Interview with Tomas Olsson
EveryTrail blogger Tomas Olsson is aiming for a very ambitious goal this spring. His objective is to climb Mount Everest and ski down from the summit. Tomas is currently preparing for this challenge in Chamonix, France. Time to ask him how his preparations are going!
EveryTrail: Skiing from the summit of Everest is quite an ambitious goal. Can you tell us a little bit about your history? How, when and where did you start skiing and climbing?
Tomas: I started climbing and skiing in Sweden when I was around 15, only occasionally at the start though. It wasn’t until I was around 20 and studying Industrial engineering and management at the university that I started spending a lot of time in the mountains. I stayed for winter seasons in St. Anton (Austria), Alagna (Italy), Tignes (France) and Chamonix (France) and my interest in skiing grew each year. As I graduated I decided to try and make a living out of my hobby. It was hard work to get it started. The first years were not easy, but today it’s up and running.
EveryTrail: What does your daily life look like? Are you a professional skier? Do you have a job or career outside of skiing and climbing? What are your plans for the future?
Tomas: All my income is connected to skiing and climbing in some way; I guess that means that I’m a professional. I perform a wide variety of jobs: photo shots for Bergans of Norway, product development for Silva Sweden, lecture series for companies outside the sports industry and much more. Around the Everest project I work a lot with the Swedish companies M2 and Increase Group. I also write articles for magazines and have had some photos published in magazines and commercials as well as helping Bergans and Silva with product placement in the Swedish press. Lots of things to keep track of but it still leaves a lot of time to skiing and climbing as I don’t have a nine to five job.
EveryTrail: You skied from the summit of Cho Oyu in the fall of 2004. Can you tell us a bit more about that expedition?
Tomas: It was a tough but great experience! It did not start out that well as I got infected by a local virus upon reaching Tibet. It developed into a bronchitis infection and meant that I had to stop. Throat problems and high altitude with thin and cold air do not go well together. It took 14 days to kill the infection which was mentally very tough as it was very frustrating to wait to get better in the middle of nowhere at about 4300 meters in Tibet. My expedition partners Tormod Granheim, Peter Frick and Jonas Tufvesson went on up the mountain and I had to stay behind…
But as I started climbing, things went well and I reached the summit after 12 days of intense climbing without supplementary oxygen or Sherpa support. We had a base camp at 5700 meters, a tent at 6400 meters and I also spent a couple of hours in a tent with a Norwegian expedition at 7000 meters as I was going for the summit. Reaching the summit was magic. I was all alone and under the blue skies and sun wity an endless number of stacked peaks around me. Clouds filled the valley floors and the mountains formed jagged islands in a grey ocean of soft pillows.
And the best of all: twenty centimeters of light powder snow covered the entire summit plateau. Big clouds of snow whirled up at every turn! Powder skiing above 8000 meters!
Further down, the skiing was harder and the snow was varied. There were two steep sections and I managed to make an uninterrupted ski descent without using ropes or other climbing equipment from the summit to 6400 meters where the snow ended.
EveryTrail: Were there a lot of other expeditions? ANd other skiers?
Tomas: There were lots of expeditions on the mountain but as I was delayed due to my throat problems, most people were leaving the mountain as I went for my summit attempt. Tormod Granheim skied from the summit two days ahead of me, a Norwegian expedition had the ambition to ski but did not bring the skis to the summit, a skier from New Zealand skied from the summit, another skier from New Zealand reached the summit but had some problems with his bindings and only skied short sections and a Polish climber snowboarded from the summit but made rappels on the steep sections.
EveryTrail: What equipment did you use? What things did you look for when choosing your equipment? Is there any particular piece of equipment that you are really excited about? Did you make any changes in your equipment for Everest vs Cho Oyu?
Tomas: Light and reliable are the keywords. You don’t want to carry any extra grams when you are pushing yourself to a maximum to reach a high summit, and of course, in some situations the equipment can’t fail your expectations. The camping gear is really important on expeditions, for example tents that don’t blow apart and stoves that give you a high output so that you melt enough snow to get water. I also use navigation gear like GPS and compass to help me if I get caught in bad weather. I input in waypoints as I climb the mountain and can then use them to find my way home. In a worst case scenario the GPS could fail on me (it hasn’t happened so far) and I will then use the compass. And of course the skis; I use a really light ski that is stiff so that it can support me even in short lengths.
I’ve improved the heating in my boots after Cho Oyu since my feet got a bit cold on the extreme temperatures on the summit day. I will use a Scarpa Laser with a extra thick inner boot and in addition Therm-ic electric heating of the soles as well as over boots.
