Mount St.Elias

Axel Naglich

In the last couple of years Axel Naglich (41) of Kitzbühel/Tyrol has been to the major peaks and has pioneered some of the most extreme ski-routs there. He’s been to the slopes of Nutpse in the Himalayas, he skied down Mt. Elbrus – Europe’s highest Peak, traveled South America and left his mark on Iran’s Mt. Damavand. In fall 2006 however, Mt. Cook’s Caroline Face turned out to be an untamable shrew and the defeated extreme skier returned beck to the northern hemisphere. “Ever since I climbed the west face with to fellow skiers and pioneered the breathtaking, four hour decent in 2004. I also wanted to conquer the far side of Mt. Cook. The approach over the east-ridge sure is the most beautiful ice-climbing route in New Zealand. But you must never confuse motivation and consistency with presumption and ignorance!” The Stakes might be too high.

In a way Naglich seems to be full of contradictions. The boyish grin doesn’t quite fit his wild determination to attempt lines, most others would call impossible to ski. His day job career is somewhat the exact opposite to his vacations which he spends traveling the globe searching for the next death defying decent or the next mountain-face no skier has ever tried before. He finds that reaching the starting point is a vital part of picking new lines: “Every run is preceded by an, at the least, equally challenging approach.”

One of his most challenging but certainly his most odd ski-runs happened to take place just a few kilometers off his home in Kitzbühel. He had his eyes on a near vertical couloir for a few years now. The nameless section is throughout 50-55 degrees steep and is about 400 m long.”Under these conditions no one will attempt this again in the near future including me”, says Naglich.

There are not too many like him. Ski-mountaineers are ice-climbers, skiers, alpinists and extremists. They will not use helicopters to just ski down nor will they climb a mountain and then just take a random trail for the bottom. They’ve acquired their skills in years of training, developed and perfected by numerous challenges, making them able to achieve the extraordinary. It becomes more than obvious that such big challenges need to be planed-out in a month long process which taken by itself is already a huge effort. Pioneering Mt. Cook for example was just part of the preparation for an ever bigger project. For the three-time Ironman and architect, that’s where the challenge really begins.

He took up the last one of this kind in May and August 2007, but preparation was under way for years. Not speed but consistency and self-confidence are the virtues needed. He spotted Mount St. Elias when he was looking for a suitable speed-ski location. Mount St. Elias is in the middle of nowhere in Alaska. Nicknamed “the unmerciful”, the mountain