Stephane Brosse, also referred to as “le boss,” was one of the most decorated ski mountaineers of all time. Last Sunday June 17th during a speed attempt on the Mont Blanc Crossing, Brosse fell to his death while traversing a cornice that proved to be unstable. He was 41 years old.
Brosse and friend Kilian Jornet began their journey in Les Contamines, France at 1:00am on Saturday morning, June 16th, and had hoped to arrive in Champex, Switzerland around 9:00pm the same day. They were accompanied by Sebastian Montaz and Bastien Fleury who were documenting the event. The crossing marked the beginning of Jornet’s “Summits of my Life” project during which Jornet hopes to set speed records on two Mount Blanc traverses and six famous peaks.
Progress on their itinerary had been hindered by bad conditions and high avalanche risk so the pair chose to spend the night at the Couvercle Hut after successfully traversing the Dome de Miage, the Bionnassay and the Mont Blanc. They set out to complete the tour early Sunday morning (via the Courtes, Aiguille d’Argentiere, Fenetre de Saleina, and Val D’Arpette) hoping to arrive in Champex around 1-2:00pm.
From all reports, Kilian was in the lead followed by Brosse, Montaz and Fluery while traversing to the Couloir Barbey on the ridge of the Aiguille d’Argentiere (3900m). When Jornet looked back, the cornice gave way causing Brosse to fall roughly 600 meters. He immediately called for help but by the time assistance arrived, Brosse was found dead. Kilian gives a detailed explanation of the accident on his “Summits of my Life” blog.
Brosse was widely accepted as quite simply one of the best ski mountaineer racers of all time. He began racing in 1990 and was appointed to the French National Team in 1996. For the next 17 years until his retirement he proceeded to win every prestigious ski mountaineering title possible. He won both the French and European Championships in the team event and was a triple winner of the World Championships in 2002, 2004 and 2006. Brosse won all three of the great classic ski mountaineering races claiming three victories in the famous French four-day stage event the Pierra Menta, the Italian Mezzalama in 2005, and set the record for the Swiss Patrol des Glaciers in both 2004 and 2006.
In 2003 he and race partner Pierre Ginoux set the ski mountaineering record for the Chamonix-Mont Blanc-Chamonix course in 5:15:47, just four minutes shy of the overall record set by Swiss alpinist Pierre-Andre Gobet in 1990 who finished the course in five hours and eleven minutes on foot.
After his racing career, Brosse, a Millet athlete, continued his passion and focused on speed traverses and steep descents, two disciplines he believed were rapidly gaining popularity in the skiing world. In 2010 Brosse finished the first crossing of the Belledone by the summits Chamrousse and Col du Lucheron in 16 hours and 40 minutes. He opened the Traversée des Diots, south face of the Tête Pelouse (Aravis), in 2008 and in 2009 completed the first ski descent without rappel of the Nant Blanc on the Aiguille Vert in Chamonix. Most recently on May 8th, 2012, he and Jornet crossed les Aravis Massif, 16 ascents and descents, 35K and 6,500 meters of elevation gain.
Enjoyment was a paramount ingredient in all of Brosse’s mountaineering endeavors. In his own words from the Millet blog, “It took us about 10 hours 30 minutes for this superb crossing, but our objective was not to break a record but simply share some quality time with friends in the mountains. It was a fluid, easy day when everything went smoothly and we all had the same objective: succeeding together. I also understood why I hadn’t managed the crossing before: it’s definitely because this kind of project is only worthwhile if shared.” He documented these and other crossings in his “Just Follow Me” segments on the Millet website. For more about his love of the mountains and aspirations in his own words, click here.
Salomon trail runner Anna Frost and recent EpicTV Women’s Weekly guest was with Stephane and Kilian when they set off from Les Contamines and ran with them for the first leg of their journey. She shares her thoughtful insights into the tragedy on her blog, Frosty’s Footsteps.
Brosse’s accomplishments appear in many videos including one of the first real how-to ski mountaineer films produced by Petzl. In the video Brosse and his teammates Patrick Blanc and Guido Giacomelli patiently explain to some newer female racers the ins and outs of getting ready for the Patrol des Glaciers while documenting their own record breaking race in 2006. Many of us have watched this piece as our first real resource on the budding sport of ski mountaineer racing – trying to learn everything we could from the master in those 17 minutes of video. The sport today owes much of its success and popularity to his passion and his efforts. May he continue to inspire us for years to come and may he rest in peace. Our thoughts are with his friends and family.