A peek through the global window
WEST VAIL – Nothing says excitement like being hurdled through an avalanche on a Swiss glacier. And living to tell the tale.For the last 25 years, professional mountain guide Jean Pavillard has made his way around the globe, going from sea level to 20,000 feet and from 0 to 88 degrees latitude in the span of a year. Pavillard said while risk management is the most important aspect of his job, he’s learned that risk is something that evolves hand-in-hand with experience.”It’s like a pilot. You finish your certification, but you don’t know anything. You’ve just got the training,” he said. “Every year, you become a little more skilled. At first the risk is higher than the skill. Then, after you gain experience, your skills increase. You’re better at managing the risk, but every time you do, you’re pushing the limits more. You’re more at risk because of the skill you gain. Then, one day, you have a warning. That warning comes about every 10 years.”
All it takes is a triggerAnd it may only come once, for others to learn from. Pavillard has had the luck to walk away from all the warnings he’s received through the years, but some escapes came narrowly. Five years ago, he was with eight ski clients on a glacier in Switzerland, and while he had had lots of experience triggering avalanches, this trip marked the first time he was caught in a slide.”I noticed a big wind slab and I thought I’d cut below it to trigger a slide,” he said. “When I triggered the slide, it actually started way above me. I couldn’t ski out. I was laying in a washing machine. When the avalanche got over a slab, for some reason, the snow in front of me slowed down. So when I hit that snow, it created a hump, it pushed me above the surface and I was able to ski out. It took some convincing to get my clients down that afterwards.”Pavillard, who was born and raised in Switzerland, but who resides in Crested Butte, leads tours all over the world 260 days a year. He has his own mountain guide company – Adventures to the Edge – and is the president of the American Institute of Avalanche Research and Education. In March, he’ll head to Tibet for three months to attempt to summit Mt. Everest. His nearest success in the area was conquering Everest’s neighboring peak, Mt. Cho Oyu, which summits out at 8,200 meters. After flying home for a month, he’ll be off to the Alps and then to South America. Pavillard admits to have undergone many “close calls” in his travels, but he said that uncertainty is always the element that keeps the ball rolling.
“I will say when nothing is certain, everything is possible,” he said. “There is plenty of uncertainty. My job is to anticipate it and manage it to create a smooth trip.”Pavillard has trekked through the tropics of the Galapagos Islands to the unfathomable subzero climates of Antarctica’s highest peaks.”It’s always intense when navigating in total white out (conditions),” he said. “The pressure is tiring, especially when the temperature is going down fast and close to -50 (degrees). An amazing experience would be like during a five-day storm on the Denali high camp and we latch the tents with ropes and build a high snow wall around them to protect us against the wind, but each day during the storm, the wind will blow away the snow wall.”The beauty and the company
Having seen the world from angles most of us only read about or see in documentaries, Pavillard has trouble pinning down one place he could classify as the most beautiful. “So many beautiful places,” he said. “I love Antarctica for its solitude, Tibet for the majestic mountains, South America for the ice cream-shaped mountains, the Alps for their technical challenges …” While always being the leader might wear on some people, Pavillard thrives on sharing his experiences with clients and being at the helm.”The activity and the physical aspect is great, but more than anything else in mountain guiding, you have to enjoy being with people,” he said. “You have to want to share things with people, lead the people and work with them for their benefit and towards their goals. That’s what counts.”And, as far as sharing his adventures with rapt audiences, Pavillard always has the same aim.
“I want to share something I’ve lived intensely – discovering together other cultures, other people and other ways of life,” he said. “I want to provide a window into adventures that span the globe.”Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 610, or firstname.lastname@example.org.Vail, Colorado