It's been a sobering week for the mountaineering community, as news broke that three Chamonix-based snowsport pros - Andreas Fransson originally from Sweden, J P Auclair from Canada, and American Liz Daley - died in two separate avalanche incidents on Monday.
Andreas Fransson and J P Auclair
Renowned pro skiers Fransson and J P were climbing Mount San Lorenzo, in a mountainous and remote area of Patagonia on the border between Chile and Argentina, when an avalanche swept down the 3,706m mountain and claimed their lives. Bjarne Salen and Daniel Ronnback, who were filming from an adjacent peak, were unharmed.
Fransson was probably best-known for the first ever ski descent of Denali's south face in 2011, but over the past few years he's logged first descents in half a dozen countries. He first arrived in Chamonix in 2006, and quickly began shredding the rule book with skilful panache.
Trey Cook from Chamonix-based Epic TV wrote about him: “Skiing the Mallory (the famous route on the north face of the Aiguille du Midi) in autumn, linking three once-in-a-lifetime descents in a day, a first descent in the middle of the Chamonix Aiguilles in 2010… these feats were unheard of until 28-year-old Fransson showed up.”
In the video Tempting Fear below, Fransson asks, “Could you get the thrill of your life and feel truly alive if you knew they were perfectly safe? Would your consciousness be completely in the moment if you didn’t know this was serious business? Would it be a game worth playing at all if the outcome was certain?”
Fransson often gave us something to think about, not just with his incredible skiing but also with his philosophical outlook on the dangers of his chosen path in the mountains.
J P Auclair also had a huge impact on the winter sports world, where he is renowned for his incredible versatility, from street (check out his segment in the film All.I.Can below) to mountain.
J P won the first US Open of Freeskiing Big Air and helped Salomon create and launch the famous 1080 ski. He also found time to co-found Armada Skis and channel the passion of the snowsports community into sustainability projects worldwide, via a volunteer group he set up, called Alpine Initiatives.
Jen Johnson, executive director of Alpine Initiatives, said, “J P inspired all of us to do more, not less, to make this world a better place and we will forever continue to promote and live that ideal.”
Also on Monday, splitboarder, alpine climber and mountain guide Liz Daley was killed in another avalanche while descending Cerro Vespignani, a 2,146m peak near Mount Fitzroy in Patagonia. Liz was sponsored by Eddie Bauer, and was with three other members of their snowsports team - Drew Tabke, Chris Coulter and Kent McBride - as well as several photographers and filmmakers. The rest of the team were reported safe.
Liz was born in Washington, but a love of the mountains led her to Chamonix, where she learned to master steep, technical descents during six consecutive winters, and charmed everyone with her warm, radiant smile and contagious psyche for the mountains.
Liz’s biggest winter missions included descents of the Bonatti Couloir on Petit Mont Blanc, the Col des Cristaux in the Argentiere basin, the Couloir Fynn-Bislex, and the Y Couloir off the Aiguille d’Argentiere, as well as a peak-to-valley run on the Mont Blanc massif.
Liz’s fiance Davide de Masi paid tribute to her on Facebook:
"For those who worked with her as a guide and had the opportunity to journey into the wild with her, it was so clearly obvious that she was following her calling. She was at ease with people in the mountains and her sense of peace and belonging was projected to everyone she came into the contact with. Over the last few years I’ve heard so much touching feedback from her former clients, partners, and colleagues describing how she positively impacted many lives in such short amount of time. Her blossoming career as a guide was defined by her conservative approach to the mountains and her desire to come back at the end of the day. She took this mentality to heart as she shared places of indescribable beauty with her friends as well as complete strangers."
Watch: Tempting fear - inside the mind of Andreas Fransson
Watch: J P Auclair Street Segment (from Sherpas Cinemas' All.I.Can)
Watch: Liz Daley guiding on Denali