What’s So Good About Chamonix? Part 2

If you haven’t read the first installment of this ‘season highlights’ blog, you can find it here. I did some really thorough moaning in it, so it’s a good read if you like that sort of thing. There was a whiff of positivity too, and some pretty pictures. Even for a grump like me, it’s difficult not to love Chamonix – for all the frustration, bureaucracy and the rest, as soon as you get on the mountain there is nowhere like it. And all that opportunity and variety I mentioned last time, that’s down to the incredible people that live there. Here are some of them.

But first a brief moan; the parks in Chamonix are awful so I didn’t get to shoot as much freestyle as I’d hoped to. Then again, why go to Chamonix for man-made obstacles when the natural terrain is the best in the world? Case in point:

Kenny Jenkins following his in-built kicker radar

Kenny Jenkins following his in-built kicker radar

It wasn’t until halfway through the season that I got the chance to really start exploring what Chamonix has to offer the off piste skier. The Vallee Blanche – and Gros Rognon variant – may not be off the beaten track, but when your first experience of it is with three sponsored skiers, it’s a different proposition!

Ben Briggs launching off the Midi Arete

Ben Briggs launching off the Midi Arete

Whitedot Skis sent me off with Ben Briggs, Tom Coney and John Luckhurst, and we found a crazy amount of untouched powder for such a world renowned route, and though the snow was wind affected these guys made light work of it.

Tom Coney dodging crevasses

Tom Coney dodging crevasses

I thought Sophie and Charley Radcliffe would be at the other end of the skiing spectrum when we hooked up again for the second of Sidetracked’s Challenge Series. It was their first ‘proper’ ski tour and they’d barely skied any off piste.

They killed it. Here’s a quote from Sophie; “Some day I won’t be able to do this. Today is not that day.” I genuinely believe this attitude it what makes these guys excel in the mountains and in life. There’s even a danger their positivity might reduce some of my moaning.

You can read the Sidetracked piece here (with lots more photos of course).

Does this look like a woman who has barely skied off piste?

Does this look like a woman who has barely skied off piste?

And here’s another shot of Geoff on his 9:Zero:7 fatbike. I’ll say no more as I’m writing articles on this as we speak. Metaphorically.

Fully loaded. Geoff and the trees.

Fully loaded (Geoff and the trees).

This one I’ll explain – it wasn’t part of the Tour du Mont Blanc route, but it’s a location I’ve seen photographed with ice climbers, and I wanted to give it a try. Tricky to get to with a bike, and once again eyebrows were raised and the Compagnie du Mont Blanc gave us a big helping hand by allowing Geoff and his bike to use their facilities. But what a place to ride a bike!

Geoff Harper emerges from the bowels of a glacier.

Geoff Harper emerges from the bowels of a glacier.

Is there anything cooler than abseiling with skis on your back? If there is I don’t know about it. For Ben Briggs it’s an almost daily routine, but then he skis routes that most people couldn’t climb! Final shoot for Whitedot Skis led us to Cosmiques Couloir and stupidly good snow.

Ben Briggs rappelling into Cosmiques Couloir

Ben Briggs rappelling into Cosmiques Couloir

Here’s another shot of Geoff Harper that I can’t say too much about….

Winter bivvy on the Tour Du Mont Blanc

Winter bivvy on the Tour Du Mont Blanc

My final shoot of the season was another Wildey/Radcliffe/Sidetracked/Salomon collaboration. I hadn’t managed as much climbing/mountaineering as I’d expected from the season, but this particular day out completed what I’m pretentiously calling the Cosmiques Trinity. In December I’d climbed (most of) the Cosmiques icefall before retreating for various reasons – one being a huge chunk of ice smashing my face in… I’d also skied the Cosmiques Couloir, so the Cosmiques Arete seemed a nice conclusion to a fantastic season.

Sophie Radcliffe on the magical Cosmiques Arete

Sophie Radcliffe on the magical Cosmiques Arete

It has been my absolute honour and pleasure to work with these inspiring athletes for a whole season. Looking back through a seasons’ work – and it was a challenge to whittle down thousands of shots to this small selection! – I think it’s obvious that calling Chamonix a ski resort does it a huge disservice. When I was a child we had things called adventure playgrounds. This is the grown-ups’ version.

Sophie Radcliffe on top of the world

Sophie Radcliffe on top of the world

Fatbike Mont Blanc

Fatbikes are misunderstood, but Geoff Harper gets it. He’s planning to cycle the Tour du Mont Blanc, in winter, on his 9:Zero:7 Whiteout Carbon.

Geoff Harper and his Whiteout Carbon

Geoff Harper and his Whiteout Carbon

It’s never been done before, and I’m seriously excited to be partnering with Geoff to provide what promises to be some stunning imagery and the story of this unique challenge. Fatbikes have their naysayers, primarily because people insist on riding them to work so they look cool (or foolish dependent on your perspective). But this challenge is what they’re built for. Despite having no suspension, they’re mountain bikes. For mountains. And we hope this project will put the whole fatbike phenomenon in the right context; extending what is possible on a bike when the mountains are cold.

