MORE CONTROVERSY FOR THE PIOLET D'OR

Posted on: January 5, 2007


Legendary Slovenian alpinist Andrej Stremfelj, after his first ascent, with Rok Zalokar, of Nepalís Janak Chuli, in 2006. In late 2006, the selection of the 2007 Piolet díOr nominees was imposed solely by Montagnes Magazine, without consulting the founding partner in the prize, Franceís Groupe de Haute Montagne (GHM), and without waiting for each member of this yearís jury to propose their own list, as has been customary. The GHM believes this behavior will cause the event to look like a journalistic prize, possibly affected by commercialism, and has withdrawn its participation. Stremfelj, winner, with Marko Prezelj, of the inaugural Piolet díOr in 1991, was the appointed jury president for the 2007 prize; he has resigned as well. [Photo] Rok Zalokar

Like Madonna, the Piolet d'Or has an enduring ability to cause controversy. The 2007 award is no exception.

The history behind this prestigious French award is simple. By the start of the 1990s it was becoming increasingly difficult in France to raise money for mountaineering expeditions. Gone were the halcyon days of the '80s, when corporate sponsorship was more freely available, and the time had not yet arrived when individual mountaineers, as opposed to rock climbing superstars, could raise enough backing to finance a career. Additionally, the Federation Francais de Montagnes et Escalade (French Federation of Mountains and Climbing) no longer had any money for expeditions, its "Annapurna Treasure Chest"—money left over from the early national expeditions to Annapurna—now empty. The then-president of the Groupe de Haute Montagne (High Mountain Group, or GHM), well-known alpinist Jean Claude Marmier, came up with a solution that would show a wider audience all that was great and good about contemporary mountaineering: an annual prize for the most outstanding achievement in the world of alpinism. For this he had to attract widespread publicity with the media and enlisted the support of Guy Chaumereuil, then-editor of Montagnes Magazine, a very successful Grenoble-based monthly. Montagnes joined forces with the GHM and the Piolet d'Or was born.

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As detailed in Issue 16's eight-page article on the subject, "Victors of the Unwinnable,"by Ian Parnell, the history of the Piolet d'Or is riddled with dispute. True to form, the 2007 prize has already generated the opening salvos of controversy.

This December, five teams were short-listed for the prize, but according to the GHM and its president, Leslie Fuscko, the selection was imposed solely by Montagnes Magazine, without waiting for each member of this year's jury to propose their own list, as has been customary. Appalled by this behavior, which the GHM believes will cause the event to look like a journalistic prize, possibly affected by commercialism, it has decided to withdraw its participation. The appointed jury president for the 2007 award, legendary Slovenian mountaineer Andrej Stremfelj (who won the inaugural prize, and who penned the Issue 18, The Weight of Thin Air, on his 2006 first ascent of Janak), has also resigned.

This year's nominations include two from former Soviet republics, two from Slovenia and one from Great Britain. While all were, naturally, notable achievements during 2006, many climbers will be disturbed to find a number of glaring omissions, which if a short-list limit of five is imposed, should arguably have deserved preference. The nominations are: Boris Lorencic and Marko Prezelj from Slovenia for their alpine-style first ascent of the elegant northwest pillar of Chomo Lhari (7326m) on the remote Bhutan-Tibet border, a 2000-meter route with difficulties up to M6+ (Prezelj won the first Golden Ice Axe with Stremfelj in 1991); Pavle Kozjek (Slovenia) for his partial new route, solo and in a single push, on the southwest face/west ridge of Cho Oyu (8188m), the first time a new route has been climbed on an 8000-meter peak in one day; Kazakhs Sergei Samoilov and Denis Urubko, for their new route climbed in alpine-style on the northeast face of Manaslu (8163m), an achievement already awarded the newly created Piolet d'Or of Asia; Ukrainians Igor Chaplinsky, Andrej Rodiontsev and Orest Verbitsky for their first ascent of the north ridge of Shingu Charpa (a.k.a. the Great Tower, 5600m) in Pakistan's Nangma Valley, 1500 meters up to 5.11d and some aid; British climbers Tim Emmett and Ian Parnell for their first ascent, alpine-style, of the southeast pillar of Kedar Dome (6830m), 1500 meters of rock to 5.11c followed by a corniced crest of 500 meters to the summit.

Per usual, the year's omissions are at least as notable as the nominees. Missing from the lineup are accomplishments such as Jed Brown and Colin Haley's alpine-style first ascent of the massive, and massively remote, north face of Mt. Moffit; Louis-Philippe Menard and Maxime Turgeon's alpine-style new route, the Canadian Direct, on Denali; and Jozef "Dodo" Kopold and Gabo Cmarik's alpine-style new route on Uli Biaho Tower. Climbers are declining participation in the event with increasing frequency: two years ago, Parnell withdrew his ascent, with John Varco, of the southwest face of Saf Minal, from consideration; last year, Rolando Garibotti, Ermanno Salvaterra and Alessandro Beltrami withdrew theirs, of the first ascent of the north face of Cerro Torre. Montagnes Magazine confirms the event will still take place on January 26 in Grenoble.

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