Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Piolet d'Or 2010 The Alpinism Oscars

What's the point in having an "Oscars" for Alpinism? If we look at the Piolets d'Or in the same way we look at grading, something which is highly subjective and only interesting to climbers who aspire to do the route being graded, it can be a fun event to follow. First of all, we have to remember the controversy that has surrounded this event in the past. Having a few guys telling a few other guys that they did a route unworthy of the award is crazy. It’s all a strange game and some climbers try to make a statement by refusing to be nominated while others try to be part of the circus and influence the outcome.

I'm in the latter category. For me personally, it's a fun event and a great way to meet friends, socialize and climb. The organizers have tried to take the edge off some of the past emotions by introducing a new format where five or six teams are nominated and more than one award can be given, for example in categories emphasizing "technical difficulty", "commitment" and "exploration". I guess in theory one team can grab all three awards but this is a highly unlikely scenario. In this year's bag is a nice mix of great achievements, some maybe better than others, some more hyped than others but the key element is that they are all great achievements, illustrating the beauty of the pure alpine challenge and in the age of relentless commercialism, over-hyping of 8000m 'heroes' and even blatant fraudulence to gain entry to this club, the appeal of the alpine ideal should not be allowed to dim.

To further widen the event and make it less about comparing and judging, the organizers have also included a "life-time achievement" award. Last year's recipient, to everyone's joy, was the rehabilitated Walter Bonatti. This year, Reinhold Messner will be honored with the award, and again I think few will object. It's hard to see that this can really upset anyone as long as it recognizes style before public glory.

I personally will pay most attention to the "Spirit of Mountaineering" award. This is given to climbers who risk it all in order to try and save fellow climbers stuck where no one else can get to them. This might not be the coolest award in alpine climbing, but in my opinion, and up against the possible style squabbles separating the achievements of the Piolet d'Or contenders, it is only truly interesting and unequivocally deserved award on offer.

At the end of the day, the Piolet d'Or is like most things in life a matter of taste and choice. I think that, independent of who walks away with the axe(s), it's a great way to promote alpinism and alpine climbing. I think it's a great way for climbers who do not prioritize the running of a well-oiled PR machine to end up in the spotlight and receive some public recognition for their efforts in the Greater Ranges, which remain an enduring bastion of adventure on our over-civilized planet. Let's face it: at the end of the day, an award has a huge value to the recipient, not only privately, in terms of that recognition for many years of quiet striving, but also commercially. It might not change the world, but it can certainly change the opportunities to find sponsors and partners for future projects, and thus act as a springboard for a climbing career.