For 70 years now, Salomon’s mission has been to develop outdoor equipment, gear and apparel that helps those of you who play in the outdoors find more pleasure in your chosen activities. Whether it was a safer alpine ski binding, running shoes that could tackle terrain in the high mountains, or a ski like the 1080 that helped pioneering 20-somethings in Canada take off and land backwards, innovation has never been done simply for innovation’s sake. As the Salomon international athlete team has grown through the decades, those individuals have partnered closely with our product developers in their pursuit to challenge what was previously unimagined in their chosen mountain sports.
As a company, Salomon has followed their lead, then worked to educate and motivate those of you who look to these professionals for inspiration. We’ve developed the Salomon Mountain Academy on Snow, which delivers backcountry safety information via an unprecedented online platform. We’ve delivered content from our athletes designed to educate you as you play in these beautiful, but sometimes dangerous environments. We’ve taken you inside the refresher safety courses we provide for our athletes—like the one-day seminar we hold for our freeski athletes at the start of each winter in order to more safely support the adventures they choose to take on. We also go out of our way to share their stories of “turning back” when conditions seem unsafe. Certainly, as passionate outdoor athletes ourselves, we take safety in the mountains seriously—our own, our athletes, and yours, too. After all, we want to come back to these places again and again.
Of the hundreds of Salomon athletes around the globe, no one has exemplified the multi-sport expertise and fun, progressive mindset of Salomon better than Kilian Jornet. As a trail runner, mountaineer and skier, Kilian has raised the bar of what we thought was humanly possible, usually with a smile on his face. So much so that some of his accomplishments seem downright superhuman. It’s important to remember, however, that Kilian and our other global ambassadors are highly trained, highly experienced professionals who spend hours each day—thousands of hours each year—in these environments. Because it’s their job, they spend as much time acquiring intimate knowledge of the terrain, conditions and risks associated with the places they go as most people do at their desk. Some are even licensed guides with years of training, learning and instructing in high alpine environments.
As much as we all marvel at how fast or how high athletes like Kilian go, it’s important to understand the safety-first mindset of professional mountain sport athletes and remind ourselves that there are precautions to take when you go into the mountains in search of a little bit of playtime. Here are some words of advice from Kilian Jornet to help you stay safe in the mountains.
By Kilian Jornet
I'm happy to promote that people go out in nature because I believe that people who are out in nature may have a better understand of environment, health and some other values than they will by being sedentary and in artificial environments. Of course, depending where we go, especially in alpine terrain, there is always a risk involved in our activities. When we go to mountains we are in a risky environment. Nobody is without that risk, and we should try to minimize it. I believe from my own experience that regulations and limitations can be a short-term solution, but never good in the long term. That must come from education (beginning at a young age and into adulthood) and formation. When I'm out trying something in the mountains, I turn around 50 percent of the time due to poor conditions, not having the capacities or not feeling good in that situation or place. To help you understand my thought process, here are some steps to follow that will help you know if it's worth it to continue or if you are better off turning around:
1. UNDERSTAND THE ENVIRONMENTAlpinism is an activity with risks. We cannot think we are safe out there. We need to know that the mountains and nature are not an environment we can control. Anselme Baud said that when he was young he was afraid of himself, not knowing his capacities but not afraid of the environment, and being older is the opposite. We need to understand that mountains are not very predictable, and uncommon things can happen there. Mountains move, rocks fall, crevasses open, avalanches go. And that is different in every mountain area, depending the geological formation (Granite, limestone, etc.), weather patterns (close to sea, in the country, more north or south), the glaciers formations or the quality of rock. So we need to understand the mountains systems we are in and try to find the possible risks and prevent them.
2. APPROACH WITH HUMILITYIt is basic to know our capacities, our experience and technique. If we want to progress we should train our capacities and technique in safe places (climbing on bolted walls or indoor, doing endurance training on low-risk trails, ice climbing on top rope) and be really sure of our capacities before going to mountains, where it is important to have a big margin to our limits. We cannot overestimate our capacities when we are in a risky place because we only have one shot and our life is in risk. Of course we do make mistakes due to inexperience, or we fail, or we can have accidents. This is part of a learning process, and many times we look back and we say, "Oh, that day I was stupid. I took much more risks than I should have." It is a learning process but we should minimize that as much as possible.
3. LEARNING Never stop learning and observing the nature and mountains where we are. Look at the glaciers in summer to see how the crevasses are moving. Look to the snow conditions every day and how the wind affects them. Look how the warm temperatures affects rock falls in each place, or where the sun creates soft or hard snow or ice. More importantly, have mentors—people with more knowledges and experience who share it with us. Or go with mountain guides to do that. And search for information. There is a lot on Internet sites like: La Chamoniarde, encorda2 ENSA - Ecole Nationale de Ski et d'Alpinisme. You can also learn plenty by being in the field. It is important to spend one week before every winter season doing avalanche research, crevasse rescue and analyzing snow layers before starting. In the early summer, re-educate yourself on rope manipulations and safety knowledge.
4. MAKE PLANS AND ADAPTMake a plan of your activity—the route you will take and alternative routes and escapes, weather previsions and patterns, topographical maps and descriptions of the routes or analyze pictures and map. Go with someone. If you go alone, tell someone where you will be going, or give some indications. Think about the gear you need for each activity and concerning conditions. Most importantly, adapt to conditions during the activity. IT IS NEVER A MISTAKE TO TURN AROUND. If it’s a hot summer in the Alps, there can be more rocks falling and open crevasses than expected. If there is fresh snow or after some rainy days, it can be slippery climbing or wet, and crevasses can be hidden from fresh snow. If we don't feel physically good, we will spend more time, be more tired and not able to move well. The mountains aren’t going anywhere. Just go home, train and prepare harder, and come back when the situation is right.
5. ACCEPTWith the understanding of mountain conditions and our personal capacities, determine if the risks presented are acceptable to take. That is very personal and singular. Every person must take the time to do that before starting every activity. Don’t do it because others do it or have done it. Conditions can change in few hours and what was an easy climb two days ago can be really hard today. Solo-ing El Cap can be possible for one human being, but aid-climbing it will be really hard for most of us. And yes, alpinism is often about accepting risks and going to the unknown. For some ascents—maybe one or two in the lifetime of the best alpinists careers—it requires making the decision of going to a possible death route. Do you want to accept that? Try to figure if you are ready for what you will be doing and accept the risks of the activities.