Snow, what art thou? Arc’teryx Chamonix Momentum at the Bonatti Hut.

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What happens when you put several skiers and snowboarders together, shuffle in three cool guides, one skilled photographer, a breath-taking setting, marvellous views of Mont Blanc and a cosy hut? Well, ask the latest participants to Isabelle Santoire’s recent venture, two days of Snow Awareness at the Bonatti Hut in outstanding Val Ferret in Italy.

The recipe is a tried-and-tested one: fun-loving folks plus good snow and sunny weather equal big smiles and a cheerful atmosphere. Still, we were not merely there to have fun. People joined the event because Isa is a lively lady, for sure, but we also wanted to learn about snow. Snow, what art thou? Well we all know it’s candid, fun to play with, but can also be treacherous and unforgiving. The core of the event was understanding snow: How do you set a track? What is the best way to reach your goal? Should you simply aim to go from A to B opting for the steepest option? Or follow your feet and your sense of direction? In the Aosta Valley, more than elsewhere, tracks tend to be steep and encourage speed, but you’ll need a strong stamina or love races to fully enjoy it.

Rick Marchant, snow expert and Chamonix-based mountain guide, revealed some tips and skills to make your outing smoother and more interesting. You need to be able to READ snow to make the most of it. What does this mean? Do you have to stop and make in-depth analysis, stratigraphy and all that jazz? Well, that is necessary sometimes, especially when the terrain looks and feels unsafe and there is an avalanche risk. Other times, however, a glance is all it takes to know that that particular patch of snow skies well. Aren’t we after a good time?

Quite clearly, however, the emphasis is set on safety on any such outing, so practice at searching beacons and using probes and shovels was also undertaken under the watchful eyes of Isa and Sam Beaugey, the other guide taking part in the event.

The most interesting evening talk was the AAA discussion, led by Rick: the three big As of snow awareness are Aspect – Angle – Altitude. Bear these three elements in mind and Bob’s your uncle. Consider, for instance, how high the sun is and what angle it will hit the slope you’re about to reach, think about the altitude and the snow level at a particular time of the year; consider the intensity of the wind and what direction it blows, if wind slabs have been recorded and what degree of humidity snow will possess; assess how many skiers are in your party and what weight you will bring on a particular slope. Well, these are only a few of the points you’ll have to consider when setting out on a ski touring walk, trying to make the most of your day and enjoying the run!

See you at the next event!

 

More info on Chamonix Momentum here 

All pictures by Hugo Vincent Photography, except where stated otherwise.

The event was sponsored by Arc’teryx

 

 

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Approaching Col Malatra – Picture L. Prosino

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Picture L. Prosino

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Picture L. Prosino

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Picture L. Prosino

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On top of the Tete entre deux Sauts.

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A feast for the eyes, a feast for your soul. Explore & Be.

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A mountain is sincere. The weapons to conquer it exist inside you, inside your soul.      

Walter Bonatti

L’alpiniste est un homme qui conduit son corps là ou, un jour, ses yeux ont regardé. Et qui revient. 

Gaston Rebuffat

I look at climbing not so much as standing on the top as seeing the other side. There are always other horizons in front of you, other horizons to go beyond and that’s what I like about climbing. 

Chris Bonington

 

We could go on and on, and find quotes that match our own thoughts, our own essence, our fears and beliefs, our expectations and dreams. We all go to the mountains for different reasons, but all aspire to having fun.

Even when conditions are dire, the wind is blowing, you have lost your path and a storm is approaching, we need to find a way to enjoy what’s happening.

Clearly, diverse people tackle projects of varying degrees and difficulty, and we do not necessarily have to climb all the 4,000 m., 7,000 m peaks, and so on to feel content. Little things make big things happen. Isabelle Santoire and Heike Schmitt understood this and have been pushing girls (and boys) up mountains for quite some time, accompanying them in their own pursuits, cherishing their joy and, most importantly, smiling with them along the way.

