Photographers' Blog

A recipe for excitement

April 1, 2009

Bjorn Heregger of Sweden competes during the Xtreme men’s ski freeride contest on the Bec des Rosses mountain in Verbier March 22, 2009. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

Take a 3,223m (10,574 ft) high mountain in Switzerland, “Le Bec-des-Rosses”, blessed with a 500m long north face and inclines of up to 55 degrees, sprinkle with sharp rocks, cover with snow for a few months, blast occasionally with strong winds and then add in a jump-friendly 20m escarpment along with narrow passages for descent.

Now throw into the mix 28 of the best skiers and snowboarders in the world, each of them climbing said mountain to reach their start positions. Add a light garnish of helicopter flights for the accompanying mountain guides, TV crews and photographers and you then have the vital ingredients of the recipe for excitement that is the Freeride World Cup Final 2009, or ‘Xtreme’ – an event held at the Swiss Alps resort of Verbier since 1996.

I arrive the evening before the event with stringer Valentin Flauraud and after some negotiations we’re assigned our mountain-side shooting positions.

As usual we have to use our diplomatic skills to gain access to the best spots. Early the next morning I meet my guide Tony. Tony has many responsibilities on this trip but most importantly he is the man who will keep Valentin and me safe and well.

He points towards a sunny area on the “Bec” – half-way to the top – where the women’s competition will begin. He then describes the walk we will have to make towards the left-hand side of the mountain to photograph the men’s event.

Reuters photographer Denis Balibouse watches the transporter helicopter depart after being dropped off on the Bec des Rosses mountain in Verbier March 22, 2009. (Courtesy photomargot.com)

Ten minutes later the helicopter drops us 50m below the start line and what at first seems like an a quick and easy ascent soon becomes a struggle. The combination of high altitude, my heavy backpack containing three cameras and four lenses (including a 400mm f2.8), and my general lack of fitness means I am soon out of breath and struggling in the waist-deep snow. Unsurprisingly, I am the last to reach the ridge.
I soon find myself harnessed and making my way around a pony-size rock before tackling a 15m ascent through a chimney-like cut in a cliff. I suddenly become aware of the 250m drop on both sides of the ridge I’m standing on. I can feel every muscle in my body and my heart is beating like the proverbial drum.

Sverre Liliequist of Sweden performs during the Xtreme men’s ski freeride contest on the Bec des Rosses mountain in Verbier March 22, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Of course, Tony negotiates this challenge with the speed and grace of a mountain goat. I crawl with the speed and the grace of a 200-year-old tortoise, pulling myself up on the side rocks before eventually making it to the top.
We are now joined by Dom, a seasoned ‘Xtreme’ event photographer. The radio breaks the silence, warning us we have only two minutes before the men’s competition begins. We make our way quickly the last 200 metres, and arrive at a comfortable, snowy position from where we will shoot the action.
It is the final event of the year for the crème de la crème; only the very best are here at the top of “Le Bec-des-Rosses”. Some competitors struggle, some draw clean lines, some go for the jumps and some prefer nice big curves. The riders are judged not by the risks they take but by their overall performance, including the choice of line, speed, precision and flow.

Reuters photographer Valentin Flauraud (2L) shoots a rider on a ridge during the Xtreme men’s ski freeride contest on the Bec des Rosses mountain in Verbier March 22, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

They have regularly observed the mountain face through binoculars during the season but once at the top the perspective changes. The line can become difficult to negotiate, the snow too hard and there can be more rocks than expected under the snow. Despite some falls nobody gets injured.

The return trip is more direct and comparatively pleasant. I abseil down the ‘chimney’, then slide on my bottom to the first drop zone. From here I am the last one to be picked up by helicopter. Most of the others have chosen to ski from this point, all the way back down to civilisation.

An adrenaline shot like this in the middle of the day is like adding chilli to a nice meal. It gives some extra bite, some extra excitement.

Comments
4 comments so far | RSS Comments RSS

wow! *testing. :) *

 

Yes,the adrenaline that comes doing this must be so high, but also so motivating to continue the drop.
Good and thank you for share your photos and experience with us and lets us ,by reading be able to feel some of that adrenaline by looking the photos.

Posted by maria | Report as abusive
 

“An adrenaline shot like this in the middle of the day is like adding chilli to a nice meal.” Its truth. Good photos, thanks.

 

Björn Heregger is an Austrian Freeskier! He is not from Sweden!

Posted by Fabian | Report as abusive
 

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