Speed-riding devotees JT Holmes and Espen Fadnes boldly go where few can as they take flight over the peaks of Chamonix. Photos by René Robert
From SnoWorld #66
Espen Fadnes soars over the Grand Montets glacier in Chamonix, France. The Norway native made the move to extreme sports at 19 after a career in alpine racing. “I’ve used my grown-up life to learn how to fly even though humans aren’t meant to,” says Fadnes, who is also an expert in wingsuit flying and BASE jumping and competes in freeride skiing.
JT Holmes, guide Stephane “Fan Fan” Dan, and Fadnes scout the Grande Col de Jorasses. Fadnes first came to Chamonix when he was 11. He was with his father, who is a climber and writer. “I was highly influenced by his friends and his own climbing,” Fadnes says.
CLOCKWISE: The dramatic Grandes Jorasses and the Grande Col de Jorasses; Fadnes, Holmes, their guide Fan Fan, and director Chris Patterson take a break on the Vallée Blanche; Patterson is framed by some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Holmes drops a cornice in the famous off-piste Vallée Blanche ski run. Holmes thinks everyone should try speed riding. “Put it on the bucket list and then scratch it off the bucket list and put it on the now list,” he says. “I’m an expert at having fun, and this is really fun. And it’s not that hard.”
Fadnes taps down on the spine between the Mallory Route and the Frendo Route on the north face of Aiguille du Midi. “The jury’s still out on whether speed riding is going to be accepted at your typical ski resort in the United States,” Holmes says.
ABOVE, LEFT: Taking in the view from the bridge on the Aiguille du Midi, or “Needle at Midday.” It is nearly two miles above Chamonix, with views of the French, Swiss, and Italian Alps.
ABOVE, RIGHT: Patterson outfits Fadnes for a bird’s-eye view of his next run.
"To get to go ski off the edge with a parachute in perfect powder is kind of a bizarre and really cool experience,” Holmes says. “Suddenly by having this parachute, no longer do typical hazards apply to you. And it’s also just so dang efficient. We’re back at the midstation in three minutes, and back onto the cable car.”
Photographer René Robert has been tagging along with climbers, skiers, snow-boarders, and other extreme-sports enthusiasts for more than two decades in the mountains around Chamonix-Mont-Blanc, France. His grandfather was the famous mountain guide Édouard Frendo, and Robert was named after his uncle René Rionda, who was a guide and professor at the national ski-guide and mountaineering school. In other words, few know Chamonix the way Robert does. “This place gives inspiration to all passionate humans around the world,” Robert says. The peaks are a laboratory for extreme sports in all seasons. The likes of James Coutet, Alain Revel, Yves Detry, and Marco Siffredi paved the way, and Robert says great skiers, riders, and mountaineers continue to build on the area’s legend. “For each generation, those mountains have life to offer, for those who want to get it,” he says. “The dream is there—take it and make it yours.”
Where to Go: Chamonix
There’s no better spot to recover from a day on the region’s rugged terrain than Gare des Glaciers, which is just 10 minutes from the city center. Your host, photographer René Robert, has literally followed in the footsteps of the world’s top mountaineers. He’ll make sure you make the most of your time in the Chamonix region. garedesglaciers.com