The Empire of Winds is a fascinating look at what it takes to ski big lines in remote places. The full film premieres July 7 at the 2018 Arcteryx Alpine Academy in Chamonix.
For most pro skiers, their sport is a method of seeing the world, traveling to new places and discovering new cultures. Some of them take that urge to travel and seek out adventure to a new level, looking for lines in places so remote and hostile to human life that the only thing that's guaranteed is one hell of an adventure.
Thibaud Duchosal, Johannes Hoffman and Lucas Swieykowski traveled to the far reaches of Patagonia, one of the planet’s most hostile environments, to climb and ski big lines with a desire to push their limits. Along the way, the team encountered everything from full-on weather conditions, the warm hospitality of locals and some unique overland travel methods, managing to score some of the best skiing of their lives.
The team’s adventures were captured in The Empire of Winds, a film by Laurent Jamet, Eye of The Storm Productions, and Arc’teryx. TGR caught up with skier and producer Thibaud Duchosal to learn a little bit more about the making of the film and what it takes to ski in the world’s worst weather.
TGR: Why Patagonia? It's home to one of the harshest climates in the world, and the skiing is very unpredictable, so what drew you and the team there?
Thibaud Duchosal: Well it's true Patagonia is one of the most hostile places I know when you talk about skiing! Over the last 12 years, I have regularly been traveling to Argentina, drawn by both the gnar factor of the mountains and the potential to explore.
The main idea for the movie was to ski in four of the five Argentine provinces which compose Patagonia (Neuquén, Rio Negro, Chubut, Santa Cruz, with the last one being Tierra del Fuego), covering a very long distance and a very large area of land.
Endless walks are ok, as long as the backdrop looks something like this. Javier Procaccini photo.
TGR: What sets skiing in Patagonia apart from the rest of the world? Sure, it’s as steep and scary as Chamonix or the like, but there is surely something special?
TD: Patagonia is the promised land. Those mountains are the place where every skier can feel like they are pioneering a new destination for skiers after them to explore, and this is a SPECIAL feeling. Skiing talking, you can find everything: Steep and radical, or something playful, like you could find everywhere in the world. The main difference is that it's remote, so there’s no hope of rescue. I mean a rescue team could take several days to arrive, or even worse could never arrived. And this increases that adrenaline rush two- or three-fold!!
TGR: What were some of the struggles you dealt with: physical, mental, personal? Basically, what went wrong and how did you deal with it?
TD: This was one of the most intense trips I've done in my life. For every mountain, access was difficult and always started with a long and difficult hike with no proper trail. You sometimes follow animal tracks, and your skis and boots attached to your backpack hooked every single branch! Skiing here is something which has to be earned: three hours hiking, three hours skitouring, and two hours bootpacking! That was the effort required to reach a summit in deep Patagonia.
Camping in remote mountain huts may seem cozy, but it gets pretty tiring day in day out. Javier Procaccini photo.
Then, of course, you know you have the same distance to cover to come back. Doing it one day is fine, but doing it every day trying to be at the right place at the right time when the sun appears makes it a tough mental game... because most of your attempts fail. It's lot of effort for a small reward. And day after day, you get less and less energy because camping tends not to be the best way to prepare your body!
TGR: Surely there were also amazing moments, what were some of the highlights of the trip?
TD: Well there are two things I keep in mind:
There is no proper road to reach the mountains here, sometimes the best option to access the snow and go to a potential remote mountain hut is horseback riding. Patagonia is the best place to wear your gaucho costume. Argentine horses are pretty calm and nice, and you can abandon them on the road when you get the deep snow! They always find the way back to the Estancia (that’s a farm).
"Patagonia is the best place to wear your gaucho costume" - Thibaud Duchosal. Javier Procaccini photo.
Close to the end of our journey, our mission was to get back to Cerro Creston in the El Chalten area and film it with the perfect combo of powder and sun. After three bad weather days, the forecast showed a short window and we decided to take our chance. The day began at 1 A.M. The night was pretty dark, it was snowing and the ground was snow covered. After four hours walking of through the woods, we finally reached snow line. With almost a foot of fresh snow, it took more time ski touring up the glacier. The snow was pretty deep when we finally reached the crest and we still had 2000 feet of bootpacking to cover. After 30 minutes, Joi and Lucas suggested to turn back because it was exhausting but I insisted to keep going, taking the lead and throwing in some more motivation.
The snow was above my hips, sometimes to my chest, it was such a deep bootpack! The snow felt great, the sun was close but we still couldn’t see it through the breaking clouds. After three hours hiking on the ridge, we were midway when the ground started shaking below our path. The whole mountain started to collapse! A massive avalanche came down covering the whole glacier.
The hard work pays off. Big, windblown powder faces with the most beautiful view in the world. Eye of the Storm Production photo.
TGR: What did you learn from your adventure? Any advice to share with those who want to push their skiing in that part of the world?
TD: If there’s one thing I’ve learned during all of my time in Patagonia, it’s that high winds reign as master and you can guarantee things won’t go as planned. I would even say it will most of the time never go as planned. Basically, be ready not to ski!
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