Updated: Mount St. Elias — Ski Descents, Red Bull film

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Update, December 21, 2009 PM:
I got a chance to screen the full length Red Bull St. Elias flick last evening. My take: Sorry to say that while the film does reflect its multi-million dollar budget and is fun to watch on a gut level, this much anticipated documentary falls far short of its potential.

What blew it for me is that “Mt. St. Elias” repetitively dwells on the saga of two Americans (Aaron Martin, Reid Sanders) who died while trying to ski the peak in 2002. You get the feeling the film directors and writers are trying to position their second (not first) ski descent of the peak by emphasizing other people’s failure.

Mount St. Elias movie.

Mount St. Elias movie.

Above is perhaps more than suspicion on my part, as late in the film the narration speaks about how the Americans may have died because they attempted to ski a line they had not reconnoitered by climbing first, and goes on to explain that Axel Naglich and his crew wouldn’t be making that same mistake. Problem is, a short while later Naglich and companion are doing the exact same thing, thus adding a somewhat farcical element to the film if you’re paying attention.

Adding insult, somehow the whole film goes by without mentioning that the peak had already received a nicely styled first ski descent by Lorne Glick, Andy Ward and James Bracken in May of 2000. To ignore the Glick crew’s accomplishment — perhaps one of the greatest ski descents in the last two decades — is nothing less than ridiculous. And to do this while over emphasizing the deaths in 2002, just plain awful.

I mean, there is a spirit of brotherhood amongst alpinists, is there not?

Mount St. Elias is almost supernatural in difficulty. It goes years without being summited, and has only been skied twice. Any film about the mountain and our ant like presence on it would do well to forgo arrogance and hype, practice some humility, and honor those who came before.

To his credit, the director of “Mount St. Elias” did make an effort to capture the gritty reality of high altitude Alaskan mountaineering. In this he is successful. While watching this flick You feel like you’re actually there, altitude sick or being buried alive in a snowcave by a snowstorm that nearly anywhere else would be classified as a natural disaster — but is normal weather for St. Elias. I mean, I had to click my electric blanket up to level 15 about half way though this thing, it was that radical!

In that same vein, but on the human side, you witness a conversation between Axel and his American companion Jon Johnston that is both humorous and sad, as it polarizes Axel as the do or die “Euro” alpinist for whom death is only another outcome, to Johnston, the boyish American who during the first part of the film makes the mistake of trying to work as a team, and gets rudely awakened by Axel simply ignoring his 2-way radio pleas to find a safer way around a fall-you-die ice face. This conflict comes to a head later in the film when Johnston asks Axel outright if he (Johnston) ended up unable to continue during the push to the summit, would Axel abandon him and continue climbing? Axel’s answer is a grimly stated yes.

Abandon your teammate for a second descent and some movie footage? Abandon him for a first?

I have to say I enjoyed Axel’s enthusiasm and demeanor in this movie, and he’s been gracious to contribute here. But, should I ski with him? Should you?

I’d still recommend seeing this flick, but go prepared with the facts so you see through the “Red Bull Hype Machine,” as one of our esteemed commenters called this outfit’s ethos when we started blogging about it. As for Axel, perhaps I’ll have a beer with him in Austria — in a safe place!

To get an idea of the bombastic hype surrounding this thing, check out the “making of” trailer below.

Mount Saint Elias
This is how the mountain looked in May when they were up there. Too much ice for skiing. Even the climbing sounded tricky.

Update, Sept 10, 2007 PM:
I just got off the phone with Jon Johnston, who worked this trip in May (helping with the climbing and film making).

In a word, while making an attempt at climbing and skiing the peak they had the typical St. Elias epic in dealing with huge terrain that’s hard to even imagine, including descending from their high point by doing more than 4,000 vertical feet of rappelling! During the May trip they did ski from the Hayden shoulder down to about 800 vertical feet above sea level, a huge descent in its own right and in a sense “down to the sea,” but not exactly to the tide line. After that, Naglich returned later in the summer, climbed the peak, and did ski a new route from the summit down to Hayden, where they were picked up by bush plane as most climbers are.

After speaking with Jon and hearing from Axel, my take is that they put in an excellent effort up there that yielded several interesting accomplishments: Axel’s new ski route, and probably the route with most vertical ever skied on one mountain by the same person. The facts that the long ski route was broken into two parts several months apart, with the first not being human powered, diminishes this from a mountaineering standpoint, but it is still an interesting and fun to behold “record.” (And a record that is someday sure to fall when someone goes up there and skis from the summit to the sea all in one push. Like much of mountaineering, these things are done in stages of accomplishment with one feat following another. So be it.)

The unpleasant part of this is the hype and poor writing/translation on the Red Bull website. I mean for crying out loud, they’ve got the money, why can’t they do a better job! So let’s hope that is cleaned up soon. As for me, I’ve now got the facts I need for future updates of my history projects, thanks to the web and all of you who helped out here over the last few days.

Lastly, both Jon and Axel mentioned how impressed they were by what Lorne Glick and his crew did up there with their first ski descent of the peak.

