Tribute: Remembering Legendary Skiers JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson

“The best thing about a trip like that is that it really resets your mind," said JP Auclair, about skiing Switzerland’s Haute Route, seen here; Photograph by Julien Regnier
“The best thing about a trip like that is that it really resets your mind,” said skier JP Auclair about exploring Switzerland’s Haute Route, seen here; Photograph by Julien Regnier

While the deaths of JP Auclair, one of our 2014 Adventurers of the Year, and Andreas Fransson have sent the ski community reeling, the skiers leave behind a rich legacy. We honor them here and share new details about the accident and attempt to rescue them.

At approximately 12:30 p.m. local time, on Monday, September 29, JP Auclair, 37, and Andreas Fransson, 31, two of the world’s premiere professional skiers, climbed up a narrow, 50-to-55-degree, approximately 3,000-foot couloir on Cerro San Lorenzo, a 12,158-foot peak that straddles the border of Argentina and Chile in the Patagonian Andes.They planned to ski the couloir, which was to be a highlight of their two-week trip to Patagonia, according to Miles Smart, an American guide living in Chamonix and close friend of Fransson.

When the skiers were two-thirds of the way up the couloir, which slices up Cerro San Lorenzo’s north side, an avalanche released high above them, knocking them 2,300-feet down the couloir and onto the heavily crevassed glacier that sits at the bottom of the mountain, according to a report by Stefan Palm of the Swedish Guide Association, who was involved in the rescue effort. (The report was originally given to Trey Cook, a Chamonix, France-based journalist and confirmed by National Geographic Adventure).

Four miles away on a ridge north of the couloir, filmmaker Bjarne Salen and photographer Daniel Ronnback were filming the skiers for a new project called Apogee, a word which is defined as the highest or most exalted point, or the position in the orbit of a heavenly body at which it’s farthest from the Earth. They watched as the snow enveloped Auclair and Fransson and carried them down the steep couloir.

While the line wasn’t particularly risky for the two seasoned ski mountaineers, the couloir topped out in a large, steep face that fanned up toward the summit.

“There’s a fair bit of steep terrain that can hold snow high on the line,” said Smart. “The best that we know is that some type of natural snow slide came down and took them off the face. It doesn’t take much in that type of terrain, especially in up mode,” he added.

When their friends disappeared, Salen and Ronnback tried to radio them, but received no response. Two days by foot from the closest town, Cochrane, Chile, Salen then used his satellite phone to enlist the help of some of the most skilled mountain professionals on the planet.

First, he called Smart, Fransson’s emergency contact, who was at home in Chamonix. At 12:35 p.m., Salen left a detailed message on Smart’s voicemail.

“He conveyed that he was in a very serious situation and that he needed my help. Right then. Immediate help,” Smart said in a telephone interview from Chamonix.

Next, Salen called Per As, former technical director of the Swedish Mountain Guide Association, and the respected Argentine climber Rolando Garibotti, who has pioneered several first ascents in Patagonia and penned books on the area. The Spanish-speaking Garibotti, who was also providing weather forecasts for the skiers while they were on the expedition, has an extensive network of contacts throughout the region and proved invaluable to the effort. Salen also recruited the help of Stefan Palm, of Servoz, France, who guides heli-ski trips in Chile during the South American winter, and is similarly well connected in the region. The men began to put into action a plan to try to save the men trapped in one of the most desolate and inhospitable corners of the planet.

Salen and Ronnback were four hours away from the base of the couloir. The weather was warming up, small avalanches were starting to break off, and the terrain was dangerous, complex and littered with crevasses.

“We all agreed that based on the time of day it was and the way Bjarne described the conditions and the equipment that they had there, we advised them to stay put and not further expose themselves at that point,” said Smart.

Palm, As, Smart, and Garibotti alerted Chilean authorities and tried to organize a helicopter, but the closest helicopter wasn’t able to arrive until the following day, Tuesday, September 30. However, within a half an hour of the accident, the men had launched a ground rescue operation.

Once the team on the ground was underway, they advised Salen and Ronnback to descend to the Toni Rohrer hut, a small mountain refuge about 3,000 feet below them, where they later met the rescue team, including Armando Montero, an experienced guide, mountaineer, and friend of Garibotti, who had coincidently been at the Cerro San Lorenzo trailhead when Garibotti called him that day, asking for his help.

