the spatial diagonal |
Jules Berger

While the heatwave is hitting the surface and that humanity has stored the skis, the crows are still flying around the tops and Jules Berger is bringing us a touch of vertical freshness. Patience, observation, heavy heartbeats and a first at Aiguille de Bionnassay for the Chamonix kid. Let’s take a look at this sensational adventure within a winter fragranced by ski touring.

The Aiguille de Bionnassay is a steep skiing mythic face. Sylvain Saudan was the first to ski it in 1969, and it became a great classic in the Mont Blanc Massif ever since. I want to touch the summit and ski down this face for such a long time but still, I had to figure it out in my planning. I had to find the connexion between perfect snow and a selection of first choice partners to venture up there. In this early winter, I already visualize myself at the top.

Constantly checking the smallest parts of this great lady, I manage to scope a ramp very low under Aiguille de Tricot which would allow me to ski from the top of the North face of Bionnassay and then head towards the North face of Tricot and find our way out on the glacier of the same name. A raw ski line is revealed to me as a mirage: two thousand meters of pure skiing and not a single rappel on the way down. This was all it took for me to drool with envy about it.

And yet the doubt knocked on the door once again. As every first, the road to the unknown attracts me and intrigues me at the same time. Days go by and I keep scoping this beauty, the line that I want to attempt plays with my mind and I’m not sure about the possibility of making it. The secret lies in the passage of this ramp. With the gloomy spring we just had, snowfalls are covering the high altitude summits and the quantity of snow is now massive. Unfortunately, west winds are blowing hard and the top of Bionnassay North face is still one hundred percent icy. One of the biggest challenges in ski mountaineering is to stay calm and lucid and be able to choose the right spot at the right time, it’s a patience game. I wait until mid-May and the snow conditions have improved but the snowfalls are too heavy to consider this adventure safe enough for the moment.

A sunny week is following and the snow layers are now more stable. Saturday the 29th of May will be the D-day. Alongside with my climbing buddies Pierre Espieusas, Nicolas, and Anthony Gros we are heading for the Tete Rousse refuge to spend the night there. And like every time before dropping an exposed line, the night was short and the alarm clock was a bit painful. We climb up the North face classic path with questions on our minds.

Finally, the ascent is going great. What a treat to go up with friends and split our efforts to track the road one by one. One thousand meters climb can be very demanding with your lungs and breathe when going alone so four skiers is easier. We reach the top and let it be clear, the atmosphere is aerial, you can feel the focus of the team in the air. A guide and his customer are dropping first in the North face, the snow is cold and allows great turns in this steep part above the seracs. We ski down quickly the classic line and we go completely on the left hand to reach the big face of Aiguille de Tricot. Here we find a large run not that steep, we feel confident and have great fun. By the downhill, the snow conditions evolve rapidly because of the heat but the snow is still very packed on this early morning.

Here comes the key moment of our trip. We reach the final ramp that tortured my mind this winter. When it’s time to drop, fear and focus have gone to a whole new level. This part is still protected from the sun but the ones over us are already exposed to the sunrays and some stones are starting to fall. I’m going first, the line is steep and the passage under the serac is quite impressing. My colleagues are following me one after another and I quickly notice one icy detail : the snow is so hard that we can barely see the track of our skis on it.

The biggest difficulty is behind us now, we find ourselves on the low part of the glacier of Bionnassay and my stress is flying away. Pleasure is the last word that we keep in our minds. We had great skiing until the gondola of Bellevue at the end.

This line I dreamed of is the achievement of observation work, a mix of patience and organization to plan things properly. To me, it defines purely and simply what is steep skiing and what it requires. The most challenging thing in this discipline is not to ski down the line although you need the courage to do this. The major difficulty lies in the decisions made in anticipation of the D-day. It takes all the elements combined for your safety and the success of the downhill, hoping that it’s a beautiful one and that there will be thousands of others to come.

 

Jules Berger

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