Claude-Alain Gailland is the Head Mountain Guide on the Freeride World Tour. It’s his job to make sure the faces are safe for the athletes on the tour. The star of the movie Guide de L’Ombre is a man of few words, but he makes sure to communicate how to keep 50 of the best snowsports athletes in the world safe.
My job in a nutshell…
I have to anticipate risks, analyse snow and hire the right people who will make the Freeride World Tour (FWT) safe for all the competitors.
My alarm clock rings…
As soon as I wake up I look at the weather through the window and then on the Internet to see if there was wind or new snow during the night. I also like to watch the local webcams if it’s daylight. I look at different websites depending on the region where I’m working; for example, in Verbier – where the final stage of the FWT is held, on the legendary face of the Bec des Rosses – the MétéoSuisse website is very good.
How I got my job…
I was born in a village near Verbier, so it is natural that I started skiing very young, aged just two years old, with my parents. I have always skied and explored the mountains, and it was at the age of 20 that I started my guiding qualifications. I graduated after two years, then went on to train as an avalanche and rescue specialist in the Verbier ski area. In 2001 I stood in for a guiding friend on the FWT. It was only supposed to be for a year!
I never leave home without…
My safety equipment: my avalanche transceiver, shovel, air bag.
My typical day…
In the morning, I get kitted up, grab my skis and safety equipment and go up into the mountains to do snow studies. I go directly to the mountain where the competition will take place – so, in Verbier the Bec des Rosses, in Fieberbrunn the Wildseeloder, in Vallnord-Arcalís Andorra the Basser Negre. I also take the opportunity to prepare the access with the help of ropes. I have often seen avalanches on a competition face. Often it is myself who voluntarily triggers them. Sometimes we have to close part of the face due to the risk of a slide. Very rarely we have to cancel the competition due to avalanche risk or find another face.
I then go back to the office to analyse my snow studies, organise security for the afternoon, check the weather for the next few days and also participate in meetings with the race directors. It may sound simple, but it is essential that I do everything carefully and correctly.
When the competition begins I am there on the sidelines observing each competitor as they ski or snowboard the face. I am ready to initiate a rescue if needed, or just help to pick up a lost ski. I have more than 10 professionals with me on the face and two helicopters on standby.
I couldn’t believe it when….
I had to replace my friend guide for only one year and 20 years later I’m still here. I must have misunderstood!
The hardest part of my job….
When the weather is bad, it snows a lot with wind and you have to start all over again the next day. One year I had to start all over again five times!
What I like most about my work…
The intimate contact with a mountain.
My plan B…
My first job was building cottages in the mountains, so if I wasn’t doing this, I would probably have kept doing that.
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A DAY IN THE LIFE OF ANGEL COLLINSON
A day in the life of Chamonix-based skier and photographer Ben Tibbetts
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