Update, Sept 10, 2007:
Red Bull St. Elias skier Axel Naglich just sent me a nice email. He’s saying what I suspected, that the Red Bull hypesters combined with poor translation ended up in it looking like they were claiming the first descent of the peak. As for the first descent from summit to ocean, if it’s true they did it in two stages that were months apart, with vertical gained by flying, then one has to question the validity of that claim as for it being a “first,” though it sounds like an exellent and fun experience that’s worth sharing. Following is what Naglich wrote, slightly edited to convert from private email:

Ho Lou,
Sorry for creating a mess in Mt. St. Elias climbing and skiing history. We didn’t plan to claim the first ski descent of Mt. St. Elias. We knew that this group did it in the year 2000 and we knew about Mira Face which has been skied by Mr. Glick too (couldn’t believe he waited for 3 weeks on the face for conditions, that’s hardcore!!!). As we also operated with Paul Claus and also were in contact with him for a couple of years we had heard about all the stories of ski attempts on the mountain!! Sorry that the footage on several webpages is a little confusing as we just planned to claim the first descent from summit to ocean and not the first descent of the mountain in general!!! As we know the mountain a little better now I just can say congratulations to the guys who did the first ski descent of the summit. I would never want to take this accomplishment away from them.
Axel Naglich

Update: Well, apologies to all for my getting caught in the spray of rosy B.S. coming from the Red Bull website. Lorne Glick got in touch with me and jogged my memory. Sure enough he, along with James Bracken and Andy Ward, did the first ski descent of Mount St. Elias back in 2000, along with a second ascent of the Mira Face route (somewhat the source for the name Andrew and Polly McLean picked for their new child.) Doug Byerly was along on the trip as well, but turned back before the ski descent because of concerns about potential frostbite.

Lorne Glick on St. Elias
A little less hype and plenty of action — Lorne on the Mira Face in 2000.

I’m more than a little disapointed in Red Bull for spraying in the face of history. Oh well, I’ll know better next time.

For the record, the INCORRECT statement on the Red Bull website is this (emphasis mine): “Axel Naglich embarked upon the first downhill ski run on St. Elias, also the longest in history.”

To clarify the facts, following is a little something from Lorne that just came in this evening:

Here ya go Lou

Andy Ward, James Bracken and I skied off the summit via the “easy route” Mira Face in mid May 2000. Read the AAJ article if you want for dates etc. I don’t have one here in AK.

Paul in his Super Cub bounced across the ocean swell sized sastrugi to drop us a six pack of Strohs and a jug of fuel at our 13,400′ high camp. This was our only assistance.

The only ropework was skiing roped together thru the maze of huge cracks and seracfall gauntlet below the north face; of dubious value since speed really is of the essence through there. The roped crashes with 50lb packs weren’t so good for the frostbitten toes either.

11,000 feet of skiing done over parts of two days; from the summit to the base of the mountain on the NE side of the peak; the Columbia Glacier/Bagley Icefield.

OK rating…I lean toward giving it the old Canadian Rockies style 5.8/A2…wink-wink-nudge-nudge. However; after familiarizing myself with yer new D-ratings how ’bout:

VII D-17 R4 or VII D-19 R5.

How steep is the Mira Face? Hard to say exactly. Off the top at 17,000 feet to fall would be the end no doubt. There is a tricky rockband 1/3 of the way down that was even steeper, icy, and 250cm wide. Most of the face was blessed with a few inches of dragonskin rippled powder over ice. Exactly what you want for this type of thing as you know. The exposure and position were staggering. And this dumbass didn’t have a camera. James got some good ones.

Update: When writing the blogpost below I got caught up in the Red Bull hype when I read this was the “The first downhill ski run on St. Elias, also the longest in history.” I like to trust other mountaineer’s claims so I posted with that slant, but while dashing off the blog post I was indeed wondering if this was THE first ski descent of Elias, as my memory was giving me vague hints about something else having happened a few years ago. I’ve been remiss about updating my online chronology of ski mountaineering history and keeping my files updated — perhaps this is an example that. Good shot in the arm for me — time to get back to work on the history side of things! So, I’ll be looking into this over the next day and if anyone has more info please leave a comment or contact me in private.

Original post of September 2, 2007, slightly edited for hype control (grin):
It took a few days for this news to filter in to WildSnow HQ, but here it is for those who have not heard it already:

Mount Saint Elias
The expedition on St. Elias, photo courtesy Red Bull.

On August 11 Axel Naglich of Kitzbuhel Austria made what is claimed (wrongly, it turns out, see above) to be the first ski descent of monstrous Mount St. Elias in Alaska.

This plum descent (first or not) is also claimed as being the record for vertical feet skied in one route, as in, get this, 5 Kilometers of vertical from the summit to the mountain’s base! That’s over 16,000 vertical feet!!

This was a Red Bull expedition and is covered in detail at the Redbull website.

In a nutshell: Naglich and his companions tried the peak in May but were turned back, then did a second (and ultimately successful) attempt in August. It sounds like Naglich’s companions downclimbed from the summit, while Naglich made a bold move and dropped a ski route that was NOT their climbing route, thus nailing a solid descent from the summit. The guy is hardcore, check out his resume.

Axel Naglich

Mount Saint Elias is known for horrendous weather that can snuff out life like a gigantic fly swatter of the gods. Storms lasting for months can roll in and drop hundreds of feet of snow. Ice forms readily because of the maritime climate — in 2002, Americans Reid Sanders and Aaron Martin slide to their deaths off the icy summit while trying to do a ski descent (article here).

