People to learn things from (issue II)

I have already made my admiration clear of those rare souls that refuse to stop playing, that refuse to stop learning, that live their outw...

I have already made my admiration clear of those rare souls that refuse to stop playing, that refuse to stop learning, that live their outward adult lives as the inward child, laden with curiosity(mentioned HERE)

"One theory – "play as preparation" – was inspired by the observation that play often mimics adult themes of survival. Predators such as lions and bears play by chasing, pouncing, pawing, wrestling, and biting, as they learn to stalk and kill prey. Prey animals such as deer and zebras play by running and leaping as they acquire speed and agility. Hoofed mammals also practice kicking their hind legs to learn to ward off attacks. While mimicking adult behavior, attacking actions such as kicking and biting are not completely fulfilled, so playmates do not generally injure each other." - Wikipedia

Adults still play of course, they just play differently. They play sport and games, they play mind games, they play act and they play down. But this isn’t real playing, this is more something which is done out or perceived necessity.
When I think and talk about playing I think about stretching the imagination and creativity which is locked inside it. I’m talking about dismantling the world and re-building it as you see fit. I’m talking about embracing life and the richness it brings by adopting an attitude without boundaries or restrictions. I’m talking about observing the world with a clarity brought on only by completely relaxing the mind and being free.

And with that let me introduce you to Chamonix's perpetual child:

drawing by me. leave your complaints and commissions at the door. not interested

Andy Courtney


Dave is leaving soon... It's a sad thought. Hes been here in the hostel for many months, taught me many things and it marks the first signs of the beginning of the end. Soon the cold weather will change, and all these beautiful people that have made the pilgrimage to this mecca of snow, will melt away too, back to their homes, their families, their normal lives.

"make sure we have a ski outing together before you go", " maybe we can organize a meal all together"
-other equally tepid ideas are called across the old wooden kitchen of the hostel.

 In true character his eyes light up and his eyebrows raise, an idea is forming and you can see the energy starting to well in what is already an enthusiastic man.

"Your leaving Thursday Dave?" ..."uh yeah, pretty early"
" which is the night of the full moon!!!"

theres a brilliant idea being shared between one man and no one else in the room


"well we'll do the Vallee moonlight!"

Andy and his climbing Bling


People travel across the world to ski a week in Chamonix. Predictably they will ski at Les Grands Montets the first day, then muck about at flegere or something similar a few days while they organise a guide to ski the vallee Blanche.

Whilst beautiful and well skied, It is not an area to take mildly, there were several fatalities during my short time in chamonix. A mountain rescue patrolman fell down one of its many hidden crevasses just the other day, died instantly on impact at the base. The crevasses are covered by snow bridges, making them hard to see, and can be astonishingly deep and large. a place to be admired, enjoyed and respected.


"right so important stuff first- everyone's to have harnesses and headlamps. ryan will organise ropes, tom will organise beer, wendy on food and i'll organise some pretty ladies to come."

take a second to bask in the genious of this man!

I should point out that he is in fact far from reckless. A trained mountain leader and tour operator, his understanding of saftey is not confused with his perception of normal.


What unfolds below is a graphical story of what will stand to be one of the most magical, dream-like and unforgettable 20 hours in ski boots of my life:

Here is the prize, the magnificent vallee blanche(or at least a small section of it)

The day works crew
A number of us went up during the day for a scout mission. 
left to right:
Chris will jump on any off piste chance he gets
Fransisco was having a go on a snowboard
I was skiing and sussing out photo oppurtunities for the night
Andy: Our mighty mountain leader
Stephen's first vallee blanche
Wendy's first vallee blanche
Craig's first vallee blanche

The stairway to heaven
We'd had fresh snow the night before and it was clearly a glorious day, so there was a bit of a wait for the morning lift.

the crowds can be seen here. absolutely crazy number of people. additionally the arrete was windblown and missing a bit of snow on top = super icy. i saw Fransisco go under the rope at one point. holding the board in one hand and the rope in the other. the fall wouldn't have been very pleasant i imagine. he managed to get his lanyard from his harness clipped over the rope to give him some safety. as of that moment i always carry one now.

two of our snowboarders having a sit next to some of the open crevasses of the glacier du tacul

Due to global warming, the glacier is receding at a depressing rate.Where early last century you could ski all the way down into chamonix, now you must hike back to the snow cat tracks before skiing down. Chris demonstrates the nature of the hike. (little sweaty buddy?)


back to the bottom, get the rest of the group, reserves and climb back into the bin (telepherique cabin), which we had all to ourselves. much less rushing now!

