Declination: Skiing the Whillans Ramp, Argentina, Patagonia

whillans ramp 660The Whillans Ramp is a dramatic, exposed bit of slash line on the east face of Aguja Poincenot in Argentina, a moderate climb but ridiculous ski line. Last year, Swede Andreas Fransson put down the first tracks on a slope he called 60-plus degrees. It was a dodgy business, with a double fall line that pulled toward massive cliffs and just 20 centimeters of snow atop ice, but Fransson, as is his wont, nailed it.

He likely won’t ski anything that sketchy again, he says. The video will make your heart pound, but his introspective words should give respect.

“I don’t see the point in repeating something dangerous when you have already reaped the rewards,” he write, “and I can’t see any more rewards coming out from this trail, so therefore I feel it’s highly unlikely I would do something like this again.

“It’s arguable if skiing on this level is skiing anymore and as I sidestepped about half the run I wouldn’t call it very stylish. On the other hand, in my reality, in these conditions I would be extremely impressed if someone would ski the whole thing with ‘style,’ and although surely possible it would be a game with very low odds of success trying to do turns where I could barely get my skis to stick while sidestepping.

“For me this whole business comes down to two things: where does extreme skiing stand as a sport within the skiing game and how are we supposed to judge anything that is done in the mountains?”

Still later, with more time to think about his accomplishment, Fransson wrote, “Before that trip I used to think that I could ski anything that is white on a mountain. When I got to the ramp I got partly amazed, partly intimidated on how the snow was sticking to these ultra steep slopes that I almost felt uncomfortable climbing up. I mean, 60 degrees ice climbing is a piece of cake, but when it’s on powder snow with rock slabs underneath, then it’s getting interesting. So while climbing up this snow ramp on the other side of the world I realized that: this is it – this is the perfect line to ski where all my knowledge from a life in the mountains comes together. This is the steepest and most exposed line I had the chance to ski, and I’m happy leaving it at that and grateful finding something like this in a lifetime. Now it’s time to extend my experience in other directions.”

It’s human nature, I suppose, that we expect our heroes and role models always to go bigger, steeper, faster, rarely stopping to acknowledge that the world of physical things has limits and, so, too, does the inner landscape. Kudos to Fransson for pushing the margin as far as anyone, then knowing when to say, “Enough.”


Declination is other places, other spaces, and the things that happen there.

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