Naglich and his companions did an excellent and inspiring job skiing a new route. Turns out it wasn’t the first ski descent of the peak, but their trip is still exciting to read about and good stoke for our coming winter!

Comments

68 Responses to “Updated: Mount St. Elias — Ski Descents, Red Bull film”

  1. Mark September 2nd, 2007 11:05 am

    Simply surviving all that St. Elias dishes out is a huge feat. Skiing it is almost unthinkable. Massive kudos on a phenomenal ski mountaineering piece of history.

  2. Shelby September 2nd, 2007 11:33 am

    In the article you linked to describing Reid Sanders and Aaron Martin slide, Bob Jacobs of St. Elias Alpine Guides is quoted:

    “A couple of Colorado telemarkers skied off the top of St. Elias a few years back, Jacobs said, but they took an easier route.”

    Sounds like he may have your answer regarding first descent on skis?

  3. Lou September 2nd, 2007 2:57 pm

    Shelby, I just don’t recall that as being a fact and I usually remember that sort of thing, but perhaps it did happen. I’ll look into it if an answer doesn’t appear here tomorrow. Thanks for pointing that out.

  4. Grant September 2nd, 2007 3:08 pm

    Lorin Glick??
    I am sure Andrew can confirm, but when we were up that way this April, that was the work on the “street”.

    Nice job either way! I hope Alex come’s back to NZ for another look at the Carolien Face of Cook!

  5. Grant September 2nd, 2007 3:10 pm

    Lorin Glick??
    I am sure Andrew can confirm, but when we were up that way this April, that was the work on the “street”.

    Nice job either way! I hope Alex come’s back to NZ for another look at the Carolien Face of Cook! http://www.mountainrec.co.nz/mtnr_news.htm

  6. steve romeo September 2nd, 2007 6:32 pm

    Sounds sick…want more photos!

    Grant, I was a little confused about his attempted line on the Caroline. My impression was that they were going to traverse off the route to the skier’s left…above the ice-cliff in this photo.

  7. colin September 3rd, 2007 5:59 am

    yeah, big time descent. really cool to hear someone finally was able to do it. an old ski buddy of mine, Aaron Martin was one of those who died during a previous attempt. this is definitely one of the most sought-after ski descents in the world…which leads eventually to close scrutiny, especially given the heavy promotion given to it. So, I ask a few questions:
    1) did they really ski to sea level. from what i saw on their redbull site video: NO. thus, they need to re-qualify the length of their ski descent.
    2)then to what elevation did they ski to?
    of course, this is a minor point, but important if they are claiming something they did not do.
    3) it should be noted that according to the redbull site it was not a continous descent done in one go but broken up in two days: check out trip diary for details http://www.redbull.com/axelnaglich#page=ArticlePage.1187868522213-308047918.2
    So, it was not a continous descent, which every skier knows is the ultimate way to do such a run.
    4) this was a fully sponsored trip and it will be interesting to see if it was fully autonomous or if they had any “extra” help from others to make their descent possible, beyond the current definition of a self-supported expedition.

    5) the most important point is that they did it; now the question is by what means and how much was actually skied, especially due to late time in season.
    It would be great to hear from the expedition members more information. this does not take anything away from their descent, but important to know, especially for those who wish to one day visit the mountain with skis.

    Ps.
    If it was just a small expedition with little hoopla then I would not publicly ask these questions. But whenever someone decides to play the media circus game, it opens them up to critiques (whether warranted or not).
    For Example, both Kit Delauriers and Davo Kanicar’s descents from Everest were both given the same sort of fine-comb treatment, and it appears that ski-mountaineering claims do not always correspond to the advertised accomplishments, especially on important ethical points of 1) how much was actually skied (turns and not sideslipping or roping up with skis on), 2) was the run continuous or not, 3) were skiers autonomous or did they recieve outside help (sherpas, helis, spotters with radios, etc. etc.).

  8. Lou September 3rd, 2007 6:13 am

    Colin and all, I don’t know why I got caught up in the Red Bull hype but I did and if it made my blog post inaccurate I apologize. I’ll look into this over the next few days and keep updating the post. I made a few phone calls while I was writing the original post, but couldn’t get in touch with any sources who would have set me straight. I probably should have taken it easy and waited to post about this, but blogging gets a bit too “fast lane” sometimes and I’m certainly guilty of that mode on occasion. It’s a balancing act.

  9. Shelby September 3rd, 2007 9:01 am

    American Journal 2001 lists Doug Byerly, Lorne Glick, Andy Ward, and Jame Bracken made the second ascent of the Mira face (first climbed Morislac Smid) and first ski descent.

  10. Shelby September 3rd, 2007 9:02 am

    Correction…should have read: 2001 American Alpine Journal.

  11. Grant September 3rd, 2007 12:36 pm

    Off the topic, sorry!
    Steve- I think the ice cliff’s were to be rappled??
    Just can’t see it being done, but a local guy is talking it up………

  12. Lou September 3rd, 2007 1:45 pm

    I’m in touch with Lorne, hope to get the facts soon.

    Time for a new edition of the Wild Snow book!

