By: Jillian Queri
Photos: Mattias Fredriksson
Editors' Note: This piece is from the November 2016 issue of Skiing Magazine. The SalomonTV Episode, "Skyway" has since been released. You can watch it here.
Looming above the northern Italian village of Courmayeur, Mont Blanc is the highest mountain in the Alps. It’s a skier’s playground, with iconic peaks stitched together by a network of trams—Courmayeur’s new Skyway Monte Bianco, the Vallée Blanche Aerial Tramway, and the Téléphérique de l’Aiguille du Midi, the cable car from Chamonix. Last March, pho- tographer Mattias Fredriksson, along with filmers Anthony Bonello and Jay Trusler, followed athletes Josh Daiek, Tony Lamiche, Kaj Zackrisson, and Alex Pittin on a two-week adventure in the semiautonomous Aosta Valley for Salomon Freeski TV. A series of bluebird days, perfect for ski mountaineering, all ended the same way: with pasta and wine among all the local characters. The episode drops November 5.
Josh Daiek inscribes his signature on the Brenva Glacier below the aptly named 15,777-foot Mont Blanc. The famous Peuterey Ridge juts up in the background. “The terrain is truly wild. Some parts of the year it’s really dangerous, but there is amazing skiing to be done,” says Fredriksson.
After four years and 110 million euros, the Skyway (officially the world’s most expensive cable car) opened its doors in the summer of 2015, linking Courmayeur with Pointe Helbronner on the southern side of the Mont Blanc Massif. Fredriksson says it’s like a space station. “People come from all over the world to experience these mountains. It’s the closest you can ever come to Monte Bianco from a lift.” The tram tops out at 11,371 feet in less than 20 minutes.
At the top of the new Skyway, moody win- ter light filters through the clouds and the sharp peaks of the Peuterey Ridge. The flags of the E.U., Italy, and the Aosta Valley—Italy’s smallest and least populous region—flap in the wind. The natives here speak a dialect called Valdôtain, in addition to Italian and French.
Josh Daiek and Alex Pittin balance carefully as they climb toward Tour Ronde, a peak in the Mont Blanc Massif that boasts one of the world’s most dramatic views. “It wasn’t that typical fun trip where we go and ski powder,” says Fredriksson. You had to be on your toes and make the right calls. We were constantly in terrain that was pretty serious.”
This guy knows these peaks like no one else, says Fredriksson. A mountain guide in the Alps since the age of 19, Oscar Taiola is the seasoned director of security at Pointe Helbronner. When the weather rolls in, he’s the guy who makes the call to shut the tram down.
Smack in the middle between Chamonix and Courmayeur, the Glacier du Géant is part of the Mer de Glace, the largest glacier in France. Josh Daiek, Tony Lamiche, and Kaj Zackrisson make their way across.
Mountain guide Tony Lamiche (right) prepares the athletes for a day of ski mountaineering. Double-checking all equipment was critical on this trip, as the pitches were extreme and the faces often icy. “If you come with a guide and proper knowledge and equipment, you can have an amazing ski experience,” says Fredriksson. Safety first, fun second.
View episodes from this seasons SalomonTV here.