Playing with death

Mountains are often very boring to photograph, especially in winter, because they’re white on white on more white and their scale, their enormity, their eternal beauty is often lost.

Mountains are very difficult to paint correctly. A friend of mine who lives in the Alps is always ready to point out artistic mistakes that reveal the artist had no knowledge of how a mountain shoulder or ridge had been shaped by tectonic shifts, earthquakes, and millions of years of tear and wear. It can be tearfully painful for a professional mountaineer to see artists deforming nature.

Mountains are very difficult to establish a relationship with. Men can climb mountains, litter their tops with cans of coke and cigarette butts but when mountains decide to severe the relationship, they simply kill men.

Let’s watch a man-to-mountain relationship, from outside, at a safe distance. We’d need to climb a little up this mountain top for seats at the stalls:

This is a clickable hi-res image

What we see there is a bowl with perfect snow:

This is a clickable hi-res image

It is not a static picture. We’d have to look closer to see dynamics in it.


This is a grassy slope. Cows don’t go there in summer, so grass grows long, which makes it easy for snow to slide down in winter. You see, the slab of snow that slided down in the big avalanche left almost nothing in its wake:

2014-01-08-4090_Q1 - копия

When the avalanche stops, the snow often gets compressed so hard it becomes concrete. An unfortunate skier can’t get out from under the snow mass, even if it is only a few dozen centimetres deep.

Now you can appreciate the strength of character utter stupidity of skiers who decided to play with the mountain choosing the path between two avalanches.


What’s even more dumb, is stopping on the slope with other skiers starting directly above. If they trigger an avalanche, the guy beneath them is doomed.

These people made it down to the bottom safely.

A week before, two men (experienced pisters) were killed by avalanches in neighbouring valleys, all in one day.

The mountaineer friend of mine, who was with me that day, wanted to go skiing there. But he knew it would be a risk too great to test the relationship with the mountain. It was better to watch the bravely suicidal skiers from the outside.

Somehow, watching these guys, and, of course, the mountains made me think of Turner. He was afraid of and respected the power of mountains. He could paint it in a way that makes professional mountaineer shudder.

J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, 1812.
J.M.W. Turner, Snow Storm: Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps, 1812.

In this painting, the mountains are one with the skies, with the clouds raising from the mountain tops like ancient spirits, re-examining their attitude to human ants scattered around. Few artists could express the deadly power of mountains better than Turner.


  1. To call those men stupid you have to know everything about off piste skiing first. How to ride in a group, how to take a rest, where you can stop and where it is very dangerous and much more. Plus you have to know a lot about snow. Yes, there is a risk, but you have to know a lot about snow to minimize it. Reading about long grass is really funny for me. That is not the reason, rly.
    I ski only off piste. It is extremely boring to me skiing on piste. A week ago a man from our group cut an avalanche, but everything was ok. And it was taken as normal. Next day we climbed the same slope to ski it again.
    But we don’t just climb and ski. We watch the snow every 100m while climbing. You can know a lot about the risk if you watch the snow. Finally we stopped climbing and skied down from the half of a planned route, coz the snow condition became very scary. So we try to minimize the risk. And also there is a lot of equipment for minimizing the risk – a Snowpulse bag, for example. You can google it.
    So, as a conclusion: calling freerider a suicide man knowing nothing about off piste skiing is stupid. The same way a man who doesn’t ski at all can call you crazy because you can break your leg skiing or smt else. But it will be funny for you, because he knows nothing about шею

    Here’s a video of our first run on that slope: Two runs later my collegue cut an avalanche right on that wall which is in front of me in the beginning of the video.

    1. To put it simply. I was walking there with an instructor who knows all there is to know about off piste because he instructs ski instructors about skiing offpiste. So, yes, the risk was too high for off piste skiing there, with long grass being, of course, just one of the several factors.

      I am opinionated about people who take unnecessary risks )) I am sorry, but I am.

      PS I believe the risk is high even if it is 1:200.

      1. Then why do you ski? It is dangerous)
        The answer is in the word “unnecessary”. Further you go, more risk you admit just for those emotions that become necessary)
        When your lifestyle is sitting on a sofa – even running brings you unnecessary risks.

        1. You got me there.

          I ski on-piste looking both down and up the slope, except when the slope is empty. When I see a skier with poor technical abilities running fast, I step aside and let the cannon ball go. I ski off-piste only when the risk of an avalanche is infinitely small. If it is higher than infinitely small, my friend-instructor makes me carry a GPS device. I never ski off-piste if the risk warrants wearing any of the avalanche passive protection gear. The risk I am willing to accept is at this level. And, of course, risk-acceptance levels vary across individuals. Perhaps, this is because I know people who survived – miraculously – in an avalanche? Perhaps, this is because I can’t take a higher level of risk because too many people depend on me outside of the ski resort area?

          I can understand people taking moderate risks. I can’t understand people taking really, really high risks.

          A few days before I made this photograph, on a similar slope just two lifts away, an experienced pister died in an avalanche.

          Nice video, by the way. The valley seems like an off-piste run to StMartin de Belleville from Meribel. Nice and easy at the first part, stony and thin snow cover at the second part of it. I am not yet good at recognising mountain tops, so it is most likely a different place )

          1. Thanks. It is a small place in France called Queyras. Almost all skiers there are local and their amount is very small so it is easy to find fresh snow there. On piste skiing is quiet boring there because of small amount of pistes, an absolutely no after-ski activities but the canyon on the way to the place is extremely beautiful and all villages are natural medieval so I recommend to take a trip there once you will be close to the place. If not for skiing then for the sightseeing.

            I got your point. Reasonable)

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