  13. thomas September 3rd, 2007 4:22 pm

    I saw someones slide show in 1999 about their “first descents” in the little Switzerland area, several lines that we had skied 2 years earlier. Since then I have seen ski movie “first descents” that had already been skied. So I’m not really surprised by this latest saga.
    It is unfortunate because these accomplishments stand by themselves, but the “commodification”, hype, marketing of skiing seems more important today than the actual joy of sliding on snow.
    Maybe it’s time for skiers to just call their descents “MY first descent of xyz ” and leave it at that.
    Alaska has plenty of places where you feel as though you are the first human to be there, even though others may have passed before, perhaps this contributes to the “errors…”

  14. Brandt September 3rd, 2007 8:16 pm

    http://www.redbull.com/#page=CompanyPage.Contact

    Link to Red Bull’s customer contact site. Let them know that their claim must be retracted.

  15. Lou September 4th, 2007 6:30 am

    I learned a big lesson from this little debacle, and am going to take more care with researching claims like this in the future, since so many of the big peaks have now been skied. That said, I’ve made the regrettable mistake myself of getting caught up in the moment and claiming a first when it had already been done, and it’s happened to others as well, so I don’t fault Naglich as much as I do his associates for not getting the facts when they had plenty of time to do the research.

    What bothers me is that Red Bull has the resources for creating accurate editorial content, they’re not a one man operation like I am. They should be the source of accurate facts. Instead they’re not. But then, what’s in Red Bull, anyway?

  16. Lou September 4th, 2007 6:31 am

    Everyone, please use the link Brandt provided and ask Red Bull to accurize their content.

  17. Derek September 4th, 2007 7:03 am

    First, second, complete, incomplete, good content either way.

    I agree with Thomas about ‘first descents’ up in AK.
    The St. Elias range is HUGE. We were up there in 2002 with Claus trying to ski this and that. To be claiming first descents is sort of silly. The only way to claim a ‘first’ is to confirm with Paul Claus. He flies everyone in, is an accomplished ski mountaineer and alpinist himself, and knows abosulutely all the history about the range.

    Just because some line is uber remote, doesn’t mean Paul and his clan haven’t already skied it, or flew someone else in who did.

  18. Andrew September 4th, 2007 8:52 am

    The Red Bullers were trying to ski the first descent of the route Aaron and Reid died on, which is perhaps the longest possible ski descent in the world, from the summit of St. Elias to the ocean – over 18,000′. It is a huge distance and parts of it are flat (or close to it), so a two day descent would make sense.

    Red Bull’s budget for this and their Caroline Face attempts were astounding. In talking to a person who was involved with it, I mentioned that a pervious Red Bull basejumping expedition to Baffin Island cost over $400,000 and he said “Oh, this one is quite a bit more than that.” They had multiple groups of guides, multiple film crews, multiple skiers, helicopters, planes and all sorts of other stuff.

    If Axel actually skied from the summit to the sea, it’s an impressive feat regardless of how much help he had. Personally, I think it is far better style to do it under your own power, but raising that much money and organizing that big a trip is no small feat either. What seems really bogus to me is when people start using the scale of the mountain or the size of the budget to justify little white lies about the descent, as is common with Mt. Everest. If a skier fails on a smaller descent, it is their fault, but if they fail on a bigger descent, it seems to be the mountains fault, as the peak was too icy, had a long section of crevasses, a big cliff band, etc..

  19. Brandt September 4th, 2007 9:40 am

    I just got an email from a Red Bull rep asking for more info about prior descents. At this time, they do seem concerned. I will be forwarding them a link to both wildsnow.com as well as the reference to the 2001 American Alpine Journal. Will keep you posted.

  20. Lou September 4th, 2007 10:39 am

    Here is a direct link to the American Alpine Journal search page with results for Glick and company’s St. Elias first ski descent report:
    http://www.americanalpineclub.org/AAJO/index.php?zoom_query=%22lorne+glick%22&zoom_per_page=10&zoom_and=1&zoom_sort=0

  21. Grant September 4th, 2007 12:41 pm

    Andrew, I think you touched a good point re the budget and guides. I am pretty new to all this and yes, raising all the funds to have guides (film crew, heli support) is great if you can, but doesn’t being guided up take away from the style of the ski descent?
    I know down this way when the Red Bull crew skied the NW line off low peak of Mt Cook they were guided up and again on there unsuccessful attempt on the Caroline Face in Dec 2006.
    Put it this way, if Chris Davenport was guided up the 14ers, would we be signing his praises?
    Still think this is a great ski descent, just intrested if they loss points for style?

  22. Sky September 4th, 2007 12:46 pm

    Like Flavor Flav said:
    “Don’t believe the hype!”

    More than $400k? No joke? Can we start adding a budget category to descent ratings? I want a $0 added to the end of mine.

    Skywalker Route
    V R2D2 $0

  23. LG September 4th, 2007 7:57 pm

    Here’s my take, thanks for caring about this silly horse-s**t.

    I haven’t heard any details back from Paul and may not for awhile. He had to have flown the Austrians past the Mira Face numerous times. There is no doubt that they were well aware of the details of the 2000 expedition.

    Unquestionably the St. Elias sea-to-summit-to-sea ski expedition is a really cool and worthy objective.

    What other huge continuous descents have been recorded? Logan to the Chitna River? Denali to the foothills? Fairweather to sea-level? How about Rainier during the winter 50 years ago? I don’t know… The question is; how much of 18,008 did Naglich ski.