For this reason, when Isabelle asked me to take part in her new Explore and Be project, a girls-only Ice climbing day in Cogne, I immediately signed in. I knew I was in for a fun day, meeting new people, sharing ideas, getting motivated. This is what Explore & Be is about.

I saw some very enthusiastic faces and most girls were so stunned at how much fun ice climbing is. I bet it’s all down to the relaxed atmosphere, where no real competition is felt, but two rules apply: be safe and have fun.   The idea is to connect people with similar aspirations and interests, both men and women, coming from various countries and bearing differing backgrounds.

More events are planned in the future, so stay tuned! And do not miss them!

 

All pictures by Hugo Vincent Photography.

Proudly supported by Arc’teryx.

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Lecturing on ice axes – useful info indeed.

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Follow you dreams – Matteo della Bordella and the Mountain Festival, Alagna Valsesia

Matteo in Patagonia. (Cop. Della Bordella/Ragni di Lecco)

Matteo in Patagonia. (Cop. Della Bordella/Ragni di Lecco)

We are all poets and writers these days, dispensing aphorisms, mottos, prophecies and proverbs of all kinds, most of all related to dreams. “Find peace in yourself…”, “Follow your heart”… et al. There is such a vast misuse of said sayings that very few bother to think about their real meanings.

In our consumerist society, people seek and accumulate material goods, in an apparently never-ending search for happiness. Or so it would seem. Some people, in fact, find true satisfaction in simple things, like struggle and anxiety, slowly progressing on a wind and snow-battered north face. But then, when they reach the top of the mountain, they happily shake hands, their smiley and elated faces a mirror of their joy.

In Alagna for the Mountain Festival, Matteo della Bordella – member of the prestigious Ragni di Lecco group, superb trad climber, who opened routes all over the world and is author of two guidebooks, on Switzerland  and the Tessin/Varese region – illustrated and explained his adventures, what motivates him and pushes him to carry on when conditions are harsh, when several attempts have already failed, and a success seems as likely as squeezing blood out of a stone.

And so he showed a video encompassing three years of attempts in Patagonia, opening a route up Torre Egger, his adventures in Pakistan, setting up a route up Uli Biaho in the Trango group, and then his film on his Greenland expeditions, when he opened a new route on Shark’s Tooth, The Great Shark Hunt, together with Silvan Schupbach and Christian Lederberger. The official premiere for this film is in Lecco on 11 May

All these are examples of resilience and willpower. You certainly need them if you want to progress in life, whatever you do. I have to say, however, that thanks to my job, following and reporting the feats of mountaineers of all kinds, I have come to realise that, indeed, you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it.

Greenland. Close encounters with Berta...

Greenland. Close encounters with Berta… (Cop. Della Bordella/Ragni di Lecco)

Lucia and Roberto Veggi introducing Matteo.

Lucia and Roberto Veggi introducing Matteo.

Greenland. The line shows the new route, The Great Shark Hunt.

Greenland. The line shows the new route, The Great Shark Hunt. (Cop. Della Bordella/Ragni di Lecco)

In the Teatro dell'Unione Alagnese.

In the Teatro dell’Unione Alagnese.

Matteo in Wenden.

Matteo in Wenden. (Della Bordella Collection)

With Roberto Veggi at the Mountain Festival in Alagna Valsesia.

With Roberto Veggi at the Mountain Festival in Alagna Valsesia.

Eager fans.

Eager fans. (Photo Luigi Manghetti/Reolon)

A real by fair means expedition: on kayak to the bottom of the face.

