Arc’teryx Alpine Academy | Learning The Ways Of The Mountains In Chamonix
Our intern had never been to the mountains before so, when the chance came, we packed him off to the French Alps for a weekend of outdoor skills development with our friends at Arc'teryx. Here's how he got on...
At the start of July, over 1,000m above sea level, Chamonix-Mont-Blanc hosted the 11th Arc’teryx Alpine Academy. It’s an important part of the wider Arc’teryx Academy Programme, becoming a major date on the calendar for mountain enthusiasts, and an event where one of the coolest names in the outdoor apparel industry can show off by giving something back to the community. Mpora wanted to give it another good looking into (we’ve been before), and decided to send the intern with no alpine experience to do the legwork.
From amateurs to athletes, the epic four-day event sees Canadian brand Arc’teryx welcome mountain fanatics to a weekend of immersing themselves in the outdoors. Intimate clinics with experienced guides take place around the clock, interluded with music, films, and workshops that keep Chamonix hot with alpine fever. Everything here emits that sense of adventure you associate with Arc’teryx, so when a burst of thunderstorm struck on day one it was no surprise to see everyone come out of it completely dry. This was Gore-Tex heaven, with everyone kitted out and ready for the interchangeable conditions of the French Alps. And, well, if they weren’t the gear library made sure they could be.
“This was Gore-Tex heaven, with everyone kitted out and ready for the interchangeable conditions of the French Alps”
The ‘Alpine Village’ warmly welcomes us with DJs by day and films by night. Each bright afternoon, tunes sound throughout the centre of Chamonix and keep us two-stepping from clinics to workshops; more often than not there’s a pint in our hands and a smile on our faces. A pop-up bouldering wall invites guests to try their hand at a climb whilst workshops offer us the chance to explore the processes behind Arc’teryx products in more detail.
Research and Development give us a glimpse into the preparation each bit of kit goes through during its infancy, Testing shows off the clever waterproofing verification the fabric goes through, while the Repairs stand offers us a chance to witness the art form of putting outdoor gear back together and making it functional once more.
Then, when the buzz of each day has settled, the town centre transforms into an outdoor cinema. Enthusiasts gather beneath the stars to sit with each other and watch films new and old. There’s world premieres of films which keep Chamonix buzzing well into the night, and Saturday night’s showing of The Alpinist (2020) pays perfect tribute to the late climber Marc-André Leclerc; leaving those of us who hadn’t got round to seeing it before both speechless and inspired.
Each morning sees a rush of coffee and energy-bar-consumers gravitating towards the very heart of Chamonix, and the preparation for the Alpine Academy clinics ahead. The clinics cover every aspect of mountain-enthusiasm, from more athletic climbing and trail running offerings to more mountaineering-focused and trail maintenance based endeavours. For a beginner, such as myself, it’s all very exciting. It’s clear to those around me that I can’t wait to get stuck into Le Brévent, the mountain massif of choice for my clinics.
As our team of budding photographers makes its way via the café to the upper reaches of Le Brévent, the Mountain Photography clinic ahead of us is explained in detail by guides Octavio Defazio and none other than our inaugural Shutter Life competition winner Julia Roger-Veyer. These were safe hands to be in (the safest, in fact), and everyone present knew it.
“I couldn’t get enough of connecting the lens of my Olympus XA2 to the world-bending scenery on offer here”
The peak of Le Brévent marks the start of our short hike to the first shooting location, where a rock pool forms the foreground of a scene backdropped by the occasional sighting of the Mont Blanc massif through the clouds. Arc’teryx athlete Martin Kerr models for our shots, running as close and as far away from the lens as we want. Having the opportunity to work with a model is exciting for everyone there, and a first time thing for me and my photographic career. I relish the chance to explore a completely new style of photography that isn’t just about reacting to the environment, but about capturing someone who’s moving through it and interacting with its ups and downs at speed.