    Would getting dropped off by helicopter on the summit and skiing all the way to Icy Bay be really cool? (It is illegal for choppers to land in the park)

    Would having Paul drop you at 17,000 on the west shoulder, booting to the summit with your daypack and skiing to saltwater be really cool? (He’s landed there, planes are legal) That would be actually! :-)

    OK how about getting dropped off on the shoulder of Hayden at 10,000 feet then skiing to Icy Bay (in three hours?) whereupon you were whisked back to your base camp at 10,000 feet? Then you climbed to the summit and skied back to your base camp less than half way down. From there it was high fives and head for the press briefing.

    OK how about if the first and second (second and first?) part of your ski descent were separated by several months. And you had filmed the victory strides into the saltwater several months before you had stood on the summit.

    I have just given the Red Bullers the benefit of the doubt on several other points. The above is right from their online diaries. I like Andrew’s take; that the most impressive thing is the amount of money they raised and the organizational skills it must have required. I can’t wait to watch the feature film!

  24. Lou September 5th, 2007 5:09 am

    Thanks for chiming in Lorne! Yeah, that Red Bull hype is way way over the top in my opinion. They need to get it together. Or maybe they don’t. If the latter — sad.

    I could ignore Red Bull, except they touch the mountaineering world all the time. For example, Chris Davenport is one of their athletes. When we see Dav’s fourteener stuff on the Red Bull website, should we assume it’s just a pack of bull? Those of us who know Chris assume that won’t be the case because he’s authentic and knows standards and truth are important. But what happens when the website editors and folks like that get hold of it?

  25. Lou September 5th, 2007 5:21 am

    All, to see the expedition diary, use this link to get to the expedition details section of the over produced Red Bull flash site:
    http://www.redbull.com/axelnaglich#page=ArticlePage.1187868522213-308047918.2

    A screen will come up with the bogus “First Descent” claim. After spraying the screen with Red Bull, proceed to the “Diary” link at the top.

  26. Andrew September 5th, 2007 8:27 am

    The diary is enlightening. On May 20th, after being dropped off by plane at the 10,000′ Haydon Shoulder, they skied to the water, where they were picked up by a plane and flown back to camp. Sounds like high altitude heli skiing to me.

    Then, two months later, they were again dropped off at the 10,000′ Haydon Shoulder, where with the assistance of two mountain guides, they climbed to the summit over two days, then skied back to Haydon Saddle where they were picked up and flown back to the Ultima Thule Lodge. Four days, round trip, to “climb” St. Elias.

    Descents like this are a travesty.

  27. Lou September 5th, 2007 9:33 am

    Andrew, it makes me sick to my stomach that I got sucked into their bull as much as I did. Their “descent” as presented is totally bogus in my opinion, and I’d say that to their face. They’re probably nice guys and great skiers, and got a cool funded trip, but the Red Bull rhetoric just tarnishes any enjoyment I could get about hearing their story.

    If they’d just presented it as a great and fun trip, that would have been better. And always fun to hear about someone grabbing the brass ring when it comes to cash sponsorship.

    Reminds me of some of the stuff cigarette companies publish. Ever seen any of that junk? It’s horrid.

  28. Derek September 5th, 2007 9:45 am

    +1 for some good skiing in a cool place
    -2 for the way the media, or whoever portrayed their “descent”.

  29. steve romeo September 5th, 2007 12:26 pm

    Umm…did you guys see this video on Ski Pass?

    http://www.skipass.com/news/red-bull-vertical-rush-descente-du-m.html

  30. Lou September 5th, 2007 1:28 pm

    Steve, yeah, that vid is on the Red Bull website as well, so I’ve seen it, but it is buried on the bull site so thanks for the link.

  31. Tobey September 5th, 2007 5:30 pm

    Wow what an interesting debacle.
    I was on a trip to St Elias this spring also with the goal of skiing, and we crossed paths with the Redbull crew as they were headed in for their first go at it (everyone, camera men, guides, pilots, family of said pilot, us, etc, predicted doom and gloom, so I am glad to hear no one got hurt!)
    Andrews point that it sounds like high altitude heli skiing is completely valid from what I saw (Full alpine ski set ups, plans to get loads and people ferried by Super Cub up and down the mtn, tents with plywood floors, generators, a cook, not to mention the second attempt in august!)
    I mean it is impressive what they did and all, but from what we saw of their trip, it should never be confused with any sort of self supported, self powered trip. 100% different in my mind.
    The original ski descent was way, way more impressive!!! We puckered right up at the sight of the icy Mira face, put our tails between out legs and headed for the whiskey stashed down at base camp!
    Our whole group left with the feeling that although these guys had a lot of tools/toys in their quiver, we were really glad that we had gone by ourselves, for ourselves.
    It just goes to show that you can question the veracity and motives of nearly anyone who chooses to spray about what they did.
    FYI I think the budget was about 1,000,000 Euros!
    What I really wonder about is how in the hell you get your feet in a pair of hard alpine ski boots when its so cold out? let alone hike up hill?

  32. Lou September 5th, 2007 6:08 pm

    Good points. Plywood floors? I’ve thought about building one of those to haul around to trailheads in the winter to stick under our tent. Guess I’ll have to get on the case.

