Saleinaz – A glacier in the backyard

In 2018, two friends in their thirties, based in Western Switzerland, set out the foundations for a project to tour summits in their backyard, the Valais Alps. After many adventures (including a global virus), a priceless short movie recounts their endeavours. 

Mathieu Schaer, meteorology expert, freeride splitboarder and advocate of a responsible approach, and Arnaud Cottet, freestyle ski judge, passionate globetrotting mountaineer and documentary producer, had chosen the Saleinaz Glacier, reaching an altitude of 3,000m in the La Fouly region.

The Biselx Couloir, in the Aiguilles Dorées, ends on the Saleinaz glacier.

The idea is to deliberately set off on a freeride expedition close to home, rather than travel on the other side of the world. They wanted to show that the other side of the world is also right here, starting at their doorstep in Switzerland. No, you don’t necessarily have to aim for Alaska or Afghanistan to get away from it all.

Room with a view. For camping we chose a single large tent. It’s heavier, but much more friendly.

To capture their whereabouts, they recruited their friend and director Jules Guarneri. Although he had vowed to stop making ski films and move on to more ambitious and lucrative productions, Jules found himself embarked on this project out of passion and friendship. German skier Jochen Mesle, an adventurous cyclist and skier, was also catapulted into the project after a brief meeting with Mat.

Mat Schaer, Jochen Mesle and Arnaud Cottet on the way up. Two round trips were needed to get all the equipment to the base camp.

Postponed due to the pandemic in April 2020, the adventure finally began one year later, same place, same protagonists. After a first reconnaissance in the mountains which allowed them to bring the tent, sleeping bags and gas, the team took advantage of a weather window of a few days to settle permanently in the heart of the Saleinaz glacier. Within reach of a few skinning strides, the north face of the glacier reveals its pretty corridors of fresh snow among the epic-looking seracs.

Thanks to a month of May 2021 with heavy rainfall, the Saleinaz glacier is well filled.

The riders take off, the cameras are running, and beautiful images captured in the box.The appeal of the challenge is the first and undeniable motivation for the project.

There are the obvious obstacles to overcome: natural, geographical, physical and sporting.

As always, the weather plays a decisive role. The snow conditions are exceptional for the period, and time is of the essence: there is a film to be made and and the boys all have jobs in addition to their passion. They have to brave the weather and hope for a milder window of opportunity within the given timeframe.

Arnaud Cottet and Jochen Mesle back from a shortened exploration. As is often the case during the week, the outings are interrupted by bad weather.

On another level, we should also mention more subjective constraints, relating to this particular expedition. In particular, the team sought to emphasize a more ecological aspect of this type of activity. This ambition is reflected in the choice of food, for example, preferring fresh to freeze-dried products, despite the extra weight.

Arnaud Cottet in the kitchen. No freeze-dried or dehydrated meals up there, but vegetables from the garden and enough to cook good meals. It keeps the team busy and it’s tasty.

The choice of transport, moreover: no planes, helicopters, snowmobiles, mules, boats or other easy solutions. And the choice of destination, of course: no need to go that far to find otherness and exoticism.

Mat Schaer, Jochen Mesle and Arnaud Cottet climb the north face of the Aiguille d’Argentière in good conditions.

Arnaud Cottet on the North face of the Aiguille d’Argentière.

This idea of Mat and Arnaud’s seemed more innovative three years ago, and today it has been slightly trivialized by COVID, which has seen a lot of skiers undertake projects closer to home. But the concept and its inspiration stand: so close, it’s already far away, you enter a radically different, foreign and wild universe.

Arnaud Cottet and the team in canyoning mode.

As for the narrative approach, it is the more banal daily life of the sliders that is chosen as the plot for this documentary.

Jochen Mesle takes a break

What matters most to Arnaud, Mat and Jochen is the whole way of life that leads to the tracks they leave up there in the powder. It is in this whole that their passion finds an expression : the well-being of getting away, escape even if only a little, the small comforts of the camp, the social microcosm, the serenity and intimacy in the immensity of the mountains, the breathtaking views at the cost of physical effort, the feeling of sailing into the unknown, the routine of the crew, the food, the sharing and the friendship above all, being among your peers doing what you love, the last El Dorado.

The film crew posing for a photo. Caroline Christinaz (journalist), Arnaud Cottet (skier and producer), Jules Guarneri (director), Mat Schaer (snowboarder and producer), Levi Luggen (snowboarder and cameraman), Léa Klaue (snowboarder), Simon Ricklin (cameraman), Jochen Mesle (skier) and David Malacrida (photographer).

It turns out that the discourse of freeskiing films has evolved quite a bit over time. For the public, the fans and the sponsors, the codes are no longer the same. Performance and achievement are sometimes relegated to the background in favor of more contemporary criteria : ecology, risk management and the human aspect. This project seeks to provide valuable content as a common thread between breathtaking panoramas and extreme performance. And so it relies on the subtle filming and editing skills of professionals like Jules to unearth and show the treasures of rich simplicity that are expressed from one person to another, in dialogue as well as in silences.

Jules Guarneri, director of the film “Saleinaz”, asks Jochen Mesle some questions (not too sad it seems).

There is certainly no complex about showing the most common or trivial aspects of such intrepid activities. Perhaps this desire also stems from the fact that our usual networks have become so sensation-hungry today, slaves to the wow effect. “Saleinaz” marks a desire to return to the origins, revolving around the love of adventure and respect for the mountains.

Ready to be inspired?


Text by Pierre Von Arx

Photos by D. Malacrida/Saleinaz

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