A real by fair means expedition: on kayak to the bottom of the face. (Cop. Della Bordella/Ragni di Lecco)

Tasty talking. Marko Prezelj and the Piolets d’Or

Marko Prezelj “Enough of this tasty talking!!”. This was my first encounter with mountaineer and photographer Marko Pretzelj. In Brixen for the International Mountain Festival in 2011, Marko Prezelj (now holder of THREE Piolets d’Or), was describing his route on the south east ridge of Nasser Brakk, “Tasty Talking” ( June 30th 2004, 5.10+, 500 meters, with Steve House and Steve Swenson – A couple of days later Miller and Prezelj added more pitches to this route by doing a start on the buttress right from the glacier, which they called “No More Tasty Talk”, 5.10+, 1000m). The remark was a criticism of over-politeness, chiefly the abuse of the word “please”, typical of Anglo-Saxon culture. How I do understand that…

Back then, I was a little intimidated by this sharp, opinionated, clever, hard-going mountaineer, and was even more so at the thought of meeting him at the Piolets d’Or in Chamonix and Courmayeur.  Marko is, in fact, a fun person to be with. We briefly discussed the Piolets d’Or and its role in the mountaineering world. Marko was awarded the first Piolets d’Or back in 1992 with Andrej Štremfelj for their 3000 m (!) new route on the south ridge of Kanchenjunga South (8476 m.) in alpine style. “Having received the award at the very first edition, it then cleared my mind from the idea of winning it, freeing me from this thought.”

Marko won his second Piolets d’Or in 2007 with Boris Lorenčič, for the first ascent of Chomolhari’s (or Jomolhari) northwest pillar in October 2006. He refused this award because of the criticism he held against the award itself, in particular the dangers of having such a competition, which may lead people to believe that the award is more important that alpinism itself.

“And yet here I am”, he said in Courmayeur, “so, in a way, criticizing the award is rather awkward, but if I did so from the outside, as it were, it may look like I am doing it because I am not part of this event.”    You never win, it would seem. “Exactly. If you take the award, you look like a narcissist. If you don’t accept it, you look like you are too proud to care.”

And Marko well accepted his third Piolets d’Or, for his route the North Face of Hagshu (ED, 70°-90°) in the Indian Himalayas, together with Ales Cesen and Luka Lindič, carried out in September 2014. So, what do we make of this? Is this event primarily aimed at the media, so that they have something to talk about? Nurture their need to stir interest, whatever the cost? I strongly doubt it.

Marko believes that having a lifetime achievement – this year awarded to the gentleman of mountaineering, Chris Bonington – is the way to go. “You should then select some ascents which are, in some way, connected to that figure, and reflect his career.” Interesting.

In the words of the Piolets d’Or organizer, Christian Trommsdorf, “We called the award Les Piolets d’Or – in the plural form – because we want to celebrate the different forms of alpinism and also the progress in ethical mountaineering.”

And so, Marko giving a rose to all the Piolets d’Or winners at the Courmayeur final night, added a tender touch to this event, a gentle surprise and realization that chivalry, even in the tough-going world of hard mountaineering, has all but died.

Stay tuned for an in-depth interview with Marko! To be continued…

Marko Prezelj, Ales Cesen and Luka Lindič.

Marko Prezelj, Ales Cesen and Luka Lindič. Photo Marko Prezelj

The Piolets d'Or winners, rose in hand, at the final night in Courmayeur. Photo  Piotr Drozdz

The Piolets d’Or winners, rose in hand, at the final night in Courmayeur. Photo Piotr Drozdz

Nayser Brakk (ca 5200m) showing the lines of tasty talking (iii,5-10-ca 300m.,House, Prezelj, Swenson, 2004 and "No more tasty talking, iv-5-10-ca-1000m, Prezelj,Miller, 2004.  Photo Marko Prezelj,

Nayser Brakk (ca 5200m) showing the lines of tasty talking (iii,5-10-ca 300m.,House, Prezelj, Swenson, 2004 and “No more tasty talking, iv-5-10-ca-1000m, Prezelj,Miller, 2004. Photo Marko Prezelj,

The ascent line up Hagshu. Photo Marko Prezelj.

The ascent line up Hagshu. Photo Marko Prezelj.

Ales Cesen and Luka Lindic on the top ridge, towards the summit of Hagshu, Photo Marko Prezelj.

Ales Cesen and Luka Lindic on the top ridge, towards the summit of Hagshu, Photo Marko Prezelj.