Jean Afanassieff, a special mountaineering figure is gone

Posted on January 18th, 2015

Jean with Pierre Mazeaud in 2006

Jean with Pierre Mazeaud in 2006

Jean Afanassieff, a French of Russian origin, has died on January 10 at the age of 61 in Paris.

He began to climb at the age of 14. At 16, he made his first mountain climbs including many solo ascents in the Alps. At 20, he became a mountain guide at the company of guides of Chamonix.
He was the first to climb Mount Ross, in the Kerguelen Islands in 1975, with Patrick Cordier. The same year he founded with Patrick Cordier, Gilles and Patrice Bodin, the Mont Blanc Independent guides Company.

On October 15, 1978, Jean Afanassieff, Nicolas Jaeger and Pierre Mazeaud are the first three French to reach the summit of Mount Everest. Then Jean Afanassieff and Nicolas Jaeger performed the first Everest descent on skis, without oxygen.

Considered as one of the best climbers of all time, Jean Afanassieff was also a writer-director. He signed many documentaries and filmed the expeditions in which he participated: among others, four expeditions to Everest, K2, Broad Peak and Nanga Parbat, two Fitz Roy in the Andes of Bolivia and a trip with the Antarctica schooner around Antarctica.

An orthodox rite ceremony was held at St. Michael’s church in Chamonix in presence of many mountain personalities who paid tribute to this great mountaineer.


The coming death of tourism (Hooray!)

Posted on January 9th, 2015


Translation of the last article Published January 7, 2015 by Fabrice Nicolino, wounded on January 7.

Je suis charlie

This satirical paper was initially published on 31 December 2014 by Charlie Hebdo, under another title. I have tried to translate it as a tribute to Charlie Hebdo which expresses views close to those of MW.

However their style is difficult to translate without losing the humor. As I am not a professional translator I may have missed it somewhat. Sorry for that.




Charli au cielLong live climate change! If everything goes in the right direction, mass tourism is living its last season. There is less and less snow in the mountains and summer beaches are disappearing rapidly too. It’s about time we made a stand.

Let’s hold the scalpel without trembling: Charlie is the Anti-France. It does not just stay here, in bed, while the military music plays, but it spits on the war memorial, better twice than once a day.

Mass tourism is the enemy! And so it is with infinite pleasure that we tell you, in these celebratory days, of the ski resorts disaster. Why? Because, the silly chap called snow has not shown up! Ski resorts mourn for their old snow and just count the cancellations.

To fully understand the scale of the tragedy, friend of nature, relate to history, which, by the way, gives an opportunity to throw out the Christmas turkey stuffed with antibiotics. What to say? Among the first resorts, Megève, born in the 20s of the last century on the pressing snow desires of the Rothschild family. The real boom dates of the sixties – the horrible “Thirty Glorious” – when the first Gaullist technocrats designed new cities and ski areas combined with car parks and dormitories on their drawing boards. Then flourished a number of “integrated resorts” where the “Dugenou (Mr Knee)” could cure his cold and chapped skin in the dripping nightclub where coke slowly but surely replaces martini and gin. In passing the mountain and the hardness of its slopes are forgotten, replaced by mechanical lifts, cable cars and ski lifts. The 1968 Grenoble Olympic Games, of which we can never say enough of the crap they have sown, complete the movement.

This is plain terror. The mountain becomes as artificial as Marne-la-Vallée or the A4 motorway at the Nogent bridge (an eastern Paris suburban new town). And then comes climate change, to which the asshole generations that made their fortune in the resorts have contributed so much, redistributing all the cards. We will not discuss here their exact responsibility, but there is at least an overlap between the climate crisis and the current scarcity of snow on the hills of France. All Alpine glaciers are retreating at an astounding speed, and the famous “Mer de Glace” glacier has lost 2.5 km in length since 1830. And it continues to lose 4 to 6 meters of depth each passing year. Since 1958, the average temperature in the Alps increased depending on corners, between 1 and 3 degrees.

That’s the good news: there is no snow, no twits. Still a few days ago – Charlie being not Mr. Weather, things may have changed – more than 200 ski resorts could not open their cursed doors. You had to go above 2000m to inaugurate your new 800€ Salomon skis. Yee ha! As there is no question of losing all the money invested in the cardboard and trinkets, for the most “wealthy” resorts one last solution remains: snow guns. Val d’Isere, for example, has invested two million Euro in these valiant phallus. Val d’Isere: 1600 inhabitants, but 15,000 beds in winter and 7 supermarkets.

