Cruising through the web recently we found this video from Luca Rolli skiing Tour Ronde. With summer in full swing at Backcountry Magazine HQ this video has us pricing out plane tickets to France. Check out the video below and read excerpts from our interview with its creator, Luca Rolli.
You were born in Parma, the "flatlands". How did you come to live in the mountains?
Since I was ten, I knew that Parma was not the place where I wanted to live my life. I was attracted to nature, in particular by the sea and the mountains. I did not get anyone to teach me the beauty of the deep water, but I met a person, a mentor, who taught me the beauty of the mountains: this is why I now live under Mont Blanc. Climbing and skiing came at two different moments. First I started climbing - the more I climbed, the more I wanted higher peaks. At the age of seventeen I went climbing on the granite of Mont Blanc and it was love at first sight. That winter I read a magazine article about skiing powder on the Mont Blanc and I said: “I want to do that, it looks fantastic!”.
You're a mountain guide with a degree in industrial design. How do you manage these two careers?
I'm very proud of my degree in Industrial Design. Even if I don't work as a designer, the studies gave me a mental approach to everyday life in the mountains. Staying alive in the mountains is not only a matter of training and physical energy, it is also a matter of mental energy; how fast your brain can solve critical problems and make the right decisions. The degree in Design also gave me useful computer skills. For example I am able make a 3D model of any gear I'm working on. But, at the moment my main activity is working as a Mountain Guide.
What about the north face of the Tour Rond attracted you?
The north face of Tour Ronde (3792m) is a steep slope, between 50° and 55°, divided in the middle by an ice gully. It faces the Valleé Blanche so you can get a beautiful view from the top. Most of the year the slope is ice, but during the spring wet snow covers the ice letting people ski it.
I skied it in 2010 in spring conditions. Beautiful day. But my friends and I wanted more; we wanted to ski the face in powder.
Through the end of April and the beginning of May we got a lot of snow storms and after a few checks on the snow quality, we (myself, Davide Capozzi and Francesco Civra) decided to go ski the face. That was a great day as there were forty cm of fresh winter snow perfectly bonded to the slope. We had a hard time to getting to the top, but the descent was just awesome. There is nothing better than skiing steep slopes in deep powder.
The next day the snow was wet and heavy.
It's so true that in steep skiing you have to be at the right moment in the right place.
How did this mountain compare to others you've done in the Alps?
The north face of Tour Ronde is short but very intense. Skinning one hour from the telepheric of Helbronner gets you under the slope. It can be dangerous: sometimes you look up from the bottom and it seems totally white. But once you climb it you realize there are just few centimeters of light snow over hard black ice, making the slope unskiable.
On the Mont Blanc Massif I've skied many steep lines. The enjoyment depends on the steepness, on the difficulty to reach the line and on the difficulty to get out of it if something goes wrong.
For sure the most demanding was the ski descent of the North Face of Aiguille Blanche. You can see the video at this address: https://vimeo.com/12465276
That was a day to live for.
Where else in the world have you skied?
Mostly in the Alps. I went to Iceland many years ago to ski the Vatnajökull glacier from west to east, but the weather was so bad we had to give up.
Favorite place to ski?
Chamonix is great, but there are too many people. Courmayeur is smaller, but on good powder days there are fewer people around.
You're based in Chamonix, the birthplace of extreme skiing. How has the sport evolved since you've been there and where do you see it progressing in the future?
It's been about ten years that I've lived around Mont Blanc and things have changed a lot.
In the past there was much more respect for the mountains and for steep skiing. Extreme skiers were also strong mountaineers; to practice serious steep skiing you need to know how to move in mountains and you need to know the snow.
Today steep skiing is trendy. There are dozens of people facing steep slopes with no idea how to use crampons, a rope or ice axe. I think that everybody should have more humility and grow step by step, learning by experience, understanding that in this sport there is no possibility for mistakes, because most of the time if you fall, you die.
It is important to spread the message that only by examining the snow is it possible to prevent avalanches, and that if you don't ski often, you can't understand how the snow behaves. Snow changes so fast, and if you don't follow the history and the evolution of the snowpack you are NOT safe.
Any upcoming projects on your agenda?
Here on Mont Blanc it is difficult to find new unskied lines. Since the '70s many generations of extreme skiers have already done what is skiable.
Sometimes it happens that, in periods of strong snowfalls, it is possible to see a line which still has yet to be skied: but you know... you have to wait for the snow to stabilize, the good temperature, the good weather... and voilà, not always it is possible to ski the line.
On the other hand, there are many lines which are still waiting for a repeat. And there is always a reason why nobody has repeated them: I do not mean that it is crazy to ski them. Most of the time the reason is that these lines can only be skied a few days (or hours) a year and not every year. You can ski these lines only if you are at the top at the right time.
This is what I'm doing. Waiting for the right moment.
I have some projects for ski lines in Pakistan and Nepal. I hope to realize some of them in the near future.