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What A Story For The Campfire!

post #1 of 13
Thread Starter 
I read an old thread on snowHeads today posted by "snowball" a couple of years ago. I loved it and just had to share.

I hope snowball doesn't mind.:

"I mentioned this experience in another thread: I had it published in the Daily Mail Ski Magazine but they hacked it about a bit, and I'm keen to put it out in its original form:

Victoria Fall

“Qualunque errore e fatale” said the off-piste guide book: “Any mistake and you’re dead”. “Extremely difficult. Entry at 60º, slope 50º ... frequent cornices”

We had been taken to it on our first day and shuffled as close to the edge as we dared and peered over into the abyss. Days later, after a helicopter drop (the only way to ski the far side of this area) we had looked across at a rock wall over half a kilometre high and had pointed out to us a flat point on the ridge from which a little ribbon of snow traced a hesitant diagonal to the broad snow fields below. This was Victoria. It didn’t look skiable.

And now here we were, on our last day, preparing to be roped down into it.
Far below us huge, shattered seracs and magnificent snow fields spread out towards a distant valley, and beyond, under a brilliant blue sky, the hazy ranks of mountains marched off down the Val Grande and Val Gressoney into the heart of north Italy. Down there, we were told, would be the best snow in the area, and this was the only way down.
We were a party of six skiing at Alagna with our guide, Andrea Enzio, and two new friends we had invited to join us for the day.
We had donned our harnesses at the top of the cable car and, after a couple of drag lifts and a small, rocky scramble, had traversed a wide bowl to the edge.
Andrea belayed a rope to his skis stuck in the snow while some of us peered down again or had a nervous pee. Would it be better to let others go first or go early and get it over ?
The first person had the rope attached to his harness and stepped over the edge. I occupied myself with my camera: Andrea's legs in the foreground and, from almost directly above, the little figures of my friends.
Three down and it was my turn. I was shown how to release the karabiner and stepped to the edge. The start was a vertical broken cornice. Lean out, and don’t hold on to the rope... But I felt an instinctive need to hang on.
20 or 30 metres later I had to release myself from the security of the rope and stand waiting on the precipitous slope for the others to arrive. I am told that Andrea skied down (on Telemarks!), using an ice-axe merely to steady his initial entry, but I missed it. I was much too busy starting my descent.
Down below us the chute narrowed and dropped over an edge: a rocky plunge three or four hundred metres down to the glacier.
The snow was firm but soft enough to grip well. I’d like to say that we skied it but actually we side-slipped very, very carefully.
A little way down a turn was necessary to pass left above some rocks. It was too steep for a kick-turn so one by one we nerved ourselves and jump-turned.
Things were going well. I managed, precariously, to get out my camera and photographed the first two starting down the next pitch. (Below, Andrea took off his skis to help them out of the main couloir: an awkward few steps around a rocky ridge.)
The new chute rejoined the first further down. The entry was tricky. I thought I could let myself go a little and then catch myself again. The snow was suddenly icy... I hadn’t meant... my tips caught and I slewed around, looking for a moment straight up the slope as I fell backwards.
Both skis came off as I tumbled... Stop quickly or I’m dead. Feet below me, facing the slope... it was immediately obvious I couldn’t stop. Everything seemed to happen quite slowly. There were rocks below and part of my mind wondered if I was going to hit them. I pushed myself off the slope with my hands, putting my weight on my boot tips: the Giles Green self-arrest... They dug into the snow. Too much... I was flipped over, somersaulting backwards... Get feet below again: push slightly, this time only just off the snow... My boots bit: I just avoided another somersault, slowed and came to rest.
Held by the very tips of my boots I didn’t dare move.
Very carefully, I kicked a foothold.
I had fallen about 50 metres, tumbling over two broad rocks. I was 30 metres from the drop-off. I didn’t have a scratch.
Below me, when I dared look round, was Andrea holding my ski.
The others had seen him actually leaping down and across the slope - it was a race: who would get to our intersection point first, him or me? He did. Would he have stopped me? Perhaps, but I doubt it. It was a very steep slope.
As it was my pack had come open and my camera fallen out. Andrea was faced with two falling objects and wisely chose to stop my ski. My camera is now at the bottom of the cliff. Andrea looked when we got there but there was no sign.
Pentax are solidly built. If anyone finds it I hope they send me the film.
I think, though, it is set on a new course: carried in the frozen time-scale of the glacier as it grinds its slow passage; bearing unknowingly into the future its cargo of rocks, rubbish and old corpses.
That evening at dinner my friends toasted my escape from death and I thought of Giles Green, the Alpine Experience guide who taught me his method of self-arrest and made me practice it. He died two years ago from a brain tumour. I’m sorry I can’t write and tell him it worked.
Andrea, by the way, is a very good guide. I gave him a nasty moment but he gave us some great skiing. I’ll be back; after all, I haven’t skied all of the Victoria couloir yet.

I wrote all that some time ago. Later I realised that Andrea's race had been heroic. He could have been going to his death. I have never told him so, till now.
I don’t know if he has taken any clients down the face since. (I gather only one other guide had ever done so before). He had, himself, made the first snowboard descent, and that day may well have been the first on Telemarks. If so he didn’t tell us. Most extreme skiers die young, but I’m not one. I’ve never been back. Yet.
Recently I talked with someone Andrea guided last year. He too had looked across at Punta Victoria, and he told me about an Englishman who fell.
It seems I am one of Andrea’s stories, as he is one of mine.

David Johnson"
post #2 of 13
cheers for that. blows away instructors racing down the groomer in an attempt to catch the kid in his first chair experience who suddenly forgot how to stop. but that's what it reminded me of here in my world of few near-death skiing experiences. That's a good story.
post #3 of 13
Gotta love those stories!
post #4 of 13


can be a very important skill. Something everyone that ventures onto even steep blues needs to learn.
post #5 of 13
Andrea seems like he would belong in some of Hemingway's short stories.
post #6 of 13

I greet myself.

How strange, I haven't looked or posted on Epic for ages and I find I'm on here already to greet me, first of the threads! (Thanks marc)
(Anyone wanting to ski with Andrea let me know - I've got his number somewhere)
post #7 of 13
Excellent stuff and thanks for sharing.
post #8 of 13
Thread Starter 
Snowball, I'm glad you didn't mind.

I also see from your site that you have an exhibition on in my home town next year. I'll have to make sure I go.
post #9 of 13
Great story! Thanks.
post #10 of 13
Originally Posted by marc gledhill View Post
I also see from your site that you have an exhibition on in my home town next year. I'll have to make sure I go.
Let me know your address and I'll send an invitation to the Opening.
post #11 of 13
Probably no need for self-arrest but still plenty of excitement possible:
post #12 of 13
Thread Starter 
Martin, another Halifax connection on the same thread!!

If you look just to the right of his ski tips you'll spot one of my local mtb tracks climbing to the top of a ridge.
post #13 of 13
Is this the dual citizenship thread?
Snowball great story! Glad Marc shared
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