In the Southern Alps, according to the on-line site Dici.fr, 1500 guns have been deployed in the explicit context of a “snow war” to “save the start of the ski season and the whole economy of the Southern Alps”. Don’t mock the poor though: at Risoul (Hautes-Alpes), same picture. The village mayor Max Bremond, also head of the station proudly declares, “We have invested millions of Euros in artificial snow.”

Tourism Marketeers are inventing new terms (“farmed snow”) euphemistically as hell, for artificial snow, to plaster on flyers without the risk of displeasing the delighted petty bourgeois. N.B. In French there is this subtle word difference between snow making or growing (Neige de culture) and “artificial snow”. Never say again “artificial snow” which stinks of its big water cannon origin, but rather “snow growing” which evokes more ravens in the wheat fields of Van Gogh or the latest Jim Jarmusch movies. And besides, since we are talking about authorized vocabulary, avoid saying cannon or gun, a disturbingly reminiscent of killing, but snow maker (enneigeur). Keep snow-making in the fog.

There remains the technique of “growing” the beautiful crystal of the summits. Flaine, in Haute-Savoie, was the first to be equipped with snow cannons in 1973 and since then, thousands, tens of thousands have been installed. Why? Because the small guys who laid down the bucks to fund resorts require at least a 5% return per year. As the number of skiers is stagnating, it is essential to increase the number of ski days. Snow is gold and the cannon is his prophet.

But before the large fans start to vomit snow from pipes, you need water. Count on average, according to figures from Mountain Wilderness, 4 000m3 of water per hectare of track, whereas corn, another big drinker, uses only 1 700. In the Alps, an estimated 95 million m3 of water are diverted each year for snow, or the annual consumption of about 1.5 million inhabitants. At the expense of rivers, rain and even the drinking water network.

Let’s not talk (because Charlie has readers on the slopes), of the chemical additives often added to the water to facilitate crystallization or the risible electricity bill – 25,000 kWh per hectare per year of track – or the deafening noise of the facilities. The sole consolation: everything will collapse. When? Soon. When? Not soon enough.

(This article was translated by Bernard Marclay and revised by Duncan Wilson.)

Here is the Blog of Patrice Nicolino

Charlie Hebdo explained in its covers

Buck of the Year

Posted on December 29th, 2014

bockdesjahresOn Sunday December 14th Mountain Wilderness (MW) Germany awarded the “Buck of the Year 2014″ prize for the biggest environmental offense in the German Alpine area to the United Liftbetriebe Sudelfeld” for the construction of the largest snow-making basin in the Bavarian Alps. “They have earned the award,” said board member Dr. Gotlind Blechschmidt. “Because the Liftbetriebe Sudelfeld have provided the best example of backward-looking strategy in terms of winter tourism.”

As expected, the winners did not participate in the ceremony.

Significant positive temperature and no snow

Even with the new 150,000 cubic meter storage tank and 80 new snow cannons the Sudelfeld remained closed on Sunday. No wonder: At the time of the award ceremony more than ten degrees C and sunshine prevailed in Bayrischzell, while in the ski area only some shady places were covered with a few inches of snow. Thus the conservationists could not have chosen a better time for the award. Blechschmidt: “Last week the snow cannons were still running, and now the whole artificial snow is gone. Isn’t that an exemplar picture of the futility of the exploitation of the Sudelfeld ski resort? ”

IMG_3000 kleinHans Well and his group sing the “Bayrischzeller Heimatlied”

A total of about 150 spectators and guests gathered for the ceremony and thus expressed their support to the concerns expressed by environmentalist organizations. Among those the “Hans Well and the Wellbappn” group was a very prominent supporter. They modified the traditional folk song “Bayrischzeller Heimatlied” in a satirical way under great applause. “I have been against snow-making equipment and reservoirs for many years – and especially against big ones like this” said Hans Well after his performance.

Mountain Wilderness demands a sustainable tourism running allover the year.

