I was in Andreas Fransson’s mountain hometown of Chamonix when the news hit us that the extreme skier had died in an avalanche in Chile along with freeskiing artist JP Auclair. Earlier we had heard that another Chamonix local, snowboarder Liz Daley had also perished in a separate avalanche in South America. This bad news came on top of disaster in the Himalayas, where Dynafit athletes Andrea Zambaldi and Sebastian Haag were killed in a slide on Shisha Pangma.
The ski season had not even started in North America and already we were staring down another tough winter of tragedy.
The easy response to this dark news—and one that I heard in Chamonix, where extreme athletes all too often meet the limits of mortality, and 20 climbers died on Mont Blanc this year alone—is that those who push the edge, often go over it. “It was only a matter of time,” was a common refrain when it came to Fransson; who had already barely survived a previous slide and fall that broke his neck.
I didn’t want to accept that flippant assessment, however. It’s true that since I have been immersed in the outdoor industry, I have seen far too many friends leave us too soon, and many of them perished because they lived by pushing the edge. The list seems to go on and on, with many on it that I never thought would fall—Hans Saari, Alex Lowe, Trevor Petersen, Dan Osman, Alison Hargreaves, Doug Coombs, Jonny Copp, Micah Dash, Shane McConkey, Steve Romeo, Mario Richard. If we explore the limits of human possibility, if we live life fully, like they did, are we destined to die young? That’s all too often the way the extreme game plays out, but it also seems too easy to judge these people whom I knew, and found to be so genuine and full of life, for going down the paths they were driven to follow.
I went back and watched the Salomon Freeski TV film Tempting Fear about Fransson’s return from his broken neck. He was not a lunatic. He was a gifted athlete and a cerebral skier. I was horrified by the lines he descended, and yet, there’s such beauty to what he achieved, to the way he approached these dances with death, that I also felt inspired by them. Not to ski them, but listening to Fransson and watching him ski made me remember that we don’t have to risk our lives to live fully, but we can easily waste our lives by not putting all of ourselves into everything that we do.
Likewise, JP Auclair, whose death was all the more surprising because he was not known as someone who played with the edge like Fransson, was not just a skier. He changed the sport, made it something more beautiful. Go back and watch his street segment in the Sherpas Cinema film All.I.Can. It turns the stereotype of what a ski film can be inside out, it breathes new life into this wondrous thing, sliding and flying on snow, that we are lucky enough to do in the short time we get to enjoy being on this planet.
Other writers and editors have and will pen better odes to the lives of these athletes and visionaries. I simply want to take the gift they gave us while they were here and continue to breathe new life into it. I’m not saying, all of us must tempt fate to live fully, but we do need to make sure that every day we are alive, we find our own edge—be that writing about skiing, cooking organic meals, fighting the powers that would destroy wild places, or simply loving the people we care most about. Find your edge and live out on it.