    Reminder: If you guys want to track just this thread here on the blog, use this permalink to go directly to the post and comments.
    http://www.wildsnow.com/?p=893#comments

    Thanks for all your excellent comments! A trove of ideas and info that will create a great resource.

  33. Mark September 6th, 2007 7:08 am

    As of 8AM today, September 6, the Red Bull Naglich site still claims in bold a first descent. What was accomplished was incredible, but not a first. Lorne Glick and friends get that distinction.

  34. Andrew September 6th, 2007 8:41 am

    This descent puts the Red Bull slogan – “Red Bull gives you wings!” – new meaning. In this case, the wings of a Turbine Otter so you don’t have to do all of that boring, slow climbing stuff. :)

  35. LG September 6th, 2007 9:50 am

    I guess I don’t really expect a response from Red Bull marketing. I was nice enough to thank them for their support of athletes and events. I did carefully explain that what had taken place seven years ago is considered credible by the ski mountaineering community. Then I succinctly asked them to “retract your bulls**t marketing hype”. Oh well; there are many more important things to get fired up about.

    Tobey good on ya for going up to have a look at the Mira. A good ski line is a good ski line whether it’s Baldy Chute or Bona; and whether you’re first or thirtyfirst. It’ll be in shape again. Leave the generator in your toolshed. Don’t forget your camera.

  36. Mark September 6th, 2007 10:37 am

    First fixed-heel descent? Only kidding. For the first descent to have been made on tele gear makes me take notice in any case. Good work, Lorne.

  37. Grant September 6th, 2007 12:04 pm

    I changed my mind, I don’t hope that the red bull crew comes back for another go at the Caroline Face- they got no style.
    You can bet these guys won’t be using at Turbine Otter, or red bull!
    http://www.manaslu.baiern.net/index.htm

  38. Brandt September 6th, 2007 1:07 pm

    I got this response from Red Bull’s marketing arm, basically saying we are all mis-intrepreting their claim. Read for yourself. At least we all got a lesson on what corporate marketing is all about, and no really big surprises.

    >From: Alexander.Steyrer@at.redbull.com
    >Sent: Sep 6, 2007 1:49 PM
    >To: brandtswanke@earthlink.net
    >Subject: RE: axel naglich
    >
    >Dear Mr. Swanke,
    >
    >Thank you a lot for your files and mails. After two days of research and
    >talking to Mr. Naglich we are still sure, that we did not claim for
    >something wrong. What is indeed worrying, is the fact that you and some of
    >the mountaineering scene in the US are perceiving our message in a way that
    >was not planned from ourside. We apologize for that!
    >
    >The original headline of our news was “First run down the world’s longest
    >ski slop” and that is what we claimed for: the first descent on this
    >specific route. The newstext and the viral clip are also talking about the
    >descent on the longest vertical drop. There is one graphic with the
    >headline “Axel Naglich Mt. St. Elias first descent” which can be
    >misunderstood not having the whole newstext in mind. After your feedback we
    >will change the wording there immediately.
    >
    >Besides the newsstories we will go for a movie documentary of the
    >adventure. Also this product will not refer to the first descent of Mount
    >St. Elias but to the achievements on the longest slope. Besides
    >mountaineers that already had been up there will be invited to give there
    >statements and stories to make everything even more authentic.
    >
    >We hope that you see that we were not aiming for telling wrong stories or
    >taking away somebodies achievements.
    >best regards
    >alex steyrer
    >————————————————————
    >Sportsmanagement Austria
    >
    >Red Bull GmbH
    >Am Brunnen 1
    >5330 Fuschl am See
    >
    >tel: +43-662-6582-7417
    >mobile:+43-664-1266719
    >fax: +43-662-6582-5417
    >
    >http://www.redbull.at

  39. Brian in SLC September 6th, 2007 1:19 pm

    LG, good on you guys for that descent. We passed on the glacier lower down as you guys descended, and we were going up. Yelled to each other from a distance (we were off to the skier’s right of a long slot that you guys skied down on the left side, which was slightly more exposed to avy from above, but, you’re down hill speed more’n componsated for that risk!).

    Amazing we could ski so high to high camp, and only carried our skis up through the ice fall in a couple of places (came in handy for a bridge breakthrough on the way down as anchors too).

    By the time we got to high camp, we had sustained high winds for a number of days. Spent 11 daze straight hunkering in the tent and when it finally blew out, the face was stripped and cold, black ice was pretty unappetizing. Ice fall changed a bunch for us on the way down, too.

    Amazing tracks you guys laid down!

    Cheers,

    Brian in SLC

  40. Lou September 10th, 2007 5:41 am

    Good to see the response from Red Bull. Looks like we all helped with getting things historically accurate, let’s hope they edit so the facts are clear. It’s true that perhaps the truth was lost in translation, Red Bull has the financial resources to do a better job — to present their product and website in the best light, they should be using those resources instead of doing a hack job on their translation that any high school student using Babel Fish could do in a few hours. Jury out, we’ll see. I was conned and harbor some resentment about that, as you guys may notice (grin).

  41. DB September 10th, 2007 4:13 pm

    Forget the hype. Blah! Who cares?!

    What is most important is a group of dedicated ski mountaineers climbed a difficult peak, bagged it, then made an amazing ski descent and lived to tell about it. That is all that matters. Congrats! That is one long ski run! :)

  42. Mark September 10th, 2007 4:34 pm

    Are they claiming first summit-to-sea descent in a way similar to counting a first ascent of a climbing route that may have been worked for weeks or months? I’m having a hard time with the parallel.

