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stories

Line of your life: 4 Life changing freeride adventures

05 December 2019

4 Freeriders, 4 stories, 4 Incredible lines...

A selection of our most talented freeride athletes transport us to their most surreal skiing moment as they answer the mother of all questions: "what is the best line you have ever skied?"

“A pair of skis are the ultimate transportation to freedom.” – Warren Miller

Johanna Stalnacke: Whymper Couloir in Chamonix, France

The idea of skiing from the summit of the Aiguille Verte was inconceivable until iconic steep skier Sylvain Saudan skied the Whymper couloir back in 1968. Such an idea filled me with a sense of dread for years but as I have evolved as a skier and alpinist, the intimidation has slowly transformed into curiosity and then temptation…

The climb involved some careful hooking with two ice axes on mixed ground leading us to a continuous 45-55 degree couloir, hard as ice from the refreeze during the previous night. Topping out was amazing though and we sat on the summit admiring the views for 2 hours while waiting for the sun to warm up the snow below. Clicking into my bindings on the summit felt quite unreal, it was such a strong moment combined with a nature experience out of the ordinary, even for us who live in Chamonix! To top it off, the exposure of skiing on a ridge line narrower than the width of my skis, with a thousand metre drop on each side, really blew my mind. I understand why the Aiguille Verte and Whymper is such a test piece among steep skiers.

"My inner voice was calling for a complete focus to avoid any mistakes. Such a steep ride frees the spirit and skiing opens a path to full body-and-mind awareness."

Carl Renvall: A nameless spring couloir in Verbier Switzerland

The best days for me are when I haven’t planned something massive but something massive happens anyway...

This was one of those days. I was 16 years old and skiing with my best friend in the last weekend of the season. We were coming up the lift to Mont Fort when we made a pretty spontaneous decision to ski one of the couloirs to the left of the lift. In previous years, these lines had been pretty un-skiable due to poor snow but that year there were some decent strips of snow between the rocks, so we hiked up to the ridge, dropped in and had a crazy good time. I still think about that line to this day and I haven’t had the chance to ski it since!

"I still think about that line to this day and I haven’t had the chance to ski it since!"

Neil Williman: Experiencing New Zealand's highest mountain

Aoraki/Mt Cook is New Zealand's highest mountain at 3724m and we climbed and skied the East Face of it. Before the Caroline Face was considered, this feat was once described as the 'last great problem of mountaineering Mt Cook'.

We began our ascent at 1am from the Plateau Hut at 2,200m, having been heli'ed up the night before. The cold was intense and I’ve never worn so many clothes for a hike before, my toes still don’t feel right 3 weeks later! The snow was definitely better than we expected and the ski down was incredible. It felt even more special knowing that we are only roughly the 6th group to have achieved this descent from the summit with no down climbing. This mountain has claimed several lives over the years which is always a sobering reality check. The day my Dad did this same ascent in ’71 as part of the 6th group to climb the East Face, he saw a young mountaineer lose his life on the way down. Needless to say, when I returned home, hugs were shared and tears were shed. This adventure has definitely opened my eyes to what's possible for me in the mountains, including where my limits are and how far I want to push them.

"This has definitely opened my eyes to what's possible for me in the mountains, including where my limits are and how far I want to push them."Photo: Pete Oswald

Anna Smoothy: EAST WEST - A journey through New Zealand's Southern Alps

The line of my life went on, and on, and on - for about 8 days. Through low valleys of brutal moraine, up exposed cols, dodging ice and rock falls, down beautiful faces of spring snow and finally, out to the rugged terrain of New Zealand's West Coast.

If this sounds familiar to you, then perhaps you've also completed the symphony on skis that is the Liebig Traverse. Spanning from the Liebig Range on the Eastern border of the Southern Alps, right across NZ's highest mountain systems to the wild West Coast, the Liebig Traverse is not for everyone. It's an arduous 80km of travel that goes up and down countless peaks, glaciers and valleys, amounting to a considerable collection of vertical meters. The skiing turned out to be the easy part of this adventure and the glacial recession made things incredibly difficult. Opting to exit the Fox Glacier on foot with skis on our backs despite advice to take a helicopter, we battled extreme winds, rock falls and torrential rain. Our spirits were undampened though as these challenges were vital to the climate story we were trying to portray and also to test our own limits.

"This adventure provided me with real confidence in my own ability to persevere and make decisions under duress in the mountains."Photos: Janina Kuzma

You can watch Anna’s adventure with fellow riders Janina Kuzma and Ayako Kuroda in EAST WEST, a film by Shades of Winter in a special screening at SunGod Basecamp, Verbier on the 12th of December.

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