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Passengers of the Alps

Last winter, two alpinists cooked up the adventure of a lifetime: an epic ski tour across the Alps. Ironically, the only thing missing was snow.

BY: MALLORY BRITTON • Ski • 22.09.2023

“Our thoughts veer towards home and the comforts of a sedentary life, though we realise that we are privileged to ski day after day in these mountains and landscapes…” 

Simon Wuilmart and Guillaume Maret wrote the above on their Instagram last winter while nestled in the mountains of Graubünden, Switzerland. This was February 2023, one month since the two had slept in a proper bed, had more than modest heating or enjoyed a steady power source. Mere details, according to them. The perks of private sunsets and pristine powder were far greater, as was knowing that their only to-do most days was to ski until supper. 

Their independent mountain crossing – an effort dubbed “The ALP Project” – was a three-month ride from Salzburg, Austria to Menton, France: a journey across the Alpine arc covering 34 glaciers, 1,000 kilometres and 80,000m of elevation. 

They gave themselves three months to transition from rugged mountainsides to Mediterranean waters, mostly on skis. Standing in their way: a good base, which had yet to form across much of Europe. 

grassy patch 3
both guys in blackcomb
team Alp
skinning uphill_very snowy
crossing glacier

Ski touring the Alpine arc 

Originally from Belgium and France, respectively, Simon and Guillaume grew up skiing and trekking mountains; as adults, that passion morphed into ski tours and alpine climbs. After a couple adventures together, they both wanted to raise the stakes, explained Simon during an interview at ODLO’s offices last May. Thus, the ALP Project began to take shape with the next few months dedicated to cartography, avalanche safety, alpine climbing and risk management courses. From there, they joined an alpine club to test themselves before plotting a route and seeking out partners. 

Determined to work with eco-minded organisations, they signed on with ODLO to wear-test upcoming winter apparel. Others joined, too. They partnered with Protect Our Winters and committed to trek sustainably via public transport, by skiing, on foot, or, worst case, by thumbing a ride as needed and where possible. Their evening refuges were low waste and low impact, which suited them just fine. 

“We were merely passengers of the Alps,” said Simon, “there to bear witness to their beauty, not to make an impact while passing through.” 

On January 23, Simon and Guillaume loaded up their 45L, 15kg backpacks and started walking from the centre of Salzburg. Those first nights they slept badly, withstood cracking skin and braced some early storms. “At first it was hard,” said Guillaume. “But after a few weeks, we started to feel the mountains and get into a rhythm.” 

Soon, decisions came faster and transitions from skiing to walking got smoother. On navigation: they stuck to their route or followed chamois tracks where it seemed a better option. 

toward the refuge
downhill landscape
climbing the glacier
route planning
grassy patch 2
bluebird day

Four seasons, three months 

On top of 450 hours spent on skis, Simon and Guillaume unexpectedly did a lot of walking at altitude in places where snow was a certainty only a couple of years ago. 

“During the three months, we had a lot of different weather,” said Guillaume. “In January, as we went through Austria and Germany, it was super cold with a lot of snow. But then in February, we were in Switzerland, and the weather was really warm. We had to walk a lot more than we planned.” 

An unseasonably warm winter and snow drought across much of the Alps yielded green patches at 2,400m. Abandoning their skis, the two would be left to hike in only base layers as average temps that felt not so average. 

“Quick drying, perfectly fit to the body and well-designed in collaboration with Protect Our Winters, the Blackcomb base layer is one of the best we have ever used,” they said. 

When there was a snowpack to cross, they did it in different mid and outer layers – and by our calculations, levied three seasons worth of use in three months. When cell signal allowed, they checked in via WhatsApp to chat about the products. 

“We loved working with these guys throughout their journey and meeting with them in the office for a full feedback session,” said Davide la Piana, senior designer at ODLO. “With their help, we were able to confirm our proof of concept as well as implement some changes.”

refuge bunkbeds
skinning uphill
beard trimming
cooking at refuge
digging snow at refuge

Over the 22-week expedition, the duo interviewed guides, refuge guardians and glaciologists whom they met with to talk about the changes they’d witnessed. These interviews, as well as images from the journey itself, will be featured in a short film set to release in 2024. They eventually reached Menton by bike in late April. 

Thinking back on the trip, the two tell stories of bone-chilling sleeps, sipping beers while overlooking the Austrian alps, marmots playing peek-a-boo as winter turned to spring and views from 4,000 metres that few get to see. 

In the end, ski-touring was their platform to witness the changes we now all feel. Where they, and the challenges confronting mountain playgrounds, turn for their next act remains an open question. 

“We are proud of this adventure and that we could do it carbon-free,” they said. “We all need to do our part to take care of our garden, our beautiful Alps.” 


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