On September 29th, an avalanche on the North Face of Monte Saint Lorenzo in the Aysen Region of the southern Andes on the Chile-Argentina border caught skiers JP Auclair, 37, of Canada and Andreas Fransson, 31, of Sweden, killing them both. The area is incredibly remote — 18 hours by car from the nearest town — so details are sparse and any investigation into the incident will certainly be slow. What we do know, according to a local Chilean paper, is that the skiers were climbing a couloir on Monte Saint Lorenzo, and as they neared the top, an avalanche triggered and slid all the way to the bottom, a distance of over 2,300 vertical feet. A photographer and cinematographer were in the group, Bjarne Salen and Daniel Ronnbak, both from Sweden, documenting Auclair and Fransson from a removed location far across the valley for The Apogee Skiing Project.
Auclair first burst onto the skiing scene in 1998 as a teenage Canadian freestyler known for his spontaneous creativity and smooth and stylish street skiing. He was one of the few modern pro-skiers equally talented in all aspects of the sport — handrails and wall rides, stylish backflips at terrain parks, big mountain powder lines of Alaska, and steep technical ski-mountaineering in the Alps. Auclair also helped design the first twin tip ski for Salomon in the late 90s and was one of the ski world’s premier film editors in ski movies like All.I.Can and Into the Mind. At 34, he told National Geographic, “I just discovered this wide open world of ski mountaineering. It was brand new to me. It’s amazing to be able to have that feeling 27 years into your ski career. I want to soak up the European approach to skiing mountains, be there and be immersed in it as much as possible.” His devotion to Ski-Mountaineering led Auclair to relocate to Zurich, Switzerland, where he met Fransson, an experienced ski-mountaineer living in Chamonix.
While not as well-known as Auclair, Franson was an eloquent big-mountain skier who’s friends describe as “a philosopher more than a daredevil.” In the short film Happy Winter, Fransson explains, “Going out into the mountains and battling the elements… I am able to find my true self. It’s the best way to spend my precious time on earth.”
According to a recent profile on Fransson published in Powder Magazine, Fransson was one of those very rare skiing talents who are considered great at both big-mountain skiing and ski mountaineering. Exercising those talents over the last few years with a huge catalogue of mind-blowing first descents spanning three continents. Ludwig describes Fransson as “a thinker, a philosopher, and an existentialist. His thoughts don’t linger on success or triumph or the radness of it all, but on the paradoxes that always emerge when you focus in on something absolutely. Fransson says he is most proud of the runs he didn’t take, because backing off is harder than dropping in.”
Fransson spoke and wrote much about death, “the other side of the coin from life,” as he described it, and the danger of the mountains and what he chose to do on them. “Life is short and unpredictable,” he wrote. “No matter what we do in the mountains, no matter how safe we try to make it, it is dangerous.” He even lost his skiing partner and friend, Magnus Kastengren, while climbing and skiing on Mt. Cook in New Zealand on November 3, 2013. In one of his last blog entries he talks about that topic directly:
“We have to get on with our lives whatever happens. It sounds so definite, and sometimes we want to respect others by choosing to feel bad, but that is a choice, nothing more and nothing less… You can choose to see a friend’s death as something tragic or something beautiful. You can choose to believe what you like [about] what happen[s] after death. You can choose to create whichever reality you like. So then create a reality that you like! Life goes on and how we want it to go on is a choice and even if we want to escape, there is nowhere to escape so we might as well make right now awesome.”