Opinion » Range Rover

The Unbearable Lightness of Being



Leslie, we have to talk." Seated facing each other in a converted Icelandic barn, hemmed by a clutter of skis, duffels and empties, Andreas Fransson leaned forward, elbows on knees, hands clasped, looking directly into my eyes, his own orbs making the big, gulping blinks that meant he was excited. As always he was curt, quiet, sincere, intense, and... somehow strangely vulnerable. He was one of the few people I've known who oscillated so completely between human and superhuman, often in the same instant, where the failings of emotion grounded him with the rest of us while his achievements in the mountains elevated him to the pantheon of alpine gods.

"Of course," I'd answered, though we'd already been talking incessantly for days. During ping-pong throwdowns and self-styled yoga sessions, in the sauna and over lattes in a dockside café, punctuating endless hours in the back of the van or yelling into the wind while touring, we'd covered the extensive ground each of us seemingly saved up for the other. Science, philosophy, history, books, what we thought about this, that, and, well... everything else. Like the effortless chatter of a good date.

Andreas' interests were broad and three-dimensional, his attention to them often electric. That much I knew even before we'd met in 2012, when he'd arrived in Whistler to work with Mike Douglas on Tempting Fear; I'd read his journal entries from the script, impressed with the existential reach of his musings. Unlike more ham-fisted seekers who turn quickly from one superficial obsession to another, Andreas saw deeper meaning as paramount to his physical investigations. I'd instantly seen his love of skiing as a higher-order tool to serve a broader inquisition.

This prescribed conversation, however, was different. He had a book idea. A fresh and modern look at mountain craft, with much exploration of philosophy and the mental game. We talked for half an hour that day and occasionally over the week. He decided he'd think on it, send me an outline in the fall, and we'd come up with a plan. We left it there. Andreas' celebration-of-life Instagram feed kept me in thrall all spring and summer. Autumn approached. His last posted photo, delivered with requisite excitement, was of a lonely road disappearing into the Andes.

I'll confess that the kind of connection I found with Andreas is rare in the ski world, where you meet hundreds of amazing folks and a simple shared passion smooths many of the interpersonal bumps that would normally arise between disparate personalities. While our acquaintance roll might run deep in the mountains, getting beneath Woohoo — we're skiers! rarely happens in a heartbeat — especially for guarded, crusty writers. But it had happened before.

"Dude, we should do something." It was the final night of a cat-ski trip in 2010, and JP Auclair and I were watching some of the crew shoot pool in the lodge. It was what JP always said when we found ourselves together, usually after discussing something decidedly arcane but thoroughly invigorating — again having seemingly saved it up for each other. The statement came with the trademark impish smirk that usually telegraphed imminent fun, but this time we'd spoken of a project with more gravitas, perhaps focused on mountain safety or sustainability. As filming demands increased and he moved into the world of aspiring mountain guide, however, JP's time was even more limited than usual, and we both knew it would be hard to coordinate. So we'd laughed and let a delicate kite go into the wind of the night.

I'd met JP a decade before on my first trip to Japan. Though a tag-along twice his age who he needn't have paid attention to, we'd hit it off somewhere between Tokyo's packed subway system — where we'd jokingly donned avie transceivers so we wouldn't lose each other — and Naeba ski area, where the Core Games were raging. Soon after, he was my first choice as guest editor for the inaugural issue of Skier, and I would write much on him over the ensuing years, impressed always that someone so intelligent, funny, innovative and impactive was actually one person. For many he met in the industry, JP is remembered not only for his effortless style, signature backflip mute, snow-scooter flip, first-ever ski loop, or the Whistler bus-stop jib that presaged his n'est-ce plus ultra urban segment in All.I.Can, but for conversations both hi-brow and hilarious, and the fun he brought to everything. JP and his New Canadian Air Force cohorts were often credited with making skiing fun again, though with typical humility he saw it as simply having helped remind us that it had been all along.

For those honoured to know them both, Andreas and JP getting together on a webisode project was a case of "Right — those guys!" Like when your BFF finds the woman/man of their dreams. And while that made perfect sense, since the black day they were lost I've often wondered why I had the kind of relationship I did with each of them — so similar yet so separate and individuated. There was mutual respect, of course, but also my recognition of an ineffable shared something I couldn't quite put my finger on. It took a few months but I think I have it now.

In the end, as at the beginning, Andreas Fransson and JP Auclair were not only extraordinary human beings, but two of those rare individuals eternally drawn upward by the buoyant light of curiosity. A luminescence they reflected back on us all.

While filming for their second episode of Apogee, JP Auclair and Andreas Fransson perished in an avalanche in Chile on Sep. 29, 2014.

Leslie Anthony is a Whistler-based author, editor, biologist and bon vivant who has never met a mountain he didn't like.