I’d never been to the Alps before and immediately I couldn’t get enough of connecting the lens of my Olympus XA2 to the world-bending scenery on offer here. Suddenly, I had a sense of control and a confident urge to shoot environments I’d not explored before. I was hooked already.
The weather conditions are on shuffle, as clouds approach us from a distance and out of nowhere. The ever-changing scenery is ideal from a mountain photography clinic’s point of view, with natural light being softened and altered by clouds of every size and shape, but it also underlines the need to wear the correct attire. Kit wise, my Arc’teryx Beta Jacket forms a permanent outer layer that keeps those alpine winds out when I’m frozen to the spot for the shot. It also manages to be highly breathable when we’re on the move to our next spot.
Arc’teryx’s Cormac short sleeve maintains the breathability levels under the Beta, while on my feet the Norvan LD 3s could easily be mistaken for one of those alpine clouds we keep seeing (such is the nature of their comfy, floaty, feel). A lightweight shoe that propped me up comfortably on the terrain, the third instalment of the Norvan series meant few angles were out of reach for me and no shot I wanted to pursue was limited by my choice of footwear.
Day two calls for a little more intensity. The Acclimatisation and Alpine Skills clinic is a known favourite amongst our guides, with Andy Perkins, a well-seasoned professional, leading my group in style. The clinic provides an unexpected opportunity to test my alpine abilities – something that, up until that morning, had extended as far as watching documentaries and thinking things like ‘You’ll never catch me in a situation where I have to cling to the face of a mountain for dear life.’
I soon find myself in the situation. My fear of heights gives way to a fear of falling, something far less psychological and seemingly far more realistic. The nerves really kick in when I’m straddling one of Le Brévent’s aiguilles. Pausing for a breath but also, maybe, freezing a little from fear, Andy spider-mans down to me and lends a hand; offering kind words that seem utterly at odds with the extremity of the mountains that surround us.
We’re on a tricky route, one where every ascent comes with a descent and, through a series of hops and carefully worked abseils, the group gets to the know the mountain well. The flora between my fingers smell of gin, the shining rocks have duller sides to them I find just as interesting visually-speaking, and the marmots’ call echoes through the valleys (they don’t, it turns out, shout “Alan!” or “Steve!”).
I regularly find myself giving stern words to Le Brevent and, throughout the experience, I think it must be able to hear me as my face is often just an inch from the rock. I’m not fond of the look it keeps giving me. I couldn’t blame it though for being annoyed, my shoes consistently and rather aggressively graze its sides as I creep on upwards. The realisation that I’m not going to slip, when it finally comes, greatly enhances my confidence (I’ll thank the shoe’s impressive grip for this).
After a day of climbing, scrambling, and scraping against the mountain’s surface, I proudly look back at the summit of Le Brévent with a body of bruises, scratches, and a sense of achievement. My Beta Pants though? Unscathed. They look brand new and, you sense, probably feel slightly embarrassed by some of my dramatics on Le Brévent. I was sure I’d sent a rip down the left side of the Gore-Tex fabric after a slip on a snowy patch but the pants, of course, prevailed.
“I soon find myself in the situation. My fear of heights gives way to a fear of falling”
My last night in the French Alps is seen off with ‘The Scene’, a mega gig backdropped (unsurprisingly) by the Mont Blanc massif. The sound of catch-ups and the clinking of drinks is also, of course, a constant. An energetic performance of jazz and hip-hop from Toronto’s Badbadnotgood prepares us for the big headline act, immaculately covering the likes of MF DOOM and Litto Nebbia under the guise of “Just messin’ ’round, guys, just havin’ some fun!”
As the sun begins to set on our time in Chamonix, Giles Peterson rises; sending the crowd into euphoria as he mixes the likes of Steely Dan with the works of Bicep. These sorts of pairings roll on throughout the evening, with GP cooly sipping a glass of wine as he holds the aux for the Chamonix Valley.
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