EveryTrail: When you climbed and skied Cho Oyu in 2004 you did not use supplementary oxygen or Sherpas. How about Everest?
Tomas: We haven’t quite decided yet. I’ve never used supplementary oxygen or Sherpas before but I’ve started to hesitate a little bit because I’ve analyzed what kind of conditions we can meet skiing down the north face.
EveryTrail: Tell us how you are preparing for your Everest expedition. What does a typical day look like? What activities are you performing? How much skiing do you do versus other training activities?
Tomas: I spend the winter in Chamonix in the French Alps which is perfect for me. Here I’ve got steep terrain just around the corner and a lot of inspiring and competent people to climb and ski with. The main part of training is off-piste skiing and ski touring which I complement with alpinism, indoor climbing, running and a few hours in the local gym.
EveryTrail: Who are the other members on your team?
Tomas: Tormod Granheim is my main skiing and climbing partner. We met in Alagna in Italy back in 1999 and have skied and climbed together ever since. We did the most classic extreme ski descents in the Alps with as one of the highlights the north face of Aiguille du Midi in 2001. Expedition wise we have skied the Polish glacier on Aconcagua (6960m) in Argentina, Muztagh Ata (7546m) & Kuksay Peak (7186m) in China and Cho Oyu (8201m) in Tibet. Tormod is a very reliable and competent skier and climber.
Fredrik Schenholm is our expedition photographer. I know Fredrik since 2001 and we have worked together a lot. He’s also a competent climber who can take care of himself on the mountain.
EveryTrail: Can you tell us about the historical attempts of skiing Everest? What did you learn from these? And how does it affect your plans?
Tomas: I’ve read about a lot of the previous attempts. The most legendary is Yuichiro Miura from Japan who skied a part of the Lhotse face using break parachutes ending up almost killing himself. I’ve seen the footage and it definitely convinced me that using parachutes in not a good idea…
Some of the others are:
1992 Pierre Tardivel (France) attempted the south face.
1996 Dominique Perret (Switzerland) and Hans Kammerlander (Italy) attempted the north face.
1997 Craig Calonica (USA) attempted the north face.
2000 Davo Karnicar (Slovenia) skied the normal route on the south face of Everest!
2002 Adrian Nature (USA) attempted the north face.
2003 Mike and Steve Marolt (USA) attempted the north face and Maegan Carney (USA) attempted the south face.
2004 Brice LEQUERTIER (France) attempted the north face.
This is a long list with a lot of very competent and committed people; and everyone but one failed and no one has so far skied the north face which definitely tells me to have a lot of respect for this challenge. It’s important to have in mind that there is a good chance that we will fail; we do not climb with some kind of “do or die” attitude.
EveryTrail: Which route have you chosen for your ski descent?
Tomas: We will make the final decision on which route to ski when we see the snow conditions on Everest in April 2006; but I think that the Norton couloir is a good guess.
EveryTrail: What are you worried about? What can go wrong on Everest?
Tomas: Lots of things can go wrong. I can get a problem with the altitude; I can get infected by some evil local virus as on Cho Oyu in 2002 and I can get hit by unexpected storms. What I need to do is to prepare myself so that I am ready for it if things start to go wrong.
As I see it, the most dangerous thing on Everest is that you move very slowly, more or less in slow-motion as you take the last steps towards the top, when you are high up on the mountain which means that it takes a lot of time to get to a safe spot. And you are climbing the highest mountain in the world that attracts the worst storms. That all makes Everest very dangerous. And of course acute altitude sickness: it’s hard to tell the difference between a slight headache that you should just overcome and a sign that acute altitude sickness is coming your way. I’m hoping that my previous experiences in high altitude will guide me.
EveryTrail: What are you looking forward to most on Everest?
Tomas: All of it! Getting away from civilization for a couple of months, getting to know a new area, meeting a lot of interesting people, skiing some surrounding peaks in preparation, pushing myself in high altitude and of course some virgin turns on the north face of Everest!
EveryTrail: Tomas, thanks a lot for this interview. We are looking forward to reading your blog during your expedition. Best of luck on Everest and be safe!
Tomas uses equipment from Bergans of Norway (www.bergans.com), Silva Sweden (www.silva.se), Atomic (www.atomicsnow.com), Black Diamond (www.bdel.com), Energizer (www.energizer.com), Extreme Drinks (www.extremedrinks.com), Julbo (www.julbo.fr), Maxim (www.maxim.nl), Ortovox (www.ortovox.com), Primus (www.primus.se), Scarpa (www.scarpa.net), Therm-ic (www.therm-ic.com) and Wildlife.