I have a picture on my kitchen wall of a beautiful snowy line on the Aiguille du Chardonnet. People often ask what the picture is of. I smile, think back to that memorable day, and tell the story.
I had a few days off in January 2010 so what did I do with them? I had some ski lessons; steep skiing with Rémy Lécluse, lessons that were so valuable at the time but little did I know then how precious they would be to me now.
When I first met Rémy for a coffee he made it very clear that if he was going to guide me on steep slopes I had to be prepared to ski his way or we weren’t doing it. I was happy to buy into that. I told him that I didn’t really have any specific objectives. I’d rather go and ski something I’d hadn’t heard of to make the most of the time with him. I wanted an adventure and to learn along the way. I knew he understood exactly what I wanted to get from my couple of days skiing with him and could see ideas brewing.
Our first ski together was to be a “warm up” day to practice his techniques. A quick non-stop lap off the top bin at Les Grands Montets and he had enough time to make an assessment of me. Whilst he was checking out conditions through his binoculars, I was catching my breath. He asked me if I used to race, “yes” I replied proudly, pleased that he had observed that in my skiing so quickly. “And how many times did you crash in races?” I replied it was probably about 1 in 7. “When you ski these types of slopes with me you can never crash. It’s not an option.” The message was very clear.
Then off he went breaking trail up the Petite Aiguille Verte with me hanging in behind trying to pretend I was finding it easy. He taught me how to “crawl” up through the powder to make the uphill easier! We stood at the top of the face and he said “Right I want to see you do 5 turns between here and there without jump turning”. I looked at him blankly, “without jumping?” “Yes” he replied, “You need to keep your skis on the snow”. And so the learning began.
He spoke to me sternly when I forgot to stop above him. Sternly in a reassuring way; reassured that he was giving me 100% of his attention and that my safety was his main focus. After the Chevalier couloir and a warm down in the Chapeau couloir, I was following him back through the forest. He was doing hundreds of quick turns on a six pence down the track and I was cruising behind. He stopped and shouted “Do you think I’m doing all these turns for my benefit?” I guess not. I followed behind trying to copy. He worked me hard and he got results. When you got a compliment you had really earned it.
With the warm up day over I was delighted with what we achieved and what I had learnt but we still had the “adventure” day to come. Remy had some ideas of where we might go but nothing was set in stone. His flexible approach reassured me that he was responding to the conditions in front of him. Bring everything, be prepared to go anywhere. It wasn’t until we skied down onto the Argentiere Glacier that he made a firm decision. “Let’s go for the South East Couloir on the Chardonnet”. “Where?” He explained. I looked at my watch. So we are going to go from here to the top of the Chardonnet today? I’m glad he’s breaking trail. The conditions were perfect for skiing downhill; fresh untracked powder everywhere with little effect from the wind or sun. But it certainly made it hard work to go uphill; again I was crawling uphill behind him.
I didn’t take a camera. I tend not too when I need to focus in the mountains. It’s just another distraction. But the memories of the descent are still vivid in my mind. There was beautiful fresh powder all the way through the couloirs that twist between the huge red granite towers. Remy danced down effortlessly demonstrating exactly how he wanted me to ski. I tried to replicate it and I would hear him voice reminders when I didn’t “don’t jump” “double pole plant”. He could fit turns in where I aspired too. Eventually we skied out the bottom of the couloir. I don’t remember many stops between there and the Pierre a Ric Piste. We skied down the piste amongst the skiers that we had begun the day with. Glancing back up at the Chardonnet, I felt quietly privileged that our day had probably been quite different to theirs. All thanks to Rémy.
Rémy is renowned for his own personal achievements, but he also had a unique skill in guiding people in this environment too, teaching them and helping people to accomplish their goals. He was “the Godfather” of steep skiing in every way, but he was also just a really nice bloke to be around. It was always a pleasure to bump into him in the street or on the hill. He had time for everybody. I’ll continue to aspire to dance down ski slopes with the fluidity that he did, and to coach my clients to do the same. Rémy Lécluse is the greatest loss to skiing I have ever known.
Rémy is missing, presumed dead, following the avalanche on Manaslu 8156m on Sunday 23rd September. He was with Glen Plake and Greg Costa, and they were attempting to be the first team to ski Manaslu without oxygen. Glen survived and Greg Costa is also missing presumed dead.
With thanks to Alison. The original article can be seen on her blog, here.