Xavier de Le Rue, Andreas Fransson vs Aiguille du Plan, Face Nord

North Face, Aiguille du Plan, Xavier de Le Rue, Andreas Fransson

Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

“When I came off that last rappel, I didn’t kiss the ground, but I felt like it.” –Xavier de Le Rue, when asked about the best part of the route.

It’s one of those unusually perfect days when Mother Nature decides to loosen up the ol’ apron strings and treat the kids to warm temps, fresh snow, light wind and clear blue sky. Yep, stunner of a day and if you happened to be on the Vallée Blanche on the afternoon of 5 May it was impossible to look around and not see big lines being fired: The Ordinary Skiers on the Face Nord of the Tour Ronde and the Finnish Mafia in the Couloir du Diable, to name a couple.

North Face Aiguille du Plan Xavier de Le Rue Andreas FranssonOver on the north side of the Mont Blanc range, the sun worshippers in the Chamonix valley didn’t even need to take off their flip flops to bear witness to cutting edge freeriding. From the comfort of a well-positioned lawnchair one could kick back with a celebratory Cinco de Mayo margarita and see two big-mountain chargers making their way methodically through the junk show of hanging glacier and steep granite that comprise the north face of the Aiguille du Plan.

Face Nord, Aiguille du Plan. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

11:45 Xavier and Andreas complete the Midi-Plan Traverse and settle in to wait for the chopper carrying photo/video pros Tero Repo and Guido Perrini. [Bjahne Salén will also have amazing footage from his angle on high ground]. Despite the blazing sun, here at 3600m the temperature is -10˚C. Shivering in the cold makes it difficult to relax as they study the 2600m face below them. Andreas writes in his blog

“The north face of Aiguille du Plan is not really a ski, it’s more of a mind game where problem solving and keeping one’s cool is much more important than the actual skiing. I had already skied the face two years ago with Tobias Granath and that was probably the first descent in 15 years. This year it’s already had two successful descents. Last time I told myself I was not going to do the face again…”

Xavier de Le Rue. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

12:40 The heli arrives and Xavier drops in to the 40-45˚ snowfield. Within seconds he has a solid understanding of the snow beneath his board and rips five fast powder turns straight down the falline. Andreas traverses skier’s left and follows suit. The snow looks amazing, perfect. It’s an outstanding start – 200 meters down, 300 to go.

12:51 The boys have taken shelter in the shadow of a small serac where they can get a better look at the face below and evaluate their next move. The falline drops straight over several massive seracs before cliffing out to 300m of cold, clear air to granite. A snow ramp angles rider’s right to a corner that’s threatened from above by a 20m serac. From our viewpoint it looks like there may be a thin line of snow on the wall skier’s right and then a rappel to the next snowfield. Between the riders and the corner is a big fracture line. With three crowns.

“I was a bit nervous when the heli showed up because it was like, game on, but I had a really good feeling. There was no wind, perfect sunny day, the snow looked healthy and we just charged these magical turns, just this incredible stuff at the top. It’s funny because it didn’t really feel like we were hanging over the middle of nothing. But then, as soon as we got into exposure, there with this big crown in front of us that had just broken. It showed there was a lot of fresh snow ready to slide.” -Xavier de Le Rue

13:05 Andreas drops in, skis to the corner, then hangs left and disappears into a crack in the wall of the 60m overhanging serac. His head appears over the edge of the ice. He stops moving and we assume he’s drilling a V-thread in the serac to put Xavier on belay.

13:20 Xavier follows, joins Andreas at the belay. The crack in the wall continues for another 10 meters before emerging onto blue water ice.

Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport

13:40 Andreas rappels and rigs an anchor in solid blue ice. From here it’s difficult to see impossible to see how Xavier is going to follow without a top rope. Then again, that’s why Xavier is up there and the rest of us are watching from the golf course.

13:50 With his ice axe out, Xavier slips in and joins Andreas at the belay. Seeing how they make it past the ice will be another highlight in the TimeLine and Standard Films videos when they come out in September. Or ChamonixInsider.com if I can find a way to break into the vault where Guido stashes his hard drives…

Xavier: middle of the screen, in the shadow just near the sun where the granite wall meets the snowfield. Andreas: further right, directly beneath the 60m overhanging serac.

