Monday, 17 September 2012

Piolets d’Or and its future

This is an email I have sent to the organizers of the Piolets d’Or with regards to the Piolets d'Or Survey they are conducting. 

"Hi, I was sent this by someone who has received the Piolets d’Or Survey and he asked me to spend some time answering the questions. I’m not sure why he didn’twant to answer them himself. I have not received a request to answer the questions directly from Tromsdorff but I have, on behalf of some outlets such as Alpinist Online and Explorersweb, covered the event on my own blog. And since I was asked to share my thoughts, these are my two cents worth. 

I guess you can throw my thoughts in the trash or use them. "


Subject: Piolets d'Or Survey

Hello, bonjour,

After the 20th edition of the Piolets d’Or last March and after 4 years of the “new” Piolets d’Or in Chamonix/Courmayeur, we are conducting a project review and would like to ask you (as a participant in the event in the last years) for feedback and input.

Please make sure you reply to xxxxxxx who will collect all feedback.

Thanks a lot in advance for your time !

In the name of the organisation committee,

Christian Trommsdorff

1) Reminder : major evolutions from before 2009 :

General :
- the intention is to create a public cultural international event promoting ethical alpinism
- strong partnership with public bodies (collectivités locales et territoriales) Chamonix and Rhones-Alpes region on the french side, and Courmayeur/Aosta region on the italian side
(before there were only Montagnes Mag and GHM, and a bit of private partners, such as Grivel or Simond)
- fixed location in Chamonix/cCourmayeur at foot of Mt Blanc, cradle of alpinism, event over several days
- progressive development of parnerships across the world (Piolets d'or Asia (existed since 2005)), IMS, Rencontres du Cinema de Montagne de Grenoble, Graz film festival, Trento)
- all private sponsors on equal footing, no influence on the event setup

Award process :

- clear charter (see website)
- multiple recipients possible (motive is to create a less competitive style than before 2009)
- career award (Bonatti, Messner, Scott, Paragot)
- no more organisers in the jury (before GHM and Montagnes had a vote in the jury
- highly competent jury members and presidents
- jury and not organisers do the nominations
- partnership with the AAJ, more work on the initial "big list" for completeness

2) Feedback and input :

Please feel free to give us any feedback  on the points above.

The structure above is good with the one exception that the charter does not specifically demand that the jury deliberations are open to the public and become an integral part of the event. That would increase the public interest in the event and I think the perception that it is an elitist event would gradually change. However in a world of mainstream events, I think the basic idea to promote pure alpine style climbing per se makes the event interesting to a select few and slightly elitist. But why is that wrong? Don't we have an obligation to be true to the developments and the fact that style does matter and that the summit is not the way to measure successes but the style in which the summit was reached is the key factor?

Several key points for the future :? 

2a- Awards/ just nominations / no awards : there have been a lot discussions around the concept of awards, many are OK with the current format, many also feel we should just organise a festival to bring together alpinists, an intermediate solution would be to have just nominations; in any case the Piolets d’Or identity relies on promoting ethical alpinism where style comes first. With no awards or nominations, it would not be easy to keep the support of the (mainly public) partners who fund the event. The reality is that the mountaineers community is poor.

I'm ambivalent to the fact that a select few on a jury get to say this ascent out of the nominated is getting an award and that one is not. Would a combination of a jury and open presentations and deliberations combined with an online public voting process be a middle ground? Or a new way to open up the event? Make climbers influence what they like? Why not run the event live with the help of IFSC TV? The organization then would have to go online and be much more active on and in social media to attract attention. If IFSC was sending the presentations and deliberations live I think quite a few would tune in and follow the event and as they chat it would enable direct questions to the jury as well as to the nominated climbers. Interactivity and public transparency can never lessen interest. 

I think this would enable funding to stay in place or even grow as the event gets more transparent and reaches a wider audience. The financial backers would get more bang for their  invested cash. Why limit the people you seek feedback from to a select few? Put this on your website and ask for opinions. Involve volunteers if the event grows. Set up meetings where Q& A sessions with the nominated climbers are held live via IFSC TV. 

 Also we would like to evolve the Piolets d’Or charter to include some important specific points around the “transparency of means” criteria :  there are issues around bolting, level of amateurism/professionalism, mediatisation (what R. Messner calls “show alpinism”), use of drugs.

- It should be MANDATORY for each nominated team to supply a list of medication taken during the entire duration of the expedition. Why not involve IFFREMONT? For example Diamox is a prohibited substance under current WADA regulations. So in theory any one who is a member in a climbing federation who is part of UIAA is under the WADA rules and in breach of them if they perform with the use of Diamox. Other popular drugs such as Percocet  and Dexamethasone etc etc are all performance enhancing as well as painkillers taken to push harder on approaches and descents. 

- Mediatisation? The climbing world is not so full of cash so as to discriminate against any one who through media is able to fund his or her passion of climbing.  This would be a step in the wrong direction such that only professional climbers would end up being able to get out and do what they like. I think there is more basic stuff you as the organizer should focus on in terms of improving the event. 

- Bolting and use of style and fixed ropes, stashing gear and returning to a high point etc all has to be disclosed and part of what constitutes a good enough ascent. For example,  the late Athol Whimp who climbed some cutting edge stuff using capsule style. These are still admirable ascents and still enable the next generation to try and improve the style when someone goes for a repeat. 

2b- Opening the event up to the wider public : the event is often considered as too elitist and not opened enough to non-specialist mountaineers and to the general public; we look for ideas on how to better communicate the state of the art alpinism.

See above in my initial comments. 

2c- Piolets d’Or Rock : Currently only few rock climbs get nominated; in order to increase the influence and ethical considerations on rock climbs, there could be a separate rock award.

Is not Arco doing this? It would have to be fairly strict and/or restricted to Alpine Rock climbing on altitude. But why not? I think that would be an interesting development and for sure would widen the audience. 

2d- Piolets d’Or Ski : similar idea for ski-mountaineering; there is a lot of discrete activity in some places but no international reference on what is being done.

As above, ski descents like Andreas Fransson’s of the Denali is a worthy candidate and something I think would be much appreciated and again would widen the audience. 

Finally I think a camaraderie award would be a good addition. To show how the alpine climbing community is there to help when no rescue is around the corner. Like the efforts made in Patagonia this past season and many seasons before. Or Simon Anthamatten’s attempt to rescue Thomas Humar etc just to mention a few. 

Also on a special note I think the late Athol Wimp should be given a lifetime achievement award!

All the best 



I have copied a few media outlets, I hope this response will push things in a more open direction and I hope no one feels offended by it. I only do this to help develop an event I very much support and think is doing a lot of good for the world of alpine climbing. 


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