Is Extreme Skiing Even Fun? | Reward vs. Consequence

Is Extreme Skiing Even Fun? | Reward vs. Consequence

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Is Extreme Skiing Even Fun? | Reward vs. Consequence

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Andreas Fransson shattered his upper body in the French Alps last year.  This year, he grabbed a 1st descent of one of the gnarliest lines on Denali.  This video is of him skiing a burly line in Chamonix solo.  Watch it.  Does it look like fun?

Extreme skiing has certainly taken on a rugged form of late.  In reality, maybe nothing has changed in the 34 years since Sylvain Saudan skied the Spencer Couloir on the Aiguille de Blatiere in Chamonix and gave birth to the sport of extreme skiing. Extreme skiing has been around for a while, but recently, it feels like there have been a lot of consequences. It’s the consequences that get our attention.  When our friends, colleagues, ski buddies, family members, and/or loved ones come back injured or don’t come back at all, the consequences resonate within us.

slyvain saudan extreme skier

Obviously, there is also a reward. The reward is a very personal experience I’d argue is only truly appreciated by the extreme skier himself. There isn’t much press tied to an accomplishment in extreme skiing, if any.  There certainly isn’t much money in it.  Some of the die-hard skiing world will understand, but most people will simply think you’re crazy.

remy lecluseChamonix mountain guide Remy Lecluse’s 1st descent of the east face of the Balmhorn 3698m, Bernese Oberland, Switzerland, 1400m, 45 to 50°, 55° sections, 01/02/07.

The reward is almost certainly the achievement because I’m not convinced actually skiing extreme zones is particularly enjoyable. I’ve done a very small amount of what could potentially be considered “extreme” skiing and it terrified me.  Hacking my way down a 50 degree, icy slope knowing full well that if I fell I’d die was very focusing, but not remarkably pleasurable.

To to be totally honest, I’m not sure that I understand extreme skiing myself.  I know that it has to be done, because the human cerebrum is hard-wired to conquer and each extreme line skied is a battle, potentially a war, hopefully a victory, and occasionally a defeat; all of which satisfies our innate desire to subdue what is untamed.

denali south face 1st descentAndreas’ line down the South Face of Denali drops straight off the summit, traverses lookers right under the huge rock buttresses, then drops again through those cliffs somehow.  photo:  talkeetna air taxi

Reading this latest story of Andreas Fransson’s experience was an eye opener.  Andreas shattered his upper body one year ago extreme skiing on the Aiguille de Verte in the French Alps. He broke his neck and 15 other bones when an avalanche tossed him 600 feet and he somehow survived.  If surviving wasn’t testament enough to his resilience, Andreas made a full recovery in one year, skied the first descent of the South Face of Denali (what Chris Davenport once called “the baddest unskied line in North America”), climbed the Cassin Ridge round trip in 33 hours, and skied the 5,000 foot Messner Coulior within a week this past May, 2011.

Direct quote from Andreas about life:

“Society has an absurd general belief that life is about hanging on as long as possible. So people [are] often hanging on for the sake of hanging on and not for really living … I can go on for days about this, but the important things in life are unsayable, so let’s just live it out and see what we find behind the curtains in front of the big game we are all playing.” -Andreas Fransson

This quote shows Andreas’ perspective on life and on how he envisions us commoners’ lives.  Are we really that lame?  “hanging on for the sake of hanging on and not really for living”?

patrick vallancantOne of the original extreme skiers, Patrick Vallencant (1946-1989), on a mellow powder run, Pas de Chevre on the Grandes Montets, Chamonix France.

The question “is it worth it” always comes up with activities such as this and the answers are almost always cliche.  It’s really the cost that outweighs the worth.  It’s not until that skier is no longer functional or no longer with us at all that we truly know the cost. That cost is exactly the consequence we’ve been talking about.  That consequence is felt most by parents followed by loved ones, friends, acquaintances, and even people that athlete didn’t wholly know in his/her ski town.

Digesting this edgy sport is hard enough.  Mentally manipulating it is even tougher.  Do you think they are having “fun” while skiing those lines? Is it worth it to ski those lines?  Are their acquisitions of note?  What percentage of the Earth’s population appreciates these feats?

Again, I understand that these lines have got to be skied, but what is the true balance of reward vs. consequence in extreme skiing?  Of course, this questions is unanswerable and can only be discussed under highly subjective terms, but I’m confident that it’s definitely worth discussing.

 

“Not only was the Alaska trip Fransson’s first time above 15,782 feet (the summit of Mont Blanc), but he descended much of the south face at night, sans headlamp, at one point hunkering under a cliff for hours to avoid rocks whizzing past his head like a waterfall.” –espn.com

 

Wikipedia’s definition: Extreme skiing is skiing performed on long, steep (typically from 45 to 60+ degrees, or grades of 100 to 170 percent) slopes in dangerous terrain.

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