Hello, Doctor ?

Bernard Fontanille, mountain emergency doctor, presenter of the series ‘Médecines d’ailleurs’ and an enthusiastic skier, has agreed to answer several questions linked to Covid19. A resident of Chamonix, officiating in Verbier during the first wave of the epidemic, he gives us his impressions on the crisis, and beyond, sharing his questions about the world afterwards.

Black Crows : Hello Bernard, as a mountain emergency doctor, who is curious about medicines worldwide and enthusiastic about mountains and skiing, how do you see the situation that we are experiencing?

Bernard F. : Hello, firstly what comes to mind is the sight of that wolf, filmed yesterday, under the Aiguille de Midi lift. Nature is quickly reclaiming its rights. Beyond this sighting, casually, in the history of skiing, it’s a milestone.  There is not much else which could stop winter sports so abruptly. In Europe, the only moment when the mountains were so tranquil was before the installation of ski lifts, so at the very beginning of the XXth century. That makes it a century since the mountains have been this calm. I don’t believe that in the history of skiing, we have ever had to stop skiing at the same moment virtually everywhere throughout the world, or maybe during the world wars. In any case for that which concerns mechanised skiing, because in Switzerland, they are still touring. It isn’t advisable, but they have the right to do so.


Philippe Fragnol

For that which concerns ski domains, it has been realised that several resorts, of which Courchevel, Ischgl in Austria and Verbier in Switzerland, were major starting points for contagion in Europe. The virus was concentrated there, then diffused. It is a little like what happened in the United States with the spring break (festive get-togethers to celebrate the Easter holidays, Ed.).  A mobile phone study of sick people showed that spring break in Florida was a major spread of the virus. This was the same for Ischgl, Verbier and Courchevel. Still, it’s funny that it was super-privileged ski resorts that spread the virus. The resorts are very full of young people, so not very concerned by this virus from a medical point of view. They are vectors without knowing it and, given their standard of living, they took the virus all over the world. They are people who socialise a lot, who are often in groups, flat sharing, in ski lifts, so who mingle indiscriminately.

The ski resorts were clearly a big starting point for contamination. The results of the first tests I carried out in Verbier, were 75% positive! Many, as I had been myself, were in denial. It was something psychologically difficult to accept and yet we could understand what was going to happen. If we had told ourselves , at the beginning of January, that we were going to be confined with authorisations to go out, we would have laughed, yet that was exactly what was going on in China. It is for that reason that I wouldn’t like to be in the place of those who make the decisions.

Black Crows : With regard to the Swiss permissiveness regarding touring, what do you think of its prohibition in France ?

Bernard F. : On the level of skiing, touring in itself, it is not a problem at the contagion level. It is just necessary to be reasonable. And, that it doesn’t overload the emergency rooms. I have colleagues in other mountain hospitals, and they have very little activity in relation to that of last year. On the other hand, the emergency sections reserved for Covid are completely saturated and in isolation. In Switzerland, where they do a lot of touring, my colleagues tell me that there isn’t an overload of the health system. The helicopter hasn’t been called out. People ski on the groomed slopes. They don’t go off-piste. Well, it is said that all skiers are going to the mountains but in reality there are not really as many people as that.

So, I don’t believe the argument of overloading the hospitals is one. What counts in reality, is the aspect of solidarity. I have friends in Paris who are confined in 50 m2 with three kids, I myself am in Chamonix with a garden. We are not experiencing the same thing at all. So it is more a question of showing solidarity with those who can do practically nothing. But, from the point of view of the epidemic, there is no risk when doing a little ski touring on the groomed slopes, as in Switzerland, while taking all the necessary precautions. I recently read an article about the rules of access to the beaches in Australia and people have the right to go to the beach and bathe. But, with strict regulations. Couldn’t we organise something similar locally?

Black Crows : I read recently that overweight people were more affected, what is your opinion on that ?

Bernard F. : Clearly, 80% of those intubated, are overweight, or obese. Those people who are healthy and who are thin, the hospital world verifies, will die in far fewer numbers. In Chamonix, I don’t know of any serious illness. In the same way in Senegal, where people are thin and healthy, the effect is not too violent.