  43. Lou September 10th, 2007 6:57 pm

    DB, of course that matters. But I disagree — it’s not “all that matters.” It also matters to some of us that the Red Bull website appears to claim they did a first descent of the peak, when someone else had actually done so. It also matters to me personally that I got conned by that.

  44. Lou September 10th, 2007 7:02 pm

    Mark, yeah, that’s essentially the deal with the “summit to sea” descent. What’s funny is they actually didn’t go all the way down to the sea. Heck, we’ve been debating if a climb needs to go all the way to the summit, or if a ski descent of a peak needs to leave from the exact summit — now we’ll start debating what it means to “ski to the sea!” It’ll never end. I guess we’re human, and to be human is to question and debate.

  45. AJ September 11th, 2007 1:52 am

    perhaps they should call the route Lost in Translation :-)

  46. Lou October 3rd, 2007 7:17 pm

    AJ, good point!

  47. Lee Lau October 22nd, 2009 12:57 pm
  48. Euro Rob December 22nd, 2009 2:41 am

    In the german version of the film the feat is also pitched as first ski descent, leaving the translation argument just as hand waving. Same for the conversations between Naglich and the other folks. Naglich in his original voice comes across as a total jerk, while Resmann, the other guy that skied from the summit is always calm and actually leading most of the hard pitches during the climb.

    As to the expedition not really working as a team that’s probably because they were set up by Red Bull for marketing criteria, e.g. to include a US guy and stuff. Johnston anyway seems to be a very considerate guy, much to the “disadvantage” of Naglich who seems to be very keen of showing off the tough guy.

  49. Ptor December 22nd, 2009 4:27 am

    sounds like redbullshit!

  50. Lou December 22nd, 2009 6:49 am

    Euro Rob, not to mention the two guides who seemed to provide much of the expertise and skill required… They never looked that impressed with the whole deal.

  51. Euro Rob December 22nd, 2009 7:16 am

    Lou, right, and when the shit hits the fan in the storm during the first attempt it’s Beat Kammerlander stepping up and leading the descent. (Kammerlander is one of the most acknowledged austrian sports- and trad-climbers) Maybe you are referring to him as guide? He’s the long haired not-as-young guy.

  52. Lou December 22nd, 2009 7:42 am

    Yes, and Beat as well, and who knows who else! It seems like they had a cast of thousands up there. Just over the top.

    BTW, does Beat bring along a duffel with 10 changes of those white track suits for lodge lounging? (grin)

  53. Lisko December 22nd, 2009 11:22 am

    All said and commented here is true and full with feelings.
    The movies says alot and still more is in-expressed.
    I’ve lost a very special and dear person to me at this mountain and I feel that the movie maker could put more respect to the climbers who dared to challenge this mountain, no matter what their reasons were or what the outcome was.
    There is no such thing as ‘EURO climber” or “US boyish climber” – there is only good climber who make it or not, depends of the challenges met and the circumstances to overcome.
    The movie maker could show a bit more thoughts and respect to both mountain and climbers not only to paint and to “build” a movie on not succesful attempts or dead.

  54. Andrew December 22nd, 2009 11:53 am

    This is one of the most insulting, infuriating, retarded, pathetic and regrettable ski mountaineering films I have ever seen. I watched it with one of the survivors of the Reid/Martin expedition who was snorting in disgust the entire time. It just adds insult to injury that the Red Bull team had to try to validate their attempt (<— I'm going with "attempt" not descent) by comparing themselves to an earlier team who was trying the peak by fair means.

    It's hard to find fault with Axel, who seemed like a nice guy and is obviously a great skier. The real problem was that the entire undertaking was seemingly scripted as a movie project right from the start by a bunch of marketeers who were clueless about ski mountaineering. It was like "Hmmmm, our story calls for a great mountain and a great skier, so how about if we pick St. Elias and Axel?" It would be pairing Tanner Hall to climb and ski K2. Great skier, great mountain, but a total disconnect.

    I know, I'll be called a whiny hater, but to put it in perspective, the real accomplishment of the Red Bull attempt was going from Hayden Col to the summit and back, and in this regard, it would be like landing a plane at the 14.3 camp on Denali, then going to the summit and back over a period of two days with the assistance of one of the best guides in the world. Yes, fine, good, great, but not really worthy of the history books. In the climbing sense, I don't know if that is really even acknowledged as a legitimate ascent of the peak.

    From Hayden Col down, which they did weeks/months earlier? Whatever. They were landed at the high point by a plane and then guided through the maze of cliffs and crevasses by a helicopter and radios. When they made it to the ocean, they were picked up by an aircraft and flown back, although the film didn't make it clear whether they were flown back to their camp, or directly into the luxury of the Ultima Thule Lodge.

    I only give a rat's ass about this as it is such a great mountain that when/if it is eventually done by fair means, I hope whoever does it gets the full credit they deserve. The Red Bull attempt was more of a ski mountaineering publicity stunt.

  55. Lou December 23rd, 2009 10:21 am

    I have to say I appreciate Andrew just coming out and saying much of what’s been on a lot of our minds. Now that I’ve had time to really think this through, I’m liking the film even less. At least one film festival I know of has nixed it, let’s hope that trend continues. Weak sauce, yep, and that’s putting it mildly.

