This is the Whillans Ramp on Cerro Poincenot in Argentine Patagonia. A thin finger of steep, dazzlingly exposed, wrongly cambered snow reaching out as if from the hand of fate. In 2012 Andreas Fransson nailed this decent. Andreas was skiing’s apex predator; hunting always in the rarefied air where ski mountaineering intersects with big-mountain freeskiing. Andreas skied heavily exposed lines better than anyone in history; one of the reasons he is FC’s Skier of the Week…
“Tempting Fear” is the best introduction to Andreas Fransson’s life and work. With first descents including the South Face of Denali (6197m), blower powder in Norwegian couloirs and lashings of intense philosophy (which – from any other forum or author - would be completely fruity) make this an epic of the short-form ski film maker’s art…
Andreas Fransson had a background in freeski competition and was a demo-team-level ski instructor in Sweden. Here’s how Powder Magazine described him in 2012: “that’s right Action Sports Industry, the leading candidate for gnarliest dude in the world is a Swedish ski instructor with a receding hairline and a penchant for quoting William Blake.” You-fall-you-die skiing turned Fransson into a philosopher. Or maybe it was the other way around. The astonishing fluency with which he wrote in his second language provides the best window into his mind, and world. Chamonix was his proving ground and spiritual home; the world’s most easily accessible death-gnar smorgasbord. Photo – Tero Repo.
Drones have made aerial ski footage ubiquitous to the point of boredom. Maybe I’m just being old school but big mountains always look best when shot from the chopper. Who takes the honours – the helicopter pilot or Andreas Fransson?
You can tell a lot about a man by his toys. In 2013 Andreas Fransson packed his kit and came to NZ for a steep skiing blitzkrieg with his great mate Magnus Kastengren. Kiwi rippers Tyrone Low and Nick Begg joined the pair to ski the East face of Aoraki (Mt Cook).
It’s worth quoting Tryrone at length:
“Nick and I first met Andreas (and Magnus) at Unwin Lodge in October 2013 - we immediately knew who he was but he made no attempt to reference the fact that he was a big deal in the ski mountaineering world when we got talking to him. He struck me as both humble and reserved - I think he took pleasure in simply blending in and being in the moment.
We flew into Plateau hut together and quickly decided we would all work together given we had the same objective. We set off in the early hours and while moving through some difficult terrain lower down on the face it became apparent that these guys weren't cowboys. They approached objective danger with deliberation and took the necessary precautions to reduce risk. Andreas lead most of the 1600 vertical meters to the summit - delicately placing his feet rather than kicking them. He stressed the importance of conserving energy while still moving fast. It was humbling to see him move so quickly.
We enjoyed an incredible sunrise high up on Aoraki's east face - the energy gleaming from the Swedes was contagious. We skied the upper ice cap in horrendous conditions and Andreas made the face itself look like a groomed blue run despite the now sun-affected powder lining the face and the blue ice lurking not too far below the surface. Back at Plateau hut we asked Andreas how he achieved such a seemingly superhuman level of fitness. "I do yoga" he said. "And I ski a lot". Clearly that was an understatement.
Andreas was a deep thinker who truly loved being in the mountains. He enjoyed the aesthetic component of skiing a particular line and had an eye for (cue Swedish accent) a "super nice splitter couloir". He had a passion for forging new territory in the mountains and it was a privilege to watch him do this on a first ascent of the Bowie Couloir off Zurbriggens ridge. A man who is no doubt still sorely missed by his friends and family.”
Magnus Kastengren fell to his death from the top of Mt Cook on the approach to the Caroline Face on November 4th 2013. The best perspective on these events is undoubtedly Andreas’ blog. Scroll down to the section on New Zealand. Tom Grant (who skied the Caroline Face in 2017) said, “I have no doubt they would have succeeded had Magnus not fallen.”
We must all confront death eventually. Extreme skiing, by its nature, tends to hasten that rendezvous. Andreas Fransson and freeski legend J P Auclair were killed by an avalanche on Mount Saint Lorenzo in Chile on 29th September 2014. This video is a fitting tribute by good mate Bjarne Salen. It is a hard heart that isn’t moved to see these men set off into the early morning darkness, when we know they only have a few hours to live. Is that a photo of JP’s baby son Leo stuck to his ski?