This Video of the Week takes you for a white-knuckle freeski of the Mer de Glace, France’s largest glacier. Sam Favret’s short film “Ice Call” was a finalist at the New York Wild Film Festival in 2018. Favret first takes us above the Chamonix with a stunning aerial of the Mont Blanc mountains. Audio of glaciers cracking like cannon fire accompanies an impressive panorama as a skier mentally steels himself before dropping in. After a Requiem For a Dream-esque cut of the sights and sounds of a glacier’s interior― the action begins. You’ll find yourself tucking your elbows in as the skier navigates narrow chutes and spins into a light-less glacial cave. Acrobatic inversions, rotations, and icy wall rides are artfully integrated in a free flowing ride as natural as the glacier itself.
You’ll want to ensure your audio is turned up for this:
As glacial ice melts due to global warming, explorers Borge Ousland and Vincent Colliard are in the process of skiing across the world’s 20 largest glaciers to raise awareness about climate change. Deemed the Alpina & Ice Legacy Project, the plan seeks to have the duo cross the world’s most isolated glacial realms over the next 10 years. Ousland hopes that his expeditions will help in develop “new technology, political will, and [understanding about] what’s going on,” according to a November 2016 interview with National Geographic. Given the current state of climate change, the two men may not only be the first to accomplish the feat of traveling the world’s 20 largest glaciers, but also the last.
Both athletes are decorated skiers, with combined expedition experience across all seven continents in the past decade. Borge Ousland, the team’s leader, is credited with the first and fastest solo expedition to the North Pole, a journey that took more than 50 days and resulted in severe weight loss and frostbite. Still, only three years later, Ousland became the first to ski 1,864 miles across Antarctica completely unsupported. Now, for the Ice Legacy Project, 54-year-old Ousland has teamed up with 30-year-old Frenchman Vincent Colliard for a multi-stage glacier expedition.
Derek Parron, an experienced backcountry skier and owner of Rocky Mountain Underground ski company, attested to the audacity of Ousland and Colliard’s expedition in an interview with GlacierHub: “In all my years of doing long ski treks in the backcountry, I’ve never heard of a team working towards such an extraordinary goal,” he said. “Despite the wealth of experience between the two of them, their project is extremely dangerous with a lot of factors that could potentially go wrong.”
The skiing and mountaineering community has a great deal of respect for the duo’s ongoing project, and Parron pointed out that “not only are they touring across the world’s largest glaciers, but they’re documenting the entire process for the world to see.”
Maintaining a presence on social media is an important piece of the project, allowing the public to track the team’s progress across the numerous expeditions. “The world needs to find technical and political solutions to the environmental crisis,” Ousland told GlacierHub. “This long-term expedition is meant to be an incubator to that process, a visual example and a window to what is happening.”
Despite the risks, the duo has already successfully completed two goals of their project with funding support from watchmaker Alpina: crossing the Stikine Glacier in Alaska and the St. Elias-Wrangell Mountains Ice Field.
“We’d get up at 5 a.m., eat breakfast, check to see if we got news from the outside world, then start skiing at 8 a.m,” Colliard commented to National Geographic about a normal expedition day. “We’d ski for nine hours, towing our sleds, which were about 175 pounds per person, taking 15-minute breaks every hour.” The team would cover approximately 12 miles every day, making sure to keep sufficient food available to sustain a 5,000-calorie daily diet.
Given the dangers of crossing glacier fields in Alaska, the team’s effort to raise awareness about climate change is all the more admirable. Their project outline states that the plan “combines athletic prowess, human adventure and the sharing of knowledge about the polar environment with as many people as possible, so that future generations may enjoy the fascinating and priceless legacy of glaciers and icecaps.” In order to achieve these goals, Ousland described three major dangers that exist when traveling in isolated glacial environments: hidden crevasses, powerful avalanches from the mountains above, and inclement weather in the form of high winds and cold temperatures.
Derek Parron, who has skied similar terrain, confirmed these risks to GlacierHub. “When you’re skinning through glacial valleys like Colliard and Ousland are, the ridge lines of the mountains can be more than 4,000 feet above,” he said. “This makes high altitude avalanches a major concern.” In addition to avalanche danger, when temperatures are cold, high winds have the capacity to lower body temperatures, quickly increasing the explorer’s risk of hypothermia and frostbite as they travel across the ice and snow.
With the project far from over, the team is set to travel to ten different countries to visit the remaining 16 glaciers on their list. Given the sizable nature of the duo’s plan, maintaining both physical and mental strength is of utmost importance.
“On most trips, the mental element is the biggest part,” Colliard explained to National Geographic. Yet, despite the grueling effort that goes into the long expeditions, he also mentioned an upside to his followers on Instagram, “The wilderness answers my questions, and being isolated on an expedition is the best time to let my mind think about life and future projects.”
