Andreas Fransson and JP Auclair passed away in an avalanche whilst filming in Chile on September 29, 2014. Here’s an interview we ran with Andreas in 2013, where he talks about the risks involved at the top level of skiing:
Few ski mountaineers have pushed the limits more in recent years, with some huge consequences. Jonny Richards talks to the self-effacing Andreas Fransson about fear, first descents and dropping cliffs
JR: So, finally we get to talk in person thanks to a Salomon shop opening. Now you’re famous, with all this promotional stuff going on, how many days skiing do you get a year?
AF: It’s less now than in the past, but all very good quality! Before, with my guiding and instructing, I was getting as many as 340 days a year on snow. I’d be in Mt Hotham [near Melbourne], then skiing glaciers like Kaprun and Saas-Fee, then pick up the European ski season really early at the end of September in Sweden at Riksgränsen, then by the middle of October I’d be in the Alps until March. I am 30 soon, and wear and tear is catching up with me, but I’d say I get more like 100 days a year now, which is ideal for my body.
JR: Following your blog and adventures on the internet, if feels like you’ve had a mega few years, all mind-blowing first descents and big projects. Will it be the same again this winter? Or is it time to re-group and plan new stuff?
AF: I keep telling myself I will have an easier year, but I know it will be full-on from now until the autumn. These things just seem to pick up momentum. But come next August
I will definitely be going to India for one month to do yoga with my girlfriend. She’s a yoga teacher and I’ve promised her! Then I can rest…
JR: Tempting Fear is the title of your latest movie. Do you aim to do stuff that gives you a kick in this way?
AF: I’m not after that. I love skiing and doing big, steep faces, but I can’t perform when I’m feeling that fear. I had that – my heart going – last summer in Patagonia; I was making a first descent of the Whillans Ramp on Aguja Poincenot, a 60°+ face. People say faces that steep don’t exist. I didn’t think they did. But they do! I’ve never skied anything like that before. I found myself looking at my bindings thinking, what’s the most safe set I have? Google ‘Patagonia’ and the ramp is in pretty much every picture, enormous and shooting up to the sky. You can’t miss it. We were pretty close to the red line skiing that…
JR: How do you and Bjarne [Salen, his long-time expedition partner] manage the risk on these amazing slopes?
AF: We try and turn every card in our favour. Everything is planned. And if conditions are not right, we don’t do it. For every success there are many more occasions where we have turned back. We try and have a typical Swedish/German outlook, but with more fun!
JR: Are you still living in Chamonix? Is that a big part of your life?
AF: Almost every day I’m skiing here would be the best day of everyone’s life. Seriously. Where I go you never see anyone. It’s just magical lines and no one there.
JR: Would you ever consider moving to, say, Aspen for a change? Ted and Christy Mahon and Chris Davenport are all there, and all Colorado’s 14ers…
AF: I don’t think so. Chamonix is the best place for me. But if I did move, I’d look east, maybe India.
JR: Do you fancy Gulmarg?
AF: I’ve never been, but I hear it’s a bit flat.
JR: Which of the two do you prefer – the skiing or the climbing?
AF: Oh, I’m just interested in the skiing. I’m a bad climber who just does the easy, fast [ascents]. I am definitely a skier who climbs, using it to access the best slopes.
JR: So how do you see your future? With a family? Nice ambassador job in a ski resort? Or will you still be pushing it at 50, looking out for new challenges?
AF: I have a girlfriend; we are a small family! I like it as it is now. In my sport I can go on right through my thirties. Plenty are in their forties. Rémy [Lécluse] was nearly 50…
JR: Manaslu showed just what can happen [with Lecluse killed in an avalanche and Glen Plake lucky to escape the slide]. Statistically the longer you go on, the more likely you’ll…
AF: Of course. But you can’t account for every person. I choose the risk. I am the one making the decision. I’ve been super-close to dying [being ripped off his rappel by an Aiguille Verte avalanche and falling 600ft in 2010] and everyone I know at the highest level has died or almost died. Everyone, no matter how good, has times when they are on a 1000ft cliff, hanging on by one hand, having lost a ski. You learn. I take a lot less risks than 10 years ago.
JR: In what way?
AF: When I was 20, I’d just jump off 30m cliffs. Now I’m a bit more cautious!
JR: Sounds like you would have been ideal for the Freeride World Tour? Ever tempted?
AF: I was doing comps with all those Swedish guys [on the FWT] I know, like Reine [Barkered, 2012 FWT champion], when we were small. Wille Lindberg is one of the most talented riders I’ve ever seen. And even if they gave me a wild card I’d have to do 10 or more 50m jumps and take a few crashes during the season.
I’m in the best shape of my life (in terms of fitness), but I’ve also had seven surgeries in the last five years: three on my left knee, I’ve broken both legs, plus my back and neck, my sternum, every rib, my shoulders, and both feet are bad. Now, I love shitty conditions, but I don’t think my body could take it (and the tougher landings). But at Engadin Snow 2008 I came second, so I know I can do it. But I was well impressed when I saw Reine on the Becs des Rosses last season…
JR: Lots of very talented big mountain skiers, like Sam Smoothy, say that face (Becs des Rosses) is terrifying; An absolute monster. What’s your take?
AF: I’d say it’s nothing extreme apart from the top. Xavier [de le Rue] is a good friend of mine and he just says traverse right across then it’s a normal freeride face. I was watching a surfing contest recently and that’s a good parallel. The waves were too big for the pros, so they cancelled it and a load of big wave riders came in. In skiing you have the same thing, with extreme skiers and freeride skiers.
JR: Ok, so you’re an extreme skier, but how do you classify someone like Xavier de le Rue? He seems to cut across both disciplines. but I’ve also seen him snowboard what looks like the world’s longest frozen waterfall in Chamonix…
AF: He’s not interested in extreme. But on the other side, when I’m with him and it’s a really big cliff, he just jumps it while I rappel down.
JR: How would you classify extreme skiing?
AF: For me it’s all about the mind. It’s mountain skiing where you cannot fail.
JR: With something like the FWT, there’s an obvious hierarchy. Who are the top extreme skiers?
AF: That’s not up to me. I feel bad to compare. My ego comes in and if you’re not there [on a descent] you can’t judge. That said, Rémy [Lécluse] had a really good eye for new lines. And Arne [Backstrom] had a freeride-style down extreme faces… I like the Italian guys also; you may not have heard of them so much but they have real passion for getting the best lines. And maybe the French are the new coming force. But it’s so subjective, and most Alpine people don’t like the competition side, so I doubt we’ll ever really know.