Lessons of the high-alpine: A conversation with Chamonix mountain guide Vivian Bruchez

Lessons of the high-alpine: A conversation with Chamonix mountain guide Vivian Bruchez


WORDS • Andy Cochrane


“I want to share things, not show things,” said Vivian Bruchez, in a matter of fact way. At 33, the IFMGA-certified guide, professional skier and father of two has entered the next chapter in his career. “I’m not worried about big jumps, huge lines or races anymore. My work is about education.”

Born and raised in Chamonix, Bruchez is fluent in French, English, and the parlance of big mountains. His roots run deep in the valley, dating back nearly 400 years. Both of his parents worked as ski instructors and, along with his two siblings, Bruchez started alpine racing at just four-years-old. At 16 he switched to freeride competitions. After four years in the high stakes circuit, he decided to leave and focus on guiding.

“I remember thinking: ‘If I can climb that, I can ski it, too,’ and this got me into steep skiing. There is so much around the Chamonix, which definitely inspired me. It felt like a natural transition to the discipline.” said Bruchez, who maintain contracts with Mountain Hardwear, Dynastar, and Julbo, among others.

As a young racer, Bruchez had dreamed of going to the Olympics. “I always wanted to be the best but I never felt pressure from my parents, or my family, or friends around Chamonix. The motivation just came from inside me.” Bruchez now realizes part of his love for skiing was the connection to friends. “It gave us a chance to just play in the mountains. That’s the part I didn’t see right away.”

This social element was, at least in part, what brought Bruchez to guiding more than a decade ago. More recently, it pushed him to focus on projects that teach. “I work as both a guide and professional skier, trying to balance the two. For now, I’m focused on films that inspire and educate. Just like sharing [my] vision with clients, I hope these films teach people about the mountains.”

Bruchez’s latest project, A Steep Spring, follows him and fellow mountain guide Mathéo Jacquemoud as they ski six iconic peaks in the French Alps, including the Matterhorn, Eiger and Mont-Blanc. With a goal to immerse viewers and illustrate how fragile the environment is, Bruchez partnered with L’Equipe, the largest media company in France, and employed a three-dimensional model to make the sereies amazingly interactive and immersive for the online audience.

Most of the routes in A Steep Spring were not highly technical steep skiing, but for Bruchez, that was alright. Instead of tackling first descents, he was happy to explore new places. “I find a lot of motivation if I don’t know the mountain. Even home in Chamonix, I try to climb up and ski down a different way every time. This way I’m always learning. This curiosity drives me.”

A comfortable perch in the Alps. PHOTO: Courtesy of Vivian
A (more) comfortable perch in the Alps. PHOTO: Alex Buisse

Despite an early start into steep skiing, it took a decade for Bruchez to see things this way. “Maybe four or five years ago my vision began to change. I had learned the technical skills and was curious about snow and how to read the mountain. It forced me to keep my eyes open. I ski in the Mont Blanc Massif almost everyday and every time I see something different. The wind, snow or light is different.”

Bruchez says this switch started on an expedition with big-mountain athlete Killian Jornet in Alaska. “In 2014, we went to Denali for two weeks. He wanted to do a fast ascent and ski down, so I offered some advice and helped film. It’s still one of my favorite moments in the mountains. The snow was cold and light, which made me want to travel and see different types of snow. I don’t know where this will take me, but I just want to learn.”

This curiosity eventually brought Bruchez to the Himalaya. “High altitude skiing started in earnest last year, investing in months of training and preparation. My goal isn’t to just go higher, but to discover something new. I’m curious what it’ll feel like. This gives me motivation to push myself.” Bruchez said, talking about his goal to ski the North Ridge of Dhaulagiri, his first 8,000 meter peak, in the fall. 

Vivan Bruchez is bringing the high-alpine experience to the masses. PHOTO: Alex Buisse

For most of the spring, his dreams had to wait. Like the rest of France, Chamonix had been under strict quarantine restrictions. “It’s been a couple months. We can only go one kilometer from our house and [up] 100 vertical meters, so skiing hasn’t been possible. The police enforce this pretty strictly with fines. The restrictions are set to lift [soon]… I’m excited to breath in the mountains and feel free again.” After we spoke to Bruchez, Chamonix actually opened the Aguille du Midi—with strict safety protocols—bringing out some of Cham’s finest freeriders for a long awaited big-mountain lap.

Instead of skiing, Bruchez stayed in shape by doing interval workouts on an indoor bike and spending time with his two daughters. “The younger one is just six months, so it’s really nice to spend a lot of time with my family. I’m trying to stay fit as best I can, but it’s also really important to me to be a dad.”

While at home, Bruchez had also been working on a series of videos he self-titled STIPS. “It’s a hybrid of steep and tips. The idea was to do one and see how it goes. I received a lot of great messages after that so I’ve made a few more. I had some snow in my gardens and thought: ‘If I can make a two meter wall, I can explain some steep skiing techniques. It wasn’t for sponsors, just for people who follow me. It’s the same things that I teach to clients in the Alps.”

CLICK HERE TO WATCH VIVIAN’S FULL STIPS SERIES

Bruchez encourages all skiers to practice on easier terrain first, before attempting harder routes. “The STIPS series was a way to help people break down what they think is impossible. Doing it somewhere easier and building the confidence and skills will help them when they get to the hard stuff. ”

The videos show Bruchez, on his homemade wall of snow, demonstrating the positioning, balance and form of basic maneuvers like kick turns and taking his skis on and off. “When I ski in the mountains I try new things everyday, new hacks and new equipment, so I’m trying to share these tricks with my followers. Everything I’ve learned in the last 10 years. Next, I plan to talk more about equipment, like what bindings to use and when to use helmets.”

Bruchez says his goal with STIPS, along with ski guiding and filmmaking, is to help others get outside, enjoy the mountains and realize the importantance of the outdoor experience. “I believe that to be rich comes from experience, not from money or work. I want to help teach everyone that.”





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