“Although many of these glaciers are not commonly traveled by the masses, our generation may be the last to have the chance to witness them in all their beauty,” Derek Parron added to GlacierHub. Parron’s comments emphasize the importance of Ousland and Colliard’s present project, covering thousands of miles of terrain to promote positive environmental stewardship.
In reflecting upon the beginning of the project, Colliard explained, “For me, adventure is a moment, an experience, a journey that takes you to a place of uncertainty, a place where success and failure are one in the same, a place where life is authentic.” It is in these thoughts that the team seems to find the drive to explore, pushing to expose the impending threat of climate change on our planet’s few untouched natural environments. In doing so, the men hope that future generations may have access to the same “authentic,” natural experiences we are privileged to enjoy today.
Roundup: Glacier Surface Motion, Black Carbon & Skiing
Remote Sensing Measures Glacier Surface Motion
From ISPRS Journal of Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing: “For monitoring of glacier surface motion in pole and alpine areas, radar remote sensing is becoming a popular technology accounting for its specific advantages of being independent of weather conditions and sunlight… Synthetic aperture radar (SAR) imaging is a complementary information source which has the advantage of providing images all year long, with no limitations in terms of weather condition and imaging time. It can reliably collect data with a pre-defined temporal interval over long periods of time with a ground resolution meeting the demands of glacier monitoring. Additionally, active SAR sensors observe both the amplitude and phase information of the backscattered signal from the ground target.”
Read more about remote sensing in alpine areas here.
Effects of Black Carbon on the Tibetan Plateau
From Advancements in Climate Change Research: “The Tibetan Plateau (TP), which has an abundance of snow and ice cover, is referred to as the water tower of Asia. Melting snow/ice makes a large contribution to regional hydrological resources and has direct impacts on local society and economic development. Recent studies have found that light-absorbing impurities, which may accelerate snow/ice melting, are considered as a key factor in cryospheric changes. However, there have been few assessments of the radiative effects of light-absorbing impurities on snow/ice cover over the Tibetan Plateau. Flanner et al. (2007) coupled a snow radiative model with a global climate model (GCM) and estimated the anthropogenic radiative forcing by the deposition of black carbon in snow averaged 1.5 W m−2 over the Tibetan Plateau.”
From National Geographic: “Børge Ousland, now 54, teamed up with French adventurer Vincent Colliard, 30, for the Alpina Ice Legacy project. Over 10 years, the duo plans to ski across the world’s 20 largest glaciers in an effort to raise awareness about climate change. They crossed Alaska’s Stikine Glacier on their second expedition in May 2015, and in May 2016 they tackled the project’s third glacier, the St. Elias-Wrangell Mountains Range Ice Field. After 19 days and 267 miles in the field, [National Geographic] caught up with Ousland and Colliard in Alaska to talk suffering, partnership, and coming home alive.”
If you used a PC at any point in the ‘90s, you probably encountered the game SkiFree. To jog your memory, the 16-bit windows game featured a lone skier tirelessly trying to gain “style points” and avoid obstacles such as rocks, trees, snow bunnies and a man-eating yeti.
SkiFree, created by Microsoft programmer Chris Pirih in his free time, was recently revamped to reflect present-day concerns. Instead of a snow monster chasing you down the alpine slopes, you and the monster end up at the bottom of the mountain, submerged in water below the bottom of a melting glacier.
Countless hours could be spent in any of the original game’s three modes of play: slalom, tree slalom, and free-style. Skiing down the mountain you would lose points by running into trees, rock or yellow snow (yes, the crude humor reflects correctly on the overall tone of the game). Points could be gained by jumping over trees and rock, knocking over snow bunnies, and running over snowboarders. There were also moguls and snow banks for the very skilled virtual skier to catch some air on–all of this controlled from your keyboard number pad. The goal was to accumulate as many style points as possible before the abominable snow monster (or monsters if you were very good) caught up and gobbled you up!
Skifreeonline.com hosts a version of the game that you don’t have to download. This retro favorite was released in March of earlier this year. After clicking the link, you are immediately taken to a familiar screen in your browser window. Just after you have remembered how to maneuver and begin to pick up momentum the white slopes are interrupted with a gray cliff and then blue water. Next thing you know, you have joined the yeti bobbing up and down in the ocean.
The presence of glaciers has been seen in the virtual sphere before. The online world SecondLife has an island with calving glaciers, and we previously mentioned the addictive phone app Glacier Rush [link here when published]. The new version of SkiFree blatantly offers a bit of a reality check to the nostalgic 20 to 50 year olds who popularized the game in the 1990s: “The snow monster is not a real thing. Climate change is.” The abrupt end of play and demonstration of how familiar landscapes we take for granted are changing was effective and direct.