KILIAN ECHALLIER IS A FRENCH FREESKIER AND PATAGONIA AMBASSADOR. IN THIS INTERVIEW HE TELLS US ABOUT HIS SKIING BACKGROUND AND WHY HE BELIEVES WE NEED TO MAKE THE MOUNTAINS A MORE SUSTAINABLE AND INCLUSIVE PLACE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS.
Growing up in France, what was your early introduction to skiing?
I don’t come from a ski resort, but from a small village on the plain. My grandparents have an apartment in Châtel, in Les Portes du Soleil, so that’s where I learned to ski. We used to go there at Christmas, and in February, with the family.
I started skiing at the age of three at the Ecole du Ski Français, and then with my father. At the age of 14, I joined the ski club of Saint-Julien-en-Genevois with some friends and that’s when I really started to freeski. We spent our days jumping all we could and trying tricks, falling down and having a lot of fun.
Why did you move to Innsbruck, and what keeps you there?
I moved to Innsbruck in 2018, to be closer to my girlfriend at the time, who is Austrian. I had heard Innsbruck was a freeride city and I wasn’t disappointed! The ski community is really important in this place and there’s always someone up for going out to ski some nice lines.
For me, the big advantage of Innsbruck is its proximity of the mountains – it’s a real city surrounded by beautiful mountains. My new ‘home mountain’ is Axamer Lizum – the possibilities for free touring are incredible and the conditions are generally good, even after several days without snow.
You have skied competitively in the past, but then moved away it. How did you get in to ski touring and longer expeditions?
I skied for five years on the Freeride World Qualifier. I learned a lot and met so many interesting people during those years of competition. Then, one day, after a – not so glorious – competition, someone invited me to go and ski steeps with him in Chamonix. And that’s where it all started. My attention was completely grabbed by this new world and, the following year, I stopped competing and replaced it with ski touring and steep skiing.
You’ve increasingly developed a multi-sport approach to the high alpine, blending climbing with trail running, ridge scrambling and skiing ability. Do you tailor your training towards key objectives, or is it just about being physically prepared for big days in the mountains?
I like to combine several activities within the same trip. It’s a lot more fun! And yes, I tailor my training towards my ambitions, but always with the goal of having fun! I’m always ready to spend long days in the mountains, because it’s these moments that lead to the most beautiful memories.
What is your key motivation in skiing? Big lines or expeditions?
Very good question. The two are obviously linked, but on expeditions, I’m always looking for opportunities to ski big lines. At the beginning of the season, we stay close to the resort and, as it advances, we begin to explore further, to find new lines to draw up there.
You’ve done some epic trips in the Balkans. What drives you to seek out these experiences close to home?
For me, the Balkans is an infinite source of first tracks. There’s so much to do and, yet, no one goes there! These countries are very welcoming and the people I have encountered there are super nice. Sometimes it’s difficult to communicate, but you always end up being understood. And the fact that it’s really close to home means that going there for two weeks has a much smaller climate impact than going to Norway, for example. I believe these countries are underestimated for extreme skiing.
This summer you cycled and hiked from Chamonix to Zermatt in a human-powered traverse of the Alps. What inspired the trip?
I was talking with a friend about doing several beautiful summits this summer. Looking at the map, we realised that we could connect all of them without using planes, trains or cars, with just the strength of our legs. It’s really interesting to be able to travel great distances with only your own strength. It’s the most amazing way to approach the mountain.
How did the trip turn out? And what did you learn?
On the first day, we set out from Chamonix in 30-degree heat. We quickly realised that we would have to adapt our plans as it was so hot. Then two days later, we were hit by heavy rain which meant we couldn’t do the second peak, in Switzerland, and by the end it was really hot again. The conditions were so unpredictable that nothing went to plan.
It was an amazing experience and I learnt a lot. Doing everything by bike meant we had to be really organised. For example, when our gear got wet, we needed to get it dry and everything takes longer than you think. Every time a friend came and joined us, I would adapt the way I climbed, and lived, to them.
The biggest thing I learnt is that it’s possible! Gear is so light and packable today that almost everyone could do some version of this – and it takes away the travel expenses that come with a trip. You just have to take as long as you need – rest days really help – and be open to changing plans. It was definitely hard but I have so many incredible memories from the experience.
Inclusivity in snow sports has been much-discussed lately. What is your view on the topic?
Everyone should be able to experience the mountains for themselves, whether that is kids in city schools being given the opportunity to try out skiing for the first time, or people with disabilities being able to access the mountains. When you stand on the mountain and look down on the valley, you see the world differently and realise you can do things you thought were impossible.
You became an ambassador for Patagonia this year. How does this impact your thinking on environmental issues?
Before I became an ambassador for Patagonia, I was already very aware of my consumption – whether that was food or clothes. And, in joining Patagonia, I want to demonstrate to others how it is possible to consume better – and less. We all have to make an effort if we want to see change!
What is your favourite piece of Patagonia gear that you use, season after season?
For the past three years, I’ve been wearing my Nano-Air Jacket, for everything: climbing, skiing and hiking. It’s breathable and warm at the same time so I can use it all year round, I love it!
As an athlete in the mountains, are you witnessing the effects of climate change?
The conditions in the mountains are changing. Some lines that were skiable several years ago are now gone. It’s sad to know that I might never ski these mythical lines. And on behalf of future generations, I want to show people the impact that our lifestyle has on the big mountains. There are many changes that you won’t necessarily notice if you aren’t in this environment all the time. When we talk about the retreat of glaciers, to people who never see them, they don’t realise how fast it’s happening!
IMAGES – MATTEO PAVANA
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