At 9 a.m., on Tuesday, September 30, a helicopter picked up Montero from the hut. With bad weather and dangerous conditions on the glacier, the helicopter was unable to land. Instead, they flew low over the accident site and Montero was able to spot the bodies of Auclair and Fransson. Due to the trauma the bodies had sustained in the slide, he knew definitively that they were dead and had most likely died instantly.

JP Auclair; Photograph by Chris O'Connell
JP Auclair; Photograph by Chris O’Connell

While the deaths of Auclair and Fransson have sent the ski community reeling, they leave behind a rich legacy.

“JP Auclair was a pioneer in freeskiing and had a visionary approach to his riding and his style,” said professional skier Chris Davenport

Born in Quebec City, Canada, Auclair, 37, helped revolutionized skiing by forging the way for a new genre of the sport called freeskiing to emerge. As a competitive bump skier in the 90s, Auclair grew weary of the International Ski Federation’s overregulation of mogul skiing. So, he, along with a group of renegade skiers that became known as the New Canadian Air Force, broke away from the sport and headed into snowboard parks and began incorporating tricks into their skiing.

In 1998, Auclair was a part of the Salomon team that introduced the twin tip, a ski that allowed skiers to ski, jump, and land backwards and forwards. This innovation afforded skiers greater creativity, advancing the sport ever further. In 2014, freeskiing made its debut at the Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia, thanks, in large part, to Auclair’s contributions to the sport.

As the years progressed, Auclair won competitions, launched his own ski company, Armada, and starred in countless films. In 2010, he began to collaborate with Sherpas Cinema, a British Columbia-based ski film company that released All.I.Can, a 2011 film that featured a segment of Auclair riding rails in Trail, Rossland, and Nelson B.C. By 2012, the video clip, Auclair’s creative brainchild, had garnered over three million views and become the most watched ski segment ever. In 2014, Auclair was honored for his extraordinary achievements in skiing and named one of our 2014 National Geographic’s Adventurers of the Year.

Whether on the slopes or behind the camera, Auclair’s contributions to skiing were almost unparalleled in their breadth and vision.

“I consider JP to be one of the most brilliant minds of the action sports world—creative, dedicated, principled, and universally loved. He’s had an outstanding career as a pro skier and has been one of the most influential skiers of all time,” said Mike Douglas, known as the “godfather of freeskiing” who was Auclair’s New Canadian Air Force peer and dear friend.

Beyond his immense talent, Auclair was kind, humble, and gracious. In 2008, he launched a non-profit, Alpine Initiatives, that connects the mountain sports community with community service projects worldwide.

“He was a man of great humility and grace,” said Davenport.

“The terrain and the snow in the Kootenays makes it one of my favorite places to go skiing,” said Auclair. “In fact, if I make my way to Retallack Ski Lodge this year, it will be ten in a row for me! Rolling terrain, trees, big snow mushrooms, and pillows—dreamy!” Photograph by Chris O'Connell
“The terrain and the snow in the Kootenays makes it one of my favorite places to go skiing,” said Auclair. “In fact, if I make my way to Retallack Ski Lodge this year, it will be ten in a row for me! Rolling terrain, trees, big snow mushrooms, and pillows—dreamy!” Photograph by Chris O’Connell

Underpinning Auclair’s career was a drive for freedom and self-expression.

“Freedom has been a real baseline theme for me and I think I’m still on that journey, on that search.”

And it was this desire for freedom that eventually moved him to into the big, pristine and untrammeled mountains.

“I always think that one thing leads to another,” said Auclair. “It always feels like something is right around the corner. It’s a huge world that is wide open.”

First introduced to the backcountry by the legendary skier Glen Plake in about 2000, Auclair had become increasingly fascinated with backcountry skiing in the last years of his life and had focused on acquiring the skills necessary to move safely in wild mountains.

Auclair took avalanche courses, worked with respected backcountry skiers, and in 2011 moved to Zurich, Switzerland, to be with his girlfriend and to soak up European alpine culture. He also began skiing with Andreas Fransson, a Swedish ski bum and accomplished skier, who lived in Chamonix and quickly became one of Auclair’s ski-mountaineering mentors, Auclair said in 2012.