We opened the first of the beers, sloe gin and wine. enjoyed the comfort of the aiguille and the conversation of good people. the windows stopped the alpine wind but let the beautiful sun through and we sat and drank and marveled at the mountains beyond

Wendy taking charge for the second run

 Its at this point things first started to get silly. we convinced the operators to let us up to the observation deck as it was closing, since we didnt need to make it back to the telepherique to get down to chamonix.

 These guys thought that their legs hadn't had enough of a workout and needed to do more lunges
 The newly weds
A few days earlier 'smelly and Nobby' (navy skiers)  were wed in chamonix. 
The worlds most awesome wedding present: custom skis: all in wood, complete with mont blanc and wedding date. absolutely beautiful

delicious sloe Gin
it gets better - they brought wedding cake too! nom nom nom

and it did go down well!

 Stephen and craig on the goon bag

a few brews and i was getting a little silly

 Andy, mountain leader, consumption guide. awesome work

The beautiful debbie
Ive never seen anyone smile so much in my life!


Eventually we were shuffled outside. so geared up, took all our time on the arrete and traversed across to the refuge des cosmiques

 Fran stole santa claus'es gloves!

 Wendy ready for round two! tough chick!

 Craig puts away the last beer in the tunnel to the aiguille

Ryan and Dave
Dave played the role of back runner the whole trip, carrying rope in case of emergency, looking after the slower riders and making sure we were all accounted for. legend! unfortunately it means i don't have many photos of him

The Arrete

Debbie at the base of the Arrete

Gearing up for la vallee blanche
chamonix in the background

 Last light on the Aiguille du Midi

Refuge des cosmiquies
This was a small traverse and walk from where we geared up. the altitude however made it pretty hard work.

Fransisco and Craig overlooking chamonix

We were nervous about those clouds blocking our ever important moonlight. Reports said that the valley next door in Italy was overcast as well. it seems the stars had aligned because we had clear skies all night. with a big moon and bright stars!


 This is perhaps my favorite photo of the season. 
It is of the last cable car leaving the auiguille du midi in the last sun of the day. Snow is being blown up the west face and the sunset light forms a rainbow in the airborne snow.

Please respect my work and contact me before using this image for your own purposes:


we entered the refuge des cosmiques and the nice folk inside let us in. cheap and delicious meals. i would recommend it! we drank plenty more wine and had a feast!

old wooden refuge, beautifully carved and painted

the crew around our banquet

Chris was feeling the effects of the altitude. not happy


The moon rose big, bright and bold, the wind died away and the clouds never came. we left the comfort of the refuge, bellies full of food and drink. i was ready for a harsh welcome to the hieghts outside. shockingly, it was really quite pleasant. we donned or skis/ boards, let our eyes adjust and skied into the night 

getting ready to ride, letting our eyes become accustomed to the moonlight

Chris ready to ride
It looks like a midday shot in the desert, not a midnight shot in the mountain!

Ryan and Fransisco taking in the view

The Vast Vallee Blanche

I know its a noisey photo, but i had to push it pretty hard to get anything. actually, id say my little OMD put up a pretty good fight!

Ive not got many photos of the skiing itself. Erlend was shooting photos as well and has some beautiful long exposure shots.


The best bit about skiing at night? is that you can roll into town, looking like a fricken war hero at 1:30 am with your boots on your feet, skis in hand, harness and ropes hanging out everywhere. chicks dig that...i hope

looking back on the exit to the mer de glace

 rest and congratulations before skiing down the last section, the James Bond run

well earned beers after

A big thanks to everyone involved. as i said, it went so well it was almost dream like. whoever managed to talk to the weather to get it to play along, well done. it was perfect!


Andy Courtney
Ryan Weber
David Kesonie
Craig Marsden
Chris White
Wendy Klassen
Stephen Taylor
Juan Fransisco Bertone
Debbie Bromwich
Erlend Bremnes
Nobby Norris
Helen Evans
The Panda

(is that all Dave? as back runner you should know ;) )

This is just one of the amazing experiences I've had, suggested and organised by Andy Courtney.aside from transcending age and getting the best out of everyone, its his childlike creativity and enthusiasm that gets me. Ive spoken many times of the magic of Chamonix and the passion of the people there, and cannot think of a better example.


If i could, at Andy's age, live the life he has, live the lifestyle he has built for himself, ski the way he does and love and be loved by as many people, i'd be a very proud man. 

In fact i'm proud just to know him

Charley Chaplin himself

As mentioned briefly before Andy is a mountain leader and tour operator and runs his own company "Chamonix and beyond" He organises ski tours (off piste, touring, general stay etc) in Italy Canada, India, France. from what i have heard, his clients are all repeat customers as Andy has a knack for going the extra mile to make each trip  magic. I am in no way associated with Chamonix and Beyond.

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