The Truth About Ski Mountaineers

CEO of Dynafit and accomplished ski mountaineer, Benedikt Böhm, on risk, reward, and the art of omission.
By Skiingmag.com Editors ,

Interviewed by Frederick Reimers / Photo by Elias Lefas

Benedikt Böhm, 38, stepped down from his spot on the German national ski-mountaineering racing team shortly after being appointed CEO of Dynafit. He wanted to focus on shoulder-season ski expeditions to some of the world’s highest peaks. There, along with Dynafit team member Sebastian “Basti” Hagg, he perfected his “total reduction” style, completing remarkable speed ascents of peaks including 24,757-foot Muztagh Ata in 10 hours and 26,362-foot Gasherbrum II in 17 hours. After leading rescue efforts following the September 2012 avalanche on 26,759-foot Manaslu which killed 11, he summited and skied that peak in 23.5 hours—a feat that takes most mountaineers four days with oxygen. A year later, Hagg and Dynafit marketing manager Andrea Zambaldi, climbing just meters from Böhm, were swept off 26,289-foot Shishapangma and killed. Böhm lives in Munich with his wife and two sons. Here are his words:

> In mountaineering and in life it is much harder to decide what to leave behind. What do I really need in order to reach the goal? I admire and live up to the art of omission. We are slowed down by having stuff we don’t need. Omission requires a high level of discipline, the ability to say no, and self-knowledge. This also applies when we develop a Dynafit product. Our most successful products are those that were reduced to the minimum. If you reach omission, you are faster, lighter, freer.

> Ski touring is the only time where I’m not part of our modern matrix with phones, laptops, colleagues, family, and friends. It is the only time I have for myself to be creative, to solve problems, to create visions, and work out detailed plans. I have a pad and pen in my car and usually I note down two or three points when I return.

> The expedition to Peru was a nightmare. Objectively it wasn’t very dangerous, but it was the most dangerous expedition I’d been on. We were really lucky to all come back alive and healthy. We were so young and dumb. We didn’t use any donkeys and everyone was so proud, but we all had altitude sickness and Basti got lung edema. Everyone was shitting all over the place. Those were the steepest couloirs we’d ever skied, and we were really remote. We spent time in Peruvian hospitals, which is not a place you want to go unless absolutely necessary. Without these painful experiences we wouldn’t have climbed Gasherbrum II twice within five days two years later. These painful lessons were the only way to convince us to do it right in the future.

> I don’t like to call them records. That makes sense in a swimming pool but not on an 8,000-meter peak because conditions change so much. Every time you go it’s a different mountain. I have always tried to be fast on the mountain to be safer. It’s more about accomplishing the mission within a certain time frame, calculated according to my skills and my conditioning. I know I have the conditioning and supplies to go for 24 hours, but afterwards I’m getting into a risk zone. On Pakistan’s Broad Peak, Basti and I turned around 20 meters from the main summit because we said we’d turn around at 3 p.m.

> In 2007, Basti and I tried a speed ascent on Manaslu. We turned around twice exactly where the avalanche started. We found a spot that wasn’t in range of avalanches from that face, and we felt comfortable there.

> The Broad Peak attempt in 2009 was a scary day: 39 hours—far beyond the 24 hours we’d set for ourselves. We slept in Cristina Castagna’s tent, who’d died on the mountain that day, with no sleeping bag. I was angry that [Basti] had overpaced and got himself into that situation. It took us a while to get over that.

> Basti and I spent so many nights together in tents—why throw that away for being too proud? Fun was the most important thing for him. Waiting in base camps is the bigger part of mountaineering. He was a person you could have a lot of fun with. He could talk about anything, from economics to politics to art.

> I didn’t want to turn my back on that mountain during the 2013 Manaslu avalanche. My inner voice told me to stay, even though going back home to the family would have been easier. Having never hesitated in the rescue, I can look in the mirror without any bad feelings. We were fighting for the people up there, and all people who were rescued survived. I am glad that we stayed.

> The ironic thing is that Shishapangma was the least dangerous expedition we’d ever done. I’d just had my second child and didn’t want to take as many risks. These are the classic-entry 8,000-meter peaks. You never need a rope. There’s never a section where you fall, you die. There are no glaciers. On mountain expeditions, you must concentrate every second. It’s often that when you feel secure is when accidents happen.

> On the ski summit of Hirschberg we’re going to build a memorial of two skis in bronze memorializing Basti and his brother, who died in a skiing accident in Chamonix in 2006. It’s a pair of skis like a pair of brothers. It’s a peak where anyone can go. It’s important that his parents can reach it.

> Of course, I am who I am and I won’t be able to change. I’m one of the 10 people in the world who do so well at altitude. It’s talent and genes on one hand, but also a lot of experience. Are you going to throw this away, or do what you were made for? It’s an inner conflict.

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