Mountain Wilderness « gets » CIPRA Presidency

Posted on December 21st, 2014

8491332204556-cipra-directrice-hans-peter-jost-jpgFor the first time since its foundation in 1952 a woman has been elected president of CIPRA International. Like her predecessor Dominik Siegrist, Katharina Conradin comes from Switzerland and is a geographer. She was unanimously elected on 13 November 2014 at the Assembly of CIPRA Delegates in Annecy.

The 33-year-old woman is already rooted in the organization: Since 2013 she is a board member of CIPRA International and since 2011 she sits at the Board of CIPRA Switzerland. As managing director of Mountain Wilderness Switzerland she knows the umbrella organization from the perspective of its member organizations. She brings international cooperation experience from her former project manager occupation in a consulting firm on sustainable development. In her recently completed thesis on “World Heritage and Sustainable Regional Development” the newly elected President examined the effects of the UNESCO World Heritage status in regional development processes, especially in mountain areas. This year she was awarded the “Trophée des femmes” by the Environmental Foundation Yves Rocher for her commitment to the environment.

Katharina is VP of Mountain Wilderness International


Stelvio National Park Break up postponed

Posted on December 20th, 2014

Stelvio National Park: no Break-up for now
stambecchi-stelvio-1392730670949The Italian Ministry of Environment has postponed the decision to break-up the Stelvio National Park in three areas.

The procedure proposed by the Commission of the 12 which was approved in Rome in July, has been (just) postponed.
However, the political parties of the Trentino Alto Adige Region: PD, SVP and the Trentino Autonomist Party, are nevertheless making incredible pressure on the Parliament to make the break-up the of national park effective in a not too distant future.

15 Environmental organizations are asking the Commission not to approve the “delegation” of administrative state functions to the autonomous provinces of Trento and Bolzano and not to favorably respond to lobby’s pressure.

Skiing in Stelvio
This year the downhill ski World Cup  competition will not take place in Bormio as it has been decided by the ski area administrator, Valeriano Giacomelli. To make the  ski-run happen it was has been necessary to make excavation  works in forests and rocks that are part of the Stelvio Park. This had been imposed despite the protest of environmental groups, including Mountain Wilderness.

Sandro Pertini Via Ferratta

In 2012 the final sentence of the “Consiglio di Stato” (State Council) ordered the removal of the Sandro Pertini via ferrata built in the 2000’s. It starts at Selva di Valgardena and finishes at the Stevia Hut. Its implementation had been strongly opposed by the local environmentalists because it violated an area of Natura 2000, one of the few areas suitable for birds of prey when they have to nest. This ferrata had been included in the Odle-Puez provincial Natural Park.

The Selva mayor has tried everything to keep the ferrata, but the Bolzano Province has finally ordered him to respect the verdict and the ferrata will be dismantled.


(MW Italia, BM)


A Welcomed Rehabilitation in Mont Blanc

Posted on December 17th, 2014

Mont Lachat recadréeOn Monday December 15, the 110 hectares surrounding and including the Mont-Lachat wind tunnel site have been declared a “sensitive natural space” and a € 650 000 budget has been allocated for the restoration of the site.
The buildings, located near the access trail to the normal way of Mont-Blanc are in a serious degradation stage and is an ugly wart denaturing the area with no proper usage found for it.

It is a main passage for the 20 000 mountaineers aiming at climbing Mont-Blanc each year.

Mountain Wilderness, proMONT-BLANC and the WWF have militated for years to get this site rehabilitated. The Pandathlon was a major event to make it happen.
Various players (public and Private) are jointly making the “investment”, some of that money is tax credit, so it’s not all real money changing hands.  A big chunk of the real money is coming from the Pandathlon event though.

This massive construction is made of reinforced concrete (has a lot of buried metal in the concrete) similar to a bunker, furthermore there is a lot of asbestos and lead to take care of, thus the dismantling procedure is complex to protect adequately the workers.
Located at an elevation of 2000 m , the transport of material will be done using only the small train going to the “Nid d’Aigle”.

All passive material will be sorted out, fragmented and used to landfill the place to restore it to its primitive shape. Alpine seeds have been selected to better integrate the place to its surrounding.
Work should start and hopefully finish in 2015

The Summits of Dignity

Posted on December 15th, 2014

Summits of DignityThe mountains allow all those with a big heart to exist, provided they get, sometimes, a little but necessary help.