Xavier: middle of the screen, in the shadow just near the sun where the granite wall meets the snowfield. Andreas: further right, directly beneath the 60m overhanging serac. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

13:55 At an angle of 50˚+ the riders are now at one of the steepest parts of the route. Xavier traverses skier’s right towards the edge of the glacier where it meets the wall. Due to the massive serac threatening the route between their belay and the wall, moving quickly through this section is a clear priority. Xavier inches out slowly and to everyone watching, the worst case scenario becomes painfully clear: the snow here is total junk. Andreas later explained, “I couldn’t find the base with my ski pole, it was completely hollow. There was no base.”

14:00 Xavier makes it to the wall and sets a belay. Andreas, skiing delicately, joins him. The snowfield traverses left and down across a snowy shoulder, dips (if you were ski basing, this is where you’d want to point it), then crosses a snow spine, dipping further left to a rocky ridge that separates them from a rock cliff with an east aspect leading down to a snowy football field. Some of this section is protected by towers in the wall above.

14:15 A rider leads out and glides smoothly, confidently, over to the steep spine and links solid, controlled turns down the crest of the spine. The next rider does the same, skis out right to the rocky shoulder and out of sight to set a belay. Fully committed, fully controlled. I’m blown away by what I’m seeing.

Andreas crests the rocky ridge towards the east aspect as Xavier traverses. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDP Freesports.

14:26 Due to the east aspect we are unable to get a clear view of how they make it down the cliff to the snowy football field below. Andreas’s blog mentions a ‘hidden couloir … with great snow.’ They traverse right to an apparent belay high and skier’s right to steep turns down to the football field. The boys are far from being finished but they’re past the difficult skiing and the crew gathered in the Flégère parking lot breathe a huge sigh of relief. The only thing between the riders and a veggie burger is 150 meters of rappels down blank, compact slabs.

Xavier and Andreas opt to descend via the slabs on the right bank of the glacier. they traverse over and find Andreas’s anchor from two years before.He replaces the webbing and the rappelling starts. Protection is extremely difficult to find in the compact granite. On the second rappel, Andreas raps to within five feet of the end of their 60-meter ropes before finding a crack that would take two #7 stoppers.

“Yes, they were in the same crack, but that’s all there was and I backed it up with a half-good knifeblade. Still, there’s two big boys with ski equipment hanging from this belay and well … it was pretty intense.” -Andreas Fransson

16:30 The guys are kicking back with a coke and a smile at the buvette at the mid-station. In four hours of steep skiing on a variety of snow and heavily-exposed terrain the team had made a balls-out descent of the north face of the Plan de l’Aiguille in fine style.

Andreas Fransson, Xavier de Le Rue, face nord, Aiguille du Plan (3673m).

Andreas Fransson, Xavier de Le Rue, face nord, Aiguille du Plan (3673m), 5 May 2011. Photo: Mike Weyerhaeuser / JDPfreesport.com

In Mont Blanc et Aiguilles Rouges à ski, Anselme Baud rates the route TD+ / 45-55˚/500m (passages of 55˚). Laurent Giacometti and Jean-Marc Boivin were the first to ski it in 1977. Some may think that yet another descent hardly makes this ‘cutting edge.’ In fact, by calling it that, the thing to which I’d like to draw your attention is the outstanding style with which the two rode a heavy, heavy line. If there’s any criticism that can be leveled at the two it’s that they hung it pretty far out there. Yes, they did. They charged this beast with both barrels blazing and they stuck it. Full respect.

Kai Palkeinin, Chamonix Freeride Center, Andreas Fransson

Chamonix Freeride Center's Kai Palkeinen and a much more relaxed Andreas Fransson following the post-Plan, pre-AK repair.

“Taking my boots off in the parking lot I discovered something that explained the bad feeling I had at the top. Just before I took off I double-checked my boots and bindings like always, but this time there was a small gap under the left heel allowing me to lift the boot up and down 1 cm in the binding. I thought the binding was just getting old or something but taking the boots off I realised the boot was broken and the metal piece on the heel was gone. Skiing was fine without it as long as I stayed on the middle of my foot…” -Andreas Fransson, from his blog report.

“I drilled out the old screw, used a secondary Low Tech piece, put a bigger screw in, bit of Araldite. It’s 110% now.” -Kai Palkeinen, Chamonix Freeride Center, post-Plan, pre-AK.