    Our sport deserves better.

  56. Ptor December 27th, 2009 1:45 am

    Total “Redbullshit”!

  57. Lisko December 29th, 2009 1:25 pm

    I cannot more agree with Andrew. Bravo, YOU are my man, you said it all. You had the guts to speak it out in very correct and respectful manner.
    I tought that it’s only me not liking the movie (actually I like some parts of it) and it’s only me not to understand most of what Red Bull wanted to tell=show us.

    Keep it that way Andrew, Lou – you are right – reading the comments, watching the movie again and again – yes, we started to like it less.
    the public can enjoy the not scenario movie, but we know what its all about.
    peace.

  58. Andrew February 21st, 2010 1:43 pm

    From a non-skier perspective I thought the film was pretty fantastic. I can see from mountaineers who didn’t appreciate lack of historical accuracy, but it doesn’t ruin the film for me.

    What I am most with concerned with is that Lou here, is getting on to them for poor writing when this article is one of the worst written/edited article I have read in a long time. Get an editor!

  59. Lou February 22nd, 2010 7:51 am

    Andrew, give me a million $$$ budget like the film, and you’re hired. Meanwhile, two wrongs don’t make a right (just because I don’t have professional editing doesn’t excuse Red Bull of the same fault). Red Bull has the resources to have done better translation and writing on their website, and could have thus avoided much of this debacle. All that said, I do make an effort to keep the writing on WildSnow at least readable and understandable, sorry if I fell short in any way.

  60. Andrew February 22nd, 2010 8:09 am

    I can’t believe you are making the excuse for poor writing because you are paid “a million $$$.” The production value of the film rivals any Michael Moore, Morgan Spurlock, or any other high end budget documentary. As a film goer, and not a ski activist, the film was entertaining and suspenseful, albeit a little long.

  61. Chris February 22nd, 2010 9:50 am

    I think Lou’s writing and copy editing is in general excellent, especially for a blog. I don’t see any problems with writing in the story above, and this review is important because people may find it and get a clearer idea of the real context for this movie.

  62. Lou February 22nd, 2010 10:21 am

    I did discover the use of “form” as “from,” perhaps that was the problem.

  63. Andrew February 22nd, 2010 10:33 am

    I am not volunteering to be your editor, but I think the Haydon shoulder was greater than 800 vertical feet. Do you want me to point out the rest as well? Because I really don’t want to reread the whole article again.

  64. Lou February 22nd, 2010 10:46 am

    Andrew, it’ll be fine. Don’t reread. As for Haydon shoulder, wasn’t I just saying how far above sea level they quit skiing?

  65. IES January 16th, 2011 1:56 am

    Just saw the flick this eve, and despite it’s professional production (and obviously huge budget), I was put off by the over-hype/dramatization. Also, as a first-hand witness (with Brian-in-slc who posted above) for the party who skied down the other side of St.E in 2000, I didn’t like the RedBull marketing machine taking credit for such a ‘first’ and ignoring this earlier descent. With a little more humility and fewer corporate dollars, my helmet would be off to anyone who is good/lucky enough just to get up that stupendous peak.
    They did do a reasonable job of capturing the “fine” weather that St.E can produce!

  66. StokeDoc September 17th, 2012 2:25 am

    Hey Lou,

    why don’t you simply lay back and enjoy. We have the saying “you can discuss everything to death” (means: by constantly pooping on others accomplioshment.)

    I understand that you as an American have a hard time accepting that Jon was not with the successful team, but that was not his fault.

    He was
    1) not mentally up to what the others too had gone through (and, more power to him, he made a wise decision as family man) and
    2) also unfortunate due to a cultural mismatch, again, not his fault. Everyone could see his permanent stress talking brought jeopardy to the team, The need for permanent communication of distress, happiness, whatever (as form of personal reassurement) is widespread in America, less so in Europe, and definitely not in alpine teams that do stuff like that.

    While you may feel personally insulted and have a hard time of premature American opt-out here (Jon did make a wise decision!) you don’t need to get a hard-on and poop other’s, here: non-Americans’, accomplishments.

    There are people who do stuff lije that for the money (see Mt Everest tourism), and others because they are mountain people. The latter typically don’t have that much money but they don’t care too much about that, needless to say they need to make a living and industrial sponsors help them.

  67. Kevin Starkey September 17th, 2012 7:54 am

    Hey StokeDoc: I came across your “pooping” this morning and found it ironic and humorous as I had to re-read this old article to gain an understanding of your perception which somehow I can’t comprehend. As soon as you began characterizing Lou as an American you lost credibility and painted yourself as a sniveler of uncertain origin. As a member of the international climbing community, I haven’t experienced the country specific attitude you are projecting, nor do I have a sense of your big mountain accomplishments, So please take your anti-American internationalism and stuff it in a poop pit at the base camp of your next 200 meter expedition!

  68. Austin Porzak January 9th, 2013 12:59 pm

    The US version has just been released. I watch this film last night and really enjoyed it! Great job to all involved. Some amazing shots!

    http://www.redbullshop.com/redbull/en/rb-media/mount-st-elias/v/M-110727?ctcCategory=rbm-dvd&pi=0

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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