Know your Line | Aurelien Ducroz
Aurélien Ducroz grew up in one of the world’s steepest playgrounds, better known as Chamonix. With a mountain guiding dad and a ski teaching mom, the professional skier was bred on tales of jagged mountains, first descents, and how to generate bigger edge angles.
Over 2000 years ago, Socrates pointed out that true wisdom comes to us when we realize how little we know about ourselves and the world around us. Today, above 2,000 meters, Aurélien Ducroz reminds himself that we never know the mountain perfectly, that we have to prepare ourselves for anything, that the mountains demand of us that we build both our knowledge and our ability to trust in this knowledge.
“I have true respect for those former alpinists and mountain guides and all those people who have been opening up routes and lines,” says Aurélien, who never gets tired of Chamonix. Whether he’s skiing, climbing, walking or biking, it’s a place that lets him get deep into nature. Still he wakes up every morning and thinks to himself “Wow, that’s crazy” when looking out the window.
In Chamonix, knowledge and experience is passed on through the generations. It has been a necessity in order for people to keep on living among the rough mountains. “There has been a lot of knowledge given to me through my father, grandfather, my family. When you grow up in that world, even if you’re not really conscious about it as a kid, you realize as soon as you get older that everything you are looking at, everything you kind of discover in the mountains, are places and things you’ve been hearing about so many times before. All those people exploring the mountains before me, I have true respect for them. They have an incredible knowledge.”
And yet, even with all the knowledge in the world, one must never forget the looming uncertainty. “In the mountains, even if we try to understand everything, there can be little details that you miss or that changes very quickly. It is important to have a plan B, to scope the line and anticipate all of the bad things that can happen. Read the terrain, the elements, the mountain, and define the best way up or down.” Being well prepared is the recipe for a great day, a great line, a magic moment.
Then there’s an x-factor called instinct, which to a certain point builds on knowledge. “Trusting your instinct is a critical point,” explains Aurélien. “You’re the only one that knows what you are able to do. You need to take everything into consideration: the security, the conditions, your feelings, everything. That will help you trust yourself and your choice and make the right decision. If you don’t trust yourself, there’s no point in going.”
Being well prepared is the recipe for a great day, a great line, a magic moment.
Another important ingredient when sharpening your instinct is experience. Many viewers watching Aurélien’s legendary CHAM LINES on YouTube, where he explores the best lines of the Chamonix area, can’t help but think that he sometimes pushes it a bit too far. Aurélien couldn’t disagree more. “Do I often push my limits? I don’t necessarily see it as pushing my limits. By being in the mountain, by getting this experience day after day, your limit goes higher and higher because you are learning new things from the mountain on a daily basis. It’s a gradual process. Pushing the limit is easy, but to feel confident when you do it is something totally different. You must build knowledge, and then you must be able to trust in that knowledge in order to gradually move your limits.”
With CHAM LINES, Aurélien got his first taste of dropping some of his Chamonix-knowledge on the wider world. As he soon learned, sharing is a gift that keeps on giving, and this season’s visit from the Helly Hansen team was proof of concept. “It was a great pleasure to spend time in Chamonix with Erin, Mattias, Marcus and Johann. Four people I didn’t know, people I’ve never skied with, three of them for the first time discovering what for me is the most beautiful mountains in the world.”
For Aurélien, being able to share the Argentière Hut with the team made those days in March even more memorable. “Staying at Argentière and spending the night there is always special. Every hut has a story. When you get inside, there’s pictures of legends and guides, of first descents close by, of people that died too early in the mountain. You’re always glad to sleep in a hut in the mountain, and to meet the people who take care of it. They are amazing people. You want to go to Argentière just to meet the host and spend an evening talking about her experiences through 25 years of taking care of the place.”
The only thing that can compete with an evening at the hut is an early morning at the hut. “We woke up at four, got a little breakfast, and then went straight out. It was pretty tough, it’s dark, it’s cold, we’re all kind of tired, but we all go. And then the sun rose slowly over the mountains and those moments were magic. We were all alone on the mountain that morning. Exploring the terrain and reaching the summit together was something special. It was cool that such a diverse group of skiers could experience this together, and that it was the first big mountain experience for some in the crew made it even more special.”
First love is true love. At least it can be in the mountains. “We didn’t open any new lines, but it was still kind of a first descent for everyone. It was a great feeling. And that’s what I love about being in the mountains: you don’t have to explore new grounds or ski a first descent to have a good day, to have those amazing feelings, to live those special moments.”
A contemporary of Socrates allegedly said: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.” In the mountains of Chamonix, Aurélien has learned that the threads you weave grow stronger when you trust in your knowledge.