“I think this is the first time it has taken me four hours to get down a mountain – normally it takes me 20 seconds. It was one helluva run. Done. Probably never again.” -Xavier de Le Rue.

5 May 2011 - The light shines on Andreas Fransson and Xavier de Le Rue

“The best part of the route was getting back to the lift station. This is not a run you do for fun because there is so much objective danger. It’s not like you go there to enjoy yourself.” – Andreas Fransson

Xavier de Le Rue, Nissan Juke, Chamonix

Everybody go out now and buy a slick new Nissan Juke just like Xavier's so they will continue their generous support of these kinds of shenanigans.

Check out these high-res images and loads more over at http://www.JDPfreesports.com. Photo mashup: ChamonixInsider vs Alex di Suvero.

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15 responses to “Xavier de Le Rue, Andreas Fransson vs Aiguille du Plan, Face Nord

  1. Word, Trey! What a day that was, eh? Sick lines on an even sicker face sitting beneath an early summer sun at Flegere parking lot watching it all unfold…
    Hell – I even sold our car that day to the guy with the dog!!! No shit!

  2. Hire a heli for 3 big turns on a 45 degree slope and a lot of billygoating seems very pricey. and the eco footprint huge. if this is where the industry is going , it sucks! . you guys should mention douds charlet who the next day snowboarded the same line but linked it to the contamine on blaitiere, that way avoiding the compulsary 4 raps under a serac. much more stylish!

    • Thanks for the heads up, CharlesE. Douds did indeed complete this amazing ‘Traverse of the Chamonix Aiguilles’ by snowboard with skier Vivian Bruchet. The pair roped up for only one 15-meter rappel on the the Plan and one rappel on the Blatiere and were back at the Plan de l’Aiguille by 14:30. Truly remarkable.

      Douds has had an amazing start to 2011: 4th place on the FWT and the slaying of some big lines both climbing and snowboarding. Watch this space for an upcoming interview.

    • “billygoating”?

      • Billygoating – moving over the terrain without actually skiing. For instance, sidestepping up or down, traversing across rocks, rappelling with skis on, climbing 5+ with skis on as Samuel Anthamatten did when he found himself on unfamiliar terrain the day before the 2011 FWT Engadin event, etc…

  3. AntoineZeroG

    Yea well done to Xavier and Andreas…Good to mention the run of Douds and Vivien…According to the stars in the eyes of Douds when he talk about that run they did,it was a really sick line….But we have to mention that this run had been done as well the 7 april 2011,on real powder conditions,from top to bottom by Julien”Pica”Herry , Roc MalnuitandLionnel Hachmi for the first time this winter….For the all story,to be completed…that run have been done the 8 april,the next day,by….Davidé(snowow.it)Lucas and Francesco,knows as the italian crew….One hour after they done the run,one serac went down above the firsts raps and made the all face went down….
    The funny things about that….Have you heard anything about those guys,did they bring heli and media in it??Is it always good to promote this kind of things??And when yu come down under the spotlights with something like that…yu have to be sure yu did it the best way…..
    Best regards,Antoine.

    • Thanks for the comment, Antoine. Good point about whether it’s ‘always good to promote this kind of thing.’ My opinion on this – clearly everyone has their own – is that snowsliding is an art just like making music. A guy can be the best musician in the world and if he only wants to play for himself and his bros then hey, that’s his choice. Respect. But if he wants to share his music and bring beauty and passion to other people’s lives then of course he needs the media. Different philosophies for different folks. Certainly, a lot of the best music out there might never get heard but I for one am stoked there are those who choose to share their art and inspire my own life. Respect.

  4. and the best way as we all know is in powder and specially with no rappel , when guys just did it before you without ………its hard to be a start on a fake exploit, talked to your soul…sorry guys but you really fucked this one….8 belays …..hahahahaha
    Chamonix speciality is to go get some “Famous” rider from all over the planet but they never help their own rider and they treat tham like shit….like we always say “Support your local rider”….SHAME ON CHAMONIX
    Chamaican riderz burn them allllll.
    peaceeeeeeeeeeeeee

    • Thanks for your thoughts on this, Simon. A bit harsh, no? I’m thinking anyone who makes it down this beast safely has pulled off a major accomplishment.

      Remind me again how many rappels you made on your descent?