Training on Petit Balcon Sud

Training on Petit Balcon Sud

There are many variations of the TdMB, but all take in 3 countries, around 170km, and 10km of ascent/descent. Anyone who’s tried to ride a bike on snow will have some idea what winter conditions will add to this undertaking.

For the time being, Geoff is training and I’m shooting as much of it as I can – keep up with his progress via his blog at http://907montblanc.com/ and check out his phenomenally lightweight bike at http://907bikes.com/. And get ready for alpinism on wheels.

Descending to Chamonix

Descending to Chamonix

‘Tis The Season to be Nostalgic – 12 Months in 12 Images

I’ve never done this end of year summation before, but the last 12 months have been extraordinary. And apart from that I got bored over Christmas – nobody wants to work from mid-December onwards…. Guess they don’t love their job like I do….

I’ve chosen my favourite shot from each month; not necessarily the ‘best’ shot, or the most successful, but I’ll try to give my reasons as we go….

Dinner in the souk

Dinner in the souk

January started the year on various highs – skiing in Tignes was trumped by a jaunt up North Africa’s highest peak, Jebel Toubkal, with Exped Adventure. You can see the resulting film of the trip on my website here but of the stills, this one brings back the sensory immersion of the first night and is a fitting vignette of how manic the next 12 months would be.

For February I’ve chosen a shot from a ski trip to Cairngorm. I learned to ski there 27 years ago and it was as much of an “experience” upon my return.

Scottish Skiing

Scottish Skiing

James McHaffie preparing to make history

James McHaffie preparing to make history

I’ve cheated here. I must have been asleep through April, so I’ve included two shots from March instead. The first was from a really nice day out with James Mchaffie when he was training for his epic Lakeland challenge later in the year. Considering the magnitude of what he was attempting I was surprised to have the pleasure of a laid back day, just him and me, enjoying a mild spring day in Cumbria. And equally happy to sell a few shots to his sponsors, Rab.

The second of my March shots is from the Whinlatter Challenge event which I shot for Madison. 10 days before I went out with Caff, and very different conditions, with plenty of snow high up making for a stunning back drop to a cracking event.

The Lake District; real mountains

The Lake District; real mountains

In May I was working with BBC Scotland to cover the Tweedlove event, but it wasn’t my highlight. Yorkshire always wins. I got to go home to Yorkshire and shoot the Steel City Downhill event, but I wasn’t home for long….

My beloved Yorkshire, briefly

My beloved Yorkshire, briefly

June, July, August. I’ve had a difficult time trying to choose the moments that mattered out of so many. Alice and I spent the summer travelling Europe, living out of a van. It seems to be a rite of passage for this line of work! But there’s a reason why – the experience threw up endless opportunities for stunning shots (I almost wish I’d created a year in travel photos to go along with this action-based selection). I settled on this camping shot for June. High above Chamonix at the Col De Brevent, Mont Blanc was majestic under the stars, but the sunrise topped it all. I could have chosen Basque Coast mountain biking or horse riding in Les Gers but the freedom, adventure and beauty in this shot sums up the whole of June for me.

Wild camp on Col de Brevent

Wild camp on Col de Brevent

July is going to be Chamonix-based too. Despite a month that included shooting Crankworx and interviewing Gee Atherton for Adventure.com, photographing climbing world cup events, and the best festival in Europe (Vanka Regule, Croatia, if you’re wondering), I still find skiing in summer a novelty! And getting to meet Alison Culshaw of Off Piste Performance whilst shooting for Jottnar was a great bonus too!

Summer ski touring on the Mont Blanc massif

Summer ski touring on the Mont Blanc massif

In August we returned to our second-home, the Dolomites. This shot was on a hike I’ve done many times, but illustrates why I love these mountains – everything is always different. Sas Ciampac, Alta Badia.

Looking towards the Sella Massif from Sas Ciampac

Looking towards the Sella Massif from Sas Ciampac

September offered the brief respite of a lazy Autumn in the Lake District and an endless stream of visitors. Langdale Boulders kept them entertained.

Langdale Boulders in Autumn

Langdale Boulders in Autumn

Back in Yorkshire - riding around Twistleton Scar

Back in Yorkshire – riding around Twistleton Scar

The rest of Autumn, again, revolved around getting muddy on bikes. In October the guys from Escape Bikes showed me around their backyard, under Ingleborough, for a magazine article (yet to be published…) And November took me from Yorkshire to Portugal to shoot with Jim Carroll for another article. The shot below was licensed by Enve Composites, who sponsor Jim with their wheels. I chose it because I’ve worked hard on my MTB work all year, and was happy to nail the ‘moment’. I could have posted dozens of beautiful scenic shots from the Algarve, but this is the money shot!

Jim Carroll getting low

Jim Carroll getting low

And now it’s winter again, so naturally I’m on a snowy mountain. December’s photograph was taken yesterday. I don’t consider myself a landscape photographer, but this is home for the forseeable future. I hope this shot illustrates why!

My new backyard

My new backyard