This testimony is exemplar of what can be achieved when a chance is offered to those who still have faith despite bad luck…

“The summits of dignity” a moving documentary by Yoann Perié retraces the encounter between some Grenoble high school youngsters and four people living in a precarious situation. It highlights the late Jafar. A snowboarder, which lived for 35 years in the street and knew drug. But despite his chaotic life, Jafar never stopped to love mountain and his snowboard.

It was in June 2012 that things have taken shape with a two days course organized in the Ecrins massif with an ascent to the “Promontoire hut” at 3090 meters altitude. Twenty youngsters from a Grenoble  high school and six members of of the “water point” (Point d’eau) association, including Jafar were participating. This opportunity to share small moments and the beautiful epic final at the “Promontoire” hut have been transposed to the screen with sincerity.

The “water point” association, in Grenoble, devotes its action to people in precarious conditions, they decided to use the power of the mountains to help them regain their dignity.

Because up there, there is no more noise, no more social difference. Up there on the tops, Jafar Mohamed Viktor and Abdel fully exist, for us all to see. (teaser)

Jafar died recently in his small 7 square meters apartment.

The DVD of this movie is available at « la Maison de la montagne de Grenoble » (10 euros). Half of the gains are given to the ABBE PIERRE foundation. For more infos, please contact directly : yoann@keep-it-up.fr


“White caps” blocking access to the Mont Blanc tunnel

Posted on December 9th, 2014

White CapsAccording to French police and activists, between forty and sixty “white caps” have blocked access to the Mont-Blanc tunnel for more than an hour late Saturday, December 6 to protest against pollution of their valley caused by road traffic,.

“We demand the return of the pollution tax (a French environmental tax) and Euro vignette installation in all sensitive areas,” said Simon Métral, president of the Association for the respect of the Mont-Blanc Site (ARSMB).

“Everywhere we are told that we are right, that our struggle is legitimate but in the end  nothing gets done. So we made a punch operation called « the white caps of Mont-Blanc », “said Mr. Métral.

“We have a consensus for years but consensus does not pay off,” he added.

The police confirmed that access to the tunnel linking France and Italy was blocked in both directions between 1:45 and 3:00 pm. ET, also stating that the protest disbanded without incident.

In 2013, the Arve valley, which leads to the Mont-Blanc tunnel, experienced 58 days of particles pollution, according to Air Rhone-Alpes institute, while the European regulatory limit is 35 days per year.

In late November, the elected representatives of the Chamonix valley had adopted a motion requesting the temporary ban of the most polluting truck traffic roaming in the Arve valley “starting the morning of the second day following a characterized pollution occurrence. ”

The ARSMB and Mountain Wilderness are members of proMONT-BLANC an umbrella organization for the protection of Mont-Blanc.

Mountain Wilderness supports the ARSMB in its effort for better health conditions in the Arve and Chamonix valleys.


The end of a lengthy procedure against snowmobiles’ use

Posted on December 6th, 2014

For many years, three snowmobile rental companies took advantage of an illegal municipal authorization to operate 70 of these machines in the French ski resorts of Les Menuires and Val Thorens (Savoy). Minutes by the Police lead to the conviction of three operators by the Moutiers Court on 16 May 2007. The town of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville, to which belong these resorts launched a New Tourism Unit (Unité Touristique Nouvelle – UTN) procedure to request the opening of two snowmobiles’ leisure fields, one in Les Menuires, the other one in Val Thorens.

On October 14, 2009, a decree of the Alps Range Prefect opened to snowmobiles traffic two “circuits”, one 9.5 km long over Les Menuires, the other 8 km long in Val Thorens. The nature protection associations nevertheless explained to the decision-makers that these “circuits” did not meet the criteria to be allowed. So the FRAPNA Savoy and Mountain Wilderness France logically challenged this authorization before the administrative court, arguing that it did not observed the rules of the 1991 Lalonde Act and would create a dangerous jurisprudence.

In its judgment of 30 December 2011, the Grenoble Administrative Court annulled the decree on the ground that the ways authorized by the UTN procedure did not actually constituted circuits under the provisions of the 1991 Act. The town of Saint-Martin-de-Belleville having appealed this ruling, the Administrative Appeal Court of Lyon, by a decision of 13 November 2012, confirmed the cancellation of the authorization. The town, which presents itself as a model of sustainable development decided again to appeal this ruling.

