With the ski season approaching, here's a story about Sylvain Saudan, regarded as the father of extreme skiing and dubbed "Skier of the Impossible".
He has skied what are regarded as the 18 most difficult descents, many of them first descents. Beginning in the mid-to-late 1960's, he began to explore beyond the marked pistes. These included many of the highest and steepest, previously unskied slopes and couloirs in the Swiss and French Alps beginning with an un-named couloir on the Rothorn above Arosa, the north face of Piz Corvatsch above St Moritz (for which the authorities confiscated his ski-pass!) and more descents on Mont Blanc, the Eiger, Mount Hood in Oregon and Mount McKinley, the highest peak in North America. Many of his descents lasted several hours, and involved as many as 2,000 turns!
Saudan had fallen in love with the mountains, having received his first pair of skis as a child. He has said" I don't live for the mountain, I couldn't live with out it. I live with the mountain". A ski innovator, Saudan is credited with inventing the jump turn, an indispensable asset for people skiing these steepest slopes, and also somehow developed rock-skiing.
Rock-skiing is exactly what it sounds like and in Saudan's view is the perfect way to develop the adaptable technique for skiing the many different, and unexpected, snow conditions that you encounter skiing off-piste. Here's a film of doing it.
He celebrated his 50th birthday making a 1,500 vertical metres descent of mount Fuji - skiing rocks!
Nowadays, in his 70's, he continues to ski "hors-piste", guiding ski groups in the Alps and leading heli-skiing expeditions to Kashmir.
All of us who enjoy skiing beyond the bounds owe him a debt.
More about Sylvain Saudan can be read in Paul Dreyfus' biography "Sylvain Saudan, Skieur de l'Impossible".