Update: I settled the date of the Blanc descent as July of 1953, source is Terray’s autobiography “Conquistadors of the Useless.” Following is an excerpt from pages 322 and 323 of the 1963 hard cover edition:
…I thought of making a film on ski mountaineering. Skiing was a much more popular sport than climbing, and it seemed that in this way we might attract larger audiences… The plan was to feature the descent of extremly steep slopes, several of which had recently been done, but on reflection I decided to limit the fidld of actaion to the north face of Mont Blanc which, though less difficult than some others, had never been skied down. In the event, the filming turned out to be quite an adventure in itself. We were several times cut off by bad weather in the Vallot hut, at 14,305 feet. The weeks went by, and our cinematographer, Jacques Ertaud, had to leave to fulfil another contract. Luckily Georges Strouve’ was able to take his place.
Hardly had he arrived when, in the course of filming a connecting shot, I misjudged a turn and fell over a seventy-foot ice wall, at the foot of which I went head over heels down the slope, only managing to stop myself a few yards from the edge of a precipice. As I got to my feet a pain in my back told me I had done something to my spine. Fine weather chose this moment to arrive, but in spite of a slight dislocation of my vertebra I managed to finish the film. Bil Dunaway, an American friend, accompanied me on the descent, and Strouve, with the help of Pierre Tairraz, was able to shoot nearly all of it.
The film was mildly humorous in tone. It turned out most satisfactorily, winning first prize at the International Festival of Trenta, and against all expectation “La Conquete du Huantstan” [another film Terray was involved in making] obtained the second. The lectures given with the aid of these two films never attracted vast crowds, but they more than repaid the timed and trouble that had gone into their making…
ORIGINAL BLOG POST FOLLOWS ******************************************
During my history research for my Wild Snow book, I did extensive interviews with Bil Dunaway in Aspen, Colorado. Bil had a long life of adventure that included combat with the 10th Mountain Division, WWII, ski racing for the French National Team, owning Climbing Magazine for a spell and running the Aspen Times Newspaper for decades. But this is WildSnow, and we’re concerned with ski alpinism. To that end, in 1951 Bil teamed up with famed French alpinist and guide Lionel Terray for a ski descent of Mt. Blanc from the summit. This was the first descent of the mountain’s steep northern reaches, and the first such descent done in a more ‘modern’ style than early descents, including the first in 1929 done by Armand Charlet and Marguette Bouvier down a much easier route. Truly, both are beautiful and exciting moments in the history of ski alpinism.
Recently, I’ve been helping out a French book publisher with a bit of photo research. That’s what caused me to dig up this image (and more) from my archives. Bil had told me years ago that the photo was part of his “personal collection and he had permission to use it and have it published as he wanted to,” so we went ahead and published the photo in Wild Snow with credit to “Bil Dunaway Collection.” Bil never could remember who the photographer was.
With my interest revived by the French book publisher, I thought it would be fun to get this classic photo up on the blog and see if anyone around the world had any information about the mystery photographer.
The idea for the Blanc descent originated with Terray, but Bil was an equal part in the adventure — he was not a guided client. Bil wrote that Terray “decided to not only ski down but to film… but needed another skier… wondered who would be crazy enough to try it with him… he asked me… I liked the idea.”
Anyone familiar with Terray and his exploits seen this or similar photos, and known anything about the still photographer? The movie “Skis Against Mont Blanc” was made by Georges Strouve. Bil wrote that the mountain camera men were Jacky Ertaud and Gerard Geri. Perhaps one of them was the still photographer?
I’ve seen the movie. It’s quite interesting and even has some funny scenes such as one where Bil is poolside in Cham with a bevvy of swimsuit clad French babes.
For additional credit, can anyone familiar with the views from Mt Blanc identify the part of a peak visible through the clouds at lower left in photo?
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.