By a judgment of 5 November 2014, the State Council has supported the position of the associations and confirmed the cancellation of the UTN order of October 2009. The town must now remove the municipal authorizations to the snowmobiles’ rental companies.

This judgment calls in a debate on the handling of snowmobiles and assimilated devices in the mountains.

Mountains on Stage

Posted on December 1st, 2014

With global warming, the high altitude resorts of the Alps are in search of attractions to capture new customers (especially foreigners) to compensate for the erosion of their traditional customers base: skiers.

Peak Walk by Tissot

Peak Walk by Tissot

As a consequence mountains are being put on stage in many countries such as Switzerland and Austria where suspension bridges, luxury shops and sensational amenities have been built to attract tourists from all over the world, especially Asia.
The merchandising of the mountain is under way. The “product” is often a short stop in the mountains as part of a packaged European express tour, often squeezed in between, let’s say, a stay in Rome and another in London, Tourists want to experience as many thrills as possible during a short time, comfortably and by taking no risks.
In Europe, Switzerland is perceived as leading this new trend. It is a country with a long tradition of building special high altitude tourist arrangements. The most famous: the Klein Matterhorn (3883m), (highest cable car in continental Europe, under the Monte Rosa and the Matterhorn in Zermatt) and the Jungfrau railroad, (highest in Europe -3,454 m- in Grindelwald) are putting these famous summits at the reach of ordinary bipeds. The Titlis (3238m) in Engelberg can be reached with rotating cabins and gives access to a suspension bridge guaranteeing an exciting crossing. A revolving restaurant sits on the Schilthorn in Mürren. On Lake Lucerne one can travel aboard an open cable car whose scenery alone justifies the trip. And the latest, located between Diablerets and Gstaad: the “Peak Walk by Tissot”, a 107m suspension bridge that connects two 3000m peaks, a “world first”, and complement other entertainment attractions…
Austria is also fiercely participating to this global competition. Examples are its Dachstein’s Suspension bridge and glass viewing platform and Sölden BIG 3
China is no exception with a vertiginuous 200 ft long skywalk , situated 4,700ft above sea level on the side of the Tianmen Mountain in Zhangjiajie, China.
In France there is nothing similar, except in Chamonix at the Aiguille du Midi coupled with the current development at the Pointe Helbronner.
The void has become a star of these Disneylands, but it has always been used as an attraction and has been showcased innovatively in various part of the world.

Then the big question for Alpine regions is how can we reconcile Nature conservation and the demands of the tourist industry?
Should the mountain stay a preserved space for nature and lovers of clean air or should it harbor amusement parks for tourists in search of sensations? It is becoming a delicate balancing act between local economic pressures and idealistic aspirations of remote townsfolk, between local politician who want to protect local business developments and centrally defined policies.
Each new construction in the Alps raises the ire of environmental associations including Mountain Wilderness which sees in those developments a continuous nibbling at the natural space and denounces a constant escalation. In the Alpine Massifs, MW fears a proliferation of all sort of mass tourism equipment, while some, like the megalomaniac project to raise the height of the Klein Matterhorn with a hotel pyramid to reach the 4000 mark, border on fantasy.

For most developers these new activities are focused and limited around the cable car sites, most of the remaining areas are devoted to skiing and other Mountain practices while the rest are protected spaces. They also provide quick safe access to the high summits for mountaineers wishing to exploit unstable weather conditions.
Interviewed about the Diablerets « Peak Walk », Katharina Conradin, President of the International Commission for the Protection of the Alps (CIPRA) and director of Mountain Wilderness Switzerland questioned the real purpose of such projects: “In the past a breathtaking view was the objective of cable cars. Now we create summit attractions that have nothing to do with the mountain itself and that can be developed in cities. In short, they are artificial. ”
Alpine tourism is vital for the economy of mountain regions. As the volume of skiers drops, the authorities face the challenge of delivering a balanced response to new development needs while preserving the landscape. It is a complex equation which must take into account many factors, often unique to each region. In the midst of all this, Mountain Wilderness, climbers and other mountain users call for the best possible middle ground.

(BM, DW)


© Mountain Wilderness International