For some, death will come invisible, only revealing itself when it’s far too late. Maybe in the shape of a malign tumor, an invisible virus, or a flaw deeply embedded in the genetic code. It will, of course, gladly show up when invited; a fact all risk-takers, be it cigarette smokers, wing-suit base jumpers, or formula 1 drivers have, or at least should, take into account. But sometimes it will come when least expected, in the case of a driver failing to pay attention for a brief moment on the way home from work, a brick dropped from a construction site, or any other seemingly random accident leading to the ultimate tragedy. Circumstances align, in numbers impossible to grasp, leading to highly unlikely but inevitable coincidences. They leave us questioning the world, make us assume a higher position, protesting the unfairness of our existence. It is easy to say humanity has always suffered from delusions of grandeur, refusing to accept that we are but a somewhat intelligent and self-aware species on an isolated piece of rock in a universe infinitely more vast than anything we could ever comprehend. Faced with, and frightened by our apparent meaninglessness, we resort to ignoring rationale, inventing answers and finding comfort in dreaming of a higher purpose. The ones lost will never come back, but believing they will be waiting for the rest of us, somewhere beyond our physical realms, provides us with solace, and for some even becomes a reason not to fear death. The human mind is a powerful one, and there is no manual, no method, and no teacher, that could help us process the thoughts we are faced with when the ones close to us cease to exist. While we simply have to find what works for each and everyone of us, we must never forget them, because the only place we could ever truly prove they are still around, is in our own minds.
I am not going to pretend what JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson were undertaking in Patagonia two weeks ago wasn’t involving threats to their well-being. They were wandering far past the edge of civilisation, where few humans have ever set foot, in some of the most inhospitable mountain ranges on earth. Ascending giant peaks, pushing the limits of extreme skiing, and living their lives to the fullest, they were well aware of the inherent risks of their lifestyle, but what caused their passing was nothing either of them could have forecasted, and this brings light to just how random death seems to be.
Andreas was the most meticulously prepared and lucid person I’ve ever had the pleasure to spend time with in the mountains. Even though he lived his life climbing and skiing on the very edge of what humans are capable of, he did it with a careful eye for details, every parameter taken into account, and with no ego involved. If the tiniest, seemingly most insignificant thing threw him off, he would without any hesitation abort mission and retreat, using the lesson learned to prepare him for the next time. Not afraid to dive deep into his own psyche, exploring his inner world and not rejecting what he would find, he would spend hours meditating and sharing his thoughts with those around him. I have long seen him as the exemplary steep-skier, someone acknowledging that while on the mountain we are in nature’s power, and that we have to humbly follow nature’s rules. In Chamonix, standing on top of an exposed, convex +45° face, he would tell me with a grin that “If you fall here, you will die. But you won’t, because you know how to ski. You won’t fall off the sidewalk and get run over by a car, because you know how to walk. The run in front of you is that sidewalk, just walk it.” I knew what he was saying was true, and I think I got a rare glimpse into his head that day, the way he would approach danger, not ignoring it, but understanding it for exactly what it was, without letting fear take over. The run we skied turned out to be relatively mellow, and as a Chamonix virgin I remember thinking it really wasn’t as exposed as he had made it seem to be. There were plenty of places I could have made a mistake and handled it. He later explained to me that he always exaggerated the risks involved, especially if he didn’t know the skill level of his company. “It’s always better to keep people on their toes, otherwise they will focus on the wrong things”, he said. Such was the nature of Andreas, always on the safe side, no matter how perilous the situation.
Any attempt to put words on the impact JP Auclair has had on my life as a skier has seemed like an impossible task these last two weeks, and still I find myself pausing mid-sentence, my mind wandering off, trying to stay occupied with something less unfathomable. Searching for words that could somehow do him justice. JP played a monumental part in making me the skier I am today. I remember watching his first video segments in a time when skiers were banned from terrain parks, spell-bound by the VHS tapes I rewound so many times they were soon unwatchable. My young impressionable mind was opened up to a new reality, one that I realised I could be a part of creating, and I still to this day thank JP and the rest of the New Canadian Air Force for reinventing skiing and making it available to me. Over the years I eventually got to know him personally and he grew from an idol to a friend and inspiration, not only to my skiing, but to the way I looked at life. We shared a deep interest in philosophy and embarking on a conversation over a bottle of wine with JP could very well mean not getting any sleep that night. On the mountain he seemed eternally young, constantly blowing minds with new ideas, never stagnant and always thinking of other ways to do things. Releasing a ground-breaking urban ski video part at the age of 34 seemed perfectly normal to JP, and in typical fashion he would never settle with mediocre results. His humor was beyond absurd – JP was one of the rare breed that could make any boring dinner on the road absolutely hilarious, just by opening his mouth and let some random joke he just made up slip through, and before you knew it the table would explode with laughter, followed by more jokes for what seemed like hours. A true inspiration and role model to us all, JP will be dearly missed, but I am forever grateful for getting to know such a real human being. Thank you for everything JP, you will never be forgotten.