  5. i have to disagree. if you go down the aiguille du plan it is to test your alpinism skills with your skis on: route finding, v-threads, belay making and so on. if you are a top alpinist then it is easy. if you are a bad ass snowboarder and you hire a guide to put a rope where you need it just to be able to film the 3 top turns then it is easy and FAKE and dumb!!!…the skiing in that run is fine. its only a 5.3. it is not steep: 40-45 powder isnt steep. if you bypass the alpinism part of it is completely dumb and NOT a major accomplishment. but it will make nice pictures for the sponsors and the happy sponsors give money to Franssen so HE can go and send some major “accomplishment” in alaska! .

    • Wow, tough crowd out there lately, which is good. Thanks for your input, Charles. Really appreciated. Couple things: 1) Andreas is not a guide. He was going to start last year but then had a serious accident in the Whymper which delayed his plans. 2) Xavier and Andreas enjoy riding together as a team. They like riding together because they’re both fast and solid with everything from riding to rope work. After Andreas skied the Mallory on the 4th, he spoke with Tero and told him he thought the route might be in and that he was going to have a look on the 5th before leaving for Alaska. Xavier was in Paris when he got the news and jumped the next train to join him. The two ride together because they work well in the mountains together; they’re a good team. It’s hardly a guide/client relationship. 3) You’re exactly right about one thing: 40-45 degree powder isn’t steep. And since I personally have never been up there I defer to Anselme Baud who calls the route 45-50 with passages of 55. And is this not the route where Alain Moroni fell to his death on the second descent and first snowboard descent? Bottom line: you cannot separate the alpinism from this route, which is exactly the reason it has seen very few descents and at least one death. To infer that is in any way that you can somehow ‘bypass the alpinism’ is fairly disrespectful to the very few riders who have completed it.

  6. accident on the Y on the aiguille verte. Franssen is a top alpinist, he took care of the rope work and the route finding on the entire descent which he had previously skied 2 years ago.Xavier who is a rockstar badass snowboarder shouldnt have problems skiing exposed 50 . right?
    I guarantee you that if you put fixed rope wherever needed. in a matter of days you will see a mogul field on that thing. the past years mallory-eugster franzy proves it.
    All i am saying is the way it is presented/done is wrong. it would be like hiring an heli to film dean potter top roping the rebuffat. and screaming everywhere out loud ” what an achievement” “soo super rad”. And at a time where super star heli freeriders kings: seth morrison and jeremy jones are making a point of skiing and filming in cham without the help of an heli i find it absurd that frenchies all of a sudden are back to using helis! and for 3 turns that is!!!! Maybe it would have been better to film xavier with douds and vivian and film the all process: the project, the doubts, the v-threading- instead of just filming the result….

    “Glory lies in the attempt to reach one’s goal and not in reaching it. “

  7. xavier de le rue

    wow… lots of talking there…
    To be honest that’s what I’ve always hated and what i’ll always about chamonix, being judged as a person by how rad you are in the mountains.
    Hey guys, sorry for rappelling where the snow felt slabby, sorry for using a heli to film (being the only way to film that run), and sorry that chamonix insider showed up with some photographers and made, without my concern to o much of a big deal of the thing (which I agree really sucks)… but most of all sorry to read those comments, especially when some of them come from my friends …and through the computer…
    Doud’s killed it, we actually spoke before and after he did it…. we’ll go and do stuff together next week, and we’ll use the heli again to film, any problem with that or anything else…? All I can say, is chamonix insider please keep your photogs away, as I don’t like to see through these reactions the sad side of chamonix … and dear friends, why don’t you go to climb or ski wherever you want and just digg it without bitching?

  8. The wake of a great event seems larger then the actual achievement itself, its a bit like Columbus’s egg.
    Sadly.

  9. Xavier: you are saying you hate chamonix because being judged as a person by how rad you are in the mountains.

    well. dude , you are pretty rad. so it is all good. right?

    i dont think you were being judged, but it was more critics and concerns about how things were done! nothing to do with your ability to ride. nothing to do with chamonix insider. critics are healthy i think.

    And being a rock star implies being under the spot light, espacially skiing a run right above chamonix with a heli. so with all of that, there are critics! it is all good. there is no hate or anything. and it is not just chamonix, it is the all world…it is the cannes film festival, that is all what people do there: critics!

    and yes , i do think helicopters are wrong! ask tkb prod they do a great job at filming riders without a heli. and they are locals/…

    peace!

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