In most cases it is the older and larger people. This was not the case of Ebola where it was one in two. But if it is the most fragile who die the most often, for the others the illness paralyses everything. If the health system wasn’t saturated; we could have had a less strict confinement. Each country is tense. Each country relies upon China for everything, for masks, medicines, reanimation equipment. Now we are running out of drugs to put people to sleep. We are arriving at a situation where everything is stretched, but that was intended. Beds are stretched, it is a business of economical logistics. You then realise that being stretched works when there is no grain of sand in the works. But, with the slightest pebble everything collapses right down the country’s economy.

Black Crows : Regarding the roots of the disease, how do you analyse it?

Bernard F. : There were several vectors, but it is clearly linked to our lifestyle. The problem today, isn’t only global warming, it is our presence. Species do not simply die because it is hotter, they die because we encroach upon their space and kill them. Before finishing the last series of Médecines d’ailleurs, we had begun to reflect about a series on emerging illnesses. Today, we are totally involved with it. These are illnesses which are emerging because we are too close to wild life. We have taken too much space. It is also truly an illness of our way of life, in its appearance as in the method of its diffusion. There is the risk that this will increase. Illnesses like this, we are going to see loads. And, this period of confinement that we are experiencing will maybe become recurrent. It is therefore necessary to find a better policy than a brutal, general and without distinction confinement. With this disease alone, there could be many reserves, both human and animal. While we have no vaccine, we will not be at ease. We are no longer talking about anti-vaccines because we are talking about dealing with what a world without vaccine would be like.

It is really also a disease due to globalisation where travel has become a right. The previous two years, I was completely in to collapsology ( current way of thinking that studies the risks of a collapse of our civilisation Ed.) and I stopped because I was becoming really depressed. But actually, we are totally within it. We have truly arrived at the limits of our western world where each person only does what they want to do. That can’t work. Myself, I have had the chance to see micro-societies functioning while I have been filming Médecines d’ailleurs, their system is communist. They are people who share everything. There is a chief. The rules of society are strict. You can be excluded. But, there is no individual interest. We have gone so far in individual interest that the limits are there. There’s a guy who ate a pangolin that was raped by a bat and the whole world stops. It calls everything into question, including skiing as a leisure and leisure as a way of life.

And, unfortunately, I think that the moment we release this thing, it’s going to start all over again. Whereas this mode of existence is not tolerable. We are really on the edge. So it’s nice, I’m happy and I think that we, the children of the post war economic boom, have really had had the good life. Better than that of our parents because the skis are even better than those of our parents! A thank you in passing to Camille et Bruno (Camille Jaccoux and Bruno Compagnet, Ed.), it is due to them that I stopped snow-boarding and returned to skiing.


Skiing is also globalisation. We are spoilt children because we experience the things that we create. We don’t impose anything anything upon ourselves. You don’t have to buy things made goodness knows where. Should we not make use of this episode? Is it not the moment to relocalise? To endorse short supply chains? On the subject of skiing we should question ourselves. When I see posts of those who go heli-skiing on the other side of the world, for example, is it really relevant to boast that? I’m not saying that if I had the opportunity I wouldn’t take advantage of it. However we are extracting 100 million barrels per day, I believe that’s the distance to the moon. It’s mind boggling. I don’t know what we are going to leave our kids and I am very worried. This is why I am probably taking my time. I do more touring, less mechanised skiing, as if I aspired to more slowness.

When I see black crows, what they have done for ski-touring ; they have really revitalised the sector. Freeride with skins, it wasn’t them who started it, but they have been important players. I really like the identity of black crows in this sector, because you can at last ski-tour with clothes that look like something and skis that work. We owe that to you. And now we have started touring thanks to you, we can’t go. It’s stupid (laughter).

I really like the image that Bruno conveys. I recently read one of his article with Layla’s pictures about their confinement in the Pyrenees. I find that his approach is almost contradictory. He lives by globalisation, while advocating a certain decline. But he acts. He doesn’t travel much by planes, use his van, tries to be as much harmless as possible towards our planet. He is much more coherent than most of us.  He’s a guy who doesn’t just convey business and I really like it. He’s super-stylish. He is always in the mountains. He goes there. There is a holistic approach, and , with Layla, what they experience is inspiring. But I also like the Parisian-mountain identity. It’s not a core mountain thing and that’s why your brand is great.

Black Crows : You’re probably gonna get stuff with so much praise.

Bernard F. : There’s better be… (laughter)


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