Big way of life: the adventures of Monsieur Cottet

Crow Arnaud Cottet recounts the joy of discovering Alaskan skiing alongside his 2 trusty companions.

Before touching down with the crows, the Swiss Arnaud Cottet went to camp on Pika glacier at the heart of Denali National Park with skier Renaud Langel and filmmaker Jules Guarneri. A casual sortie for an explorer more accustomed to mule trains in far-flung destinations, but a wondrous trip nevertheless to sample the magical fusion of steep slopes and snow from the Bering Straits. Solitude, pristine faces and generous cuisine all make Tika a funny, elegant film far-removed from the image of ferocious excitement associated with this land of plenty.

BC: Your trip seems like it was pretty comfortable…

Arnaud: For my first experience in Alaska, it wasn’t too bad. You hear a lot from the Yanks but it’s true, the snow is crazy. And we did it luxury camping style with folding chairs and tables. We arrived with just our ski gear, duvets and the tent. We did all our shopping on site, in camping shops and the Salvation Army. We took a large mess tent while (he grins) the others around us on the glacier only had mini expedition tents. It was luxury, American style. Two hot meals per day, fresh meat and veg. We also bought quite a few good wines.

BC: Just the basics then…

Arnaud: Yeah, perfect, no complications. So easy, so nice. It makes it really awesome when it’s so easy. For me personally it makes a change to do something a bit less complicated.

BC: And such good conditions too apparently?

Arnaud: Yeah, at least the first three/four days, it had snowed and was cold so it was wintry conditions. It was really good. At first we planned to arrive earlier, at the start of spring, but for various reasons we didn’t get to the glacier until the beginning of May. We got lucky with the conditions thankfully. Really beautiful powder and sun to begin with.

BC: So how about the Alaskan snow?

Arnaud: It’s mostly 500m-long couloirs. At the top of the couloirs it’s quite steep. On the way up you are constantly swimming through powder and that’s when you realize that it’s really different from the Alps. The snow really sticks, it’s so amazing.

BC: Did you have a chance to explore?

Arnaud: We went a bit further when the weather deteriorated. By then it was a bit gloomy and rainy though. In the end you are happy in your mess tent playing poker and redesigning the world. At the beginning you want to ride, you are motivated but after 10 days this subsides. So at the start you are stoked to go and get some shots but after a while you’re just going out to do a new summit that looks just like the last one…(laughs).

BC: How was this glacial holiday resort project conceived?

Arnaud: We began by launching the project with Algorigin, a spiruline brand and then Salewa joined the adventure. We decided where to go and it was quickly arranged. Two or three phone calls later and we had found our hook-ups. It was easy to organize. Two places were of interest to us, Denali National Park and Wrangle National Park. Wrangle is really far away and very isolated, harder to access. Denali was cheaper with lots of different airlines serving it while there’s only one for Wrangle. The call was made upon arrival according to the snow and weather conditions. Once we had arrived in Anchorage, we were able to get more information and got ourselves sorted. We then went to the Pika glacier in the Little Switzerland sector and spent 10 days there.

BC: How did you locate that exact spot?

Arnaud: It’s quite a well-known spot and after two or three conversations with Swiss friends, especially climbers who had been there, we knew it would be cool. The plane sets you down on the glacier and after that you find a place for your camp and radiate out from there. We also studied quite a lot on Google Maps and saw that there were quite a lot of couloirs to do.

BC: Is the glacier to be trusted?

Arnaud: Yes, it’s well filled in and has really big crevasses. We knew it was quite common to be dropped off there and in the U.S. they don’t just drop you anywhere. If you want to find new spots, that’s when it becomes more complicated and you need better organization. You have to find the right pilot.

BC: And the solitude, you were alone, did you have any means of communication?

Arnaud: Yes, no signal and no satellite phone. But actually, there is a relay. We were alone for two days but apart from that there were always two or three tents not too far away. As for the wild side, you are alone, far from everything but it doesn’t feel totally empty. Every day there were planes dropping off at Denali base camp. That was a funny aspect of this trip. You are in the middle of nowhere and there are planes flying really close to you. The main danger is if you hurt yourself badly and it’s bad weather then the plane can’t come and get you. So you ski with those consequences, you pay more attention. We didn’t think about it too much though.

BC: So anything else to say about Disneyland?

Arnaud: Yes, one shocking thing was the issues faced by the local people. As soon as you arrive in Anchorage you realize that all the tramps are Inuits. To see the natives enduring such conditions makes you really sad- intense misery while white people are coming in to go camping and fish in the rivers.

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