Andreas Fransson; Photograph courtesy Salomon
Andreas Fransson; Photograph courtesy Salomon Sports

While Fransson didn’t have the same mass popularity as Auclair, he had established himself in the core ski world as one of the world’s premiere steep skiers. He had notched first descents across the globe, including a pioneering descent of Denali’s south face in 2011, which earned him Sweden’s adventurer of the year award in 2012, which is awarded each year to the Swedish person or team who demonstrates outstanding performance in adventure.

“There’s a lot of people who have skills, a lot of people have desire, but every now and then there’s a few of them that have another gear and Andreas was one of them,” said Plake, who often skied with Fransson in Chamonix. “He had the opportunity to do some mind boggling things and with frequency,” said Plake, “That’s the main thing—the frequency he was doing things was pretty impressive.”

While known for skiing steep, difficult lines, he was meticulous in his approach to risk.

“He tried to be as calculated as he could. He loved to do steep skiing, but he tried to take every precaution,” Smart said.

He was a soulful guy, who took a spiritual approach to skiing and often wrote eloquent musings about his experiences on his blog, Life From a Different Angle. He was also in the process of obtaining his International Federation of Mountain Guides Association certification, the highest and most prestigious guiding accreditation.

But it was not just his skiing that stood out to his peers, it was his enthusiasm, passion, and generous spirit.

“Andreas Fransson is one of those guys who lived every minute like it was his last. Constantly in motion, always stoked and full of life,” said Douglas, who directed Tempting Fear, the 2013 documentary about Fransson.

The film explored Fransson’s near fatal accident, in which he broke his neck in an avalanche on Chamonix’s Aiguille Verte in 2010. The accident forced him to confront death and the risks inherent to his sport. But he was not deterred. For him, death was just another aspect of life, and he didn’t fear it.

“One of the reasons I think I can do this is because I don’t think the consequences behind the risks are as bad as society wants us to think,” he told me in an interview for Outside in 2012.

He was fueled by a desire to explore the unknown and test the outer limits of what he was capable of.

“I have to challenge my own expectations to go beyond, into the unknown—the only place where real adventure can be found, as I see it,” he said.

For Fransson, Patagonia offered up the experience of the unknown, perhaps more than any other place on the planet.

“His fascination with that part of the world is the same as a lot of mountain people,” said Smart. “It hasn’t been explored that much for its skiing and that excited him,” said Smart.

The day before he left for South America, Fransson met up with Smart at Pie, a restaurant in Chamonix. Smart asked him if the trip was going to be similar to the one he took in 2012, a boundary-pushing expedition in which he claimed the first descent of the Whillans ramp, a 60-degree, fall-and-you-die-ramp on Mt. Poincenot in Argentina.

“His response was something like, ‘Oh no, it’s not that type of trip. We’re just going to go ski a really beautiful line, but something that’s not overly serious.”

Last Monday, while pursuing that big beautiful line, Auclair and Fransson stepped into the great unknown, the biggest adventure of them all.

To support Auclair’s partner and his three-month-old son Leo during this time, please donate to the Auclair Fund.

Skier JP Auclair was one of our 2014 National Geographic Adventurers of the Year. Our thoughts go out to the families and friends of all the adventurers lost in the mountains over the past week.


  1. Case
    October 6, 2014, 10:30 pm

    A terrible disaster happens in South America. Observing team first call is to freaking Europe. Second call is to someone who is European but might be in South America. No backup plan ready made to a heli company in the region. Calling someone for help locally might not have saved them, but it wouldn’t hurt to have a better emergency plan than ” call some asshole in france”

  2. Robert Castillo
    United States
    October 7, 2014, 10:39 am

    Case you arrogant a hole. Where do you live? Az. Have you ever climbed mountains? They were 4 miles away the only chance of saving someone is within 8 minutes. They most likely knew that it was a body recovery. Why do you just sit there and troll as if to say you would have been better you armchair critic. The ass hole in France was his emergency contact that probably really needed to know what had happened and by phone could organize better than two guys on a mountain top four miles away. Go back and sit on your comfortable coucheck and take a big sip of shut the f up

  3. Sudipta Bandopadhya
    October 10, 2014, 1:54 am

    His works inspired to the future generation, obviously.

  4. Bijaya Ghimire
    October 11, 2014, 1:09 am

    Wish we had broad mountains in Nepal so we could enjoy snow like that way.

  5. The Edge
    October 12, 2014, 12:53 am

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  6. drfrancis sourimuthu
    October 12, 2014, 10:18 am

    it’s just great !

  7. sharmila
    India Delhi
    October 12, 2014, 11:21 pm

    Agree to entire word ,massage for every one keep it up Like so much.

  8. […] features the late Andreas Fransson and is dedicated to Fransson and J.P. Auclair, who tragically died last week in an avalanche on the Chile-Argentina border. The dedication is fitting: beauty, vitality and pure joy pulse […]

  9. […] – étaient sur place pour tourner des séquences vidéo spectaculaires, le genre qui ont fait la renommé de JP Auclair, qui fait partie des aventuriers de l’année du prestigieux magazine National […]

  10. […] – étaient sur place pour tourner des séquences vidéo spectaculaires, le genre qui ont fait la renommé de JP Auclair, qui fait partie des aventuriers de l’année du prestigieux magazine National […]

  11. IaN
    Denver, CO
    October 22, 2014, 10:13 am

    This is the most thorough report of the accident I have found to date. Thank you for taking the time to outline a few of the details as we are a community that learns from one another, hoping to achieve the heights we strive for and get home at the end of the day. RIP JP and Andreas, you are both inspirational individuals that lived life on your own terms, See you both in the great beyond to ski that endless powder day….

  12. robby
    October 23, 2014, 3:20 am

    Sad to lose some of the finest skiiers of today but glad they will be remembered for their skiing feats and not 2 crazies who pushed themselves too much and paid the price. The same happened with jamie pierre, among others and goes to show these guys as true proffessionals who planned everything, knew their limits but nature is something we cannot control. Never knew jp spent so much time in nelson, v cool place as well as having the best parks and mogul runs in north america.

  13. jo
    October 24, 2014, 4:14 am

    Beautiful article about an awful tragedy. Case its a pity you’re such a douche bag with your comments but I think robert responded pretty well! Also just so you know you only use ” ” in this case when you’re quoting the article. I didn’t read anywhere in the article about “call some asshole in France”.

  14. Steve Smith
    Minnesota, USA
    December 16, 2014, 11:46 pm

    I just happened to stumble upon Andreas and is incredible journeys. Then I find that he has perished along with JP Auclair. I am an armchair adventurer. Who finds fascination in the lives of adventurers like Andreas and JP along with many other extreme sport athletes. However, for whatever reason, the news hit me hard. It is so sad. I just discovered this amazing person…and they are gone. My heart goes out to Andreas’ and JP’s loved ones and friends. I guess the only silver lining is that they were taken while doing what they loved. I hope they did not suffer. I wish their families peace. And if there is more than this mortal thing we know as life, I wish their souls are ripping it on some incredible lines in the afterlife. With much respect to two people I never knew.

  15. Z-Drive - COLDFEAR
    March 22, 2015, 6:55 pm

    […] But in the last couple years, I have been incredibly inspired by Dean Lords, Beau Fredlund and Andreas Fransson. Their pictures and stories have motivated me to look at backcountry ski terrain differently. What […]

  16. Jay Ramsay
    March 30, 2015, 9:28 pm

    This is just so sad. I’m 45 and love, love, love to ski. Ever time I’ve skied this season I haven’t once not thought about JP and Andreas, as well as Liz Daley, America Dave, & so many others, and their contribution to this awesome sport and their amazing passion for life. Now with kids of my own pursing carriers in rock climbing, snowboard mountaineering, and art, I’m both nervous and excited. It’s such a shame to have lost so many amazing people pushing the sport we all love, but we’ll never forget you, and I know I, along with so many others appreciate the sacrifice you’ve made for the rest of us. To have live with such passion is really an amazing gift, we’ll never forget you. RIP.

  17. […] highly decorated skiers and snowboarders have been killed by avalanches in the last year, including Andreas Fransson and JP Auclair; Sebastien Haag and Andrea Zambaldi; Liz Daley; and “American Dave” Rosenbarger. While […]

  18. […] is the first ski or snowboard luminary to die this year, in contrast to last season when ski stars JP Auclair, Andreas Fransson, and Liz Daley all died within a day of each other in South American accidents. Sponsored by the […]