Les (He’s the guy in the blue top looking at the camera like a villain from a Bond movie ) had invited me to take some shots of his super luxury Chalets, he’s the owner of Le Chardon, arguably the best address in Val d’Isere.
He wanted a new angle that was just a little off-piste. “It’ll be a piece of cake,” he said. I wasn’t so sure, but the chance to escape from a bleak and dreary London for a few days free snowboarding in the Alps was too good to turn down - so I agreed. That was my first mistake.
After a couple of days shooting interiors, Les and I went up to the place just above the two meter high Avalanche Barrier (see the blue spot on the picture).
I was doing the job I love - and snowboarding too! What could possibly go wrong? Second mistake. . complacency
At first everything went smoothly just a few hundred meters off-piste in 30cm of snow, but then I made my third mistake. I still don’t know quite how it happened but I found myself edging towards toward the spot marked in red on the photo. If you’re thinking red means danger – you’re right. Les was yelling at me to stop. Good advice, but I’d already figured that one out for myself. I slithered to a halt at the tip of a crevasse above a jagged set of rocks. It was a close call and I knew it was in a tricky spot but I wasn’t about to waste the opportunity. I took some pictures that I knew Les would like, see the one with the clutch of Chalets within the triange
Now all I had to do was take off my board and hike back up to where Les was waiting. After all, he was only 300 meters away.
That was my fourth mistake. You see, there was one thing I’d overlooked. The air at the top of a mountain isn’t thin – it’s positively anorexic. After 20 minutes of man versus mountain, I had managed to struggle precisely 20 meters towards my goal. I rang a (by now) worried Les who reminded me there was an avalanche warning of 4 ( out of a possible 5 ) that day, and I was right in the zone. . so I had better do something fast, either send in a mountain rescue team or I could throw caution and common sense to the wind and try and ride out of the danger zone. Well, I’ve never been big on common sense so I decided to risk the ride! Was that my fifth mistake? Well, you decide.
In order to counterbalance the dizzyingly steep slope, I took off my backpack containing all my cameras then, clutching it to my chest, I eased myself upright on my board and . . yes..overbalanced. My survival instincts kicked in and to save myself from tumbling headfirst over the rocks I dropped the bag and watched in horror as 7 grand’s worth of kit plus all my precious AND hard won pictures went careering on down the mountain!
The bag was already out of sight but it had left a trail in the snow. (See the red dotted line.) So, I set off after it at a reckless speed, It would have given me a heart attack if I’d actually been thinking straight - but I wasn’t. I was a photographer chasing his dreams.
Somehow I made that adrenaline fuelled ride down the slope without wiping out or triggering an avalanche and I finally found the bag wedged in a tree. Miraculously, my cameras had survived intact. Ten minutes later I strolled with all the nonchalance I could manage into an Alpine café and met up with a mightily relieved Les. Mind you, I still have no idea if it was me or the photos he was most pleased to see. But either way, I’d lived to tell the tale - and I’ve got the pictures to prove it!