally unreal having the legendary Chamonix pilot Pascal Brun doing acrobatics with the heli around us making for some awesome film and photo material.
It was an amazing ski, and it really felt like we nailed it with getting it in the best conditions possible, sharing the experience with great people and then also getting it on tape for others to get a sneak peak in to our amazing mountain world.
Below are some screen grabs from Guido Perrini and Tim Burgess. Material will be released this autumn!
I’ll take this as a season finale. Now it’s time for a couple of weeks of summer, guide training and then I’m ready for a reset down south!
Thanks Sam, Bjarne, Tero, Guido, Tim and Pascal for an unreal day!
Spending Time Up North
The last one and a half weeks I’ve been up in the north of Sweden in the mountains around Abisko for a guide exam and some ski guiding.
After almost one and a half year of guide courses and plenty of training it was now finally time to do the first aspirant exam. The aspirant exam is divided in skiing, rock climbing and alpine climbing and from Monday to Thursday last week we went through the ski test. Four days that covered classic ski guiding followed – both with lifts and on skins, navigation, avalanche safety, group management, planning, strategy and finally everything came down to if we were able to guide safely, with flow, and find the best skiing attainable at a given moment. Everyone in the class did an amazing job and at the end everyone passed. Big thumbs up to our examiners Jimmy Odén and Jonathan Hultén for good and humble leadership where their skills from this arena really shine through!
After the course I stayed put at Abisko Mountain lodge to work a few days with ski guiding maestro Stefan Palm at Heli Ski Guides Sweden. We had a couple of great days with good people and atmosphere, skilled skiers, an awesome pilot and conditions that finally came together so that we were able to have a huge powder day exploring Sweden’s world class heli ski terrain. This was a perfect way of ending my time spent in the north for this season. Now I will only go south from here until next winter!
Chamonix Storm Riding – By JP Auclair
Jp Auclair just released this fantastic p.o.v from two days of skiing together with Bjarne Salén, Tom Grant, Ben Briggs and myself on the North Face of Aiguille du Midi and from one day’s powder skiing with Christophe ‘Tof’ Henry, arguably Chamonix fastest skier, on Grand Montets.
“Chamonix storm riding”, for me, captures the feeling of being out on the mountain, close to the limit, the cold wind, the snow, the feeling of being small in a great environment and it emphasizes on the artistic mysticism and friendship between those who were there. And it all feels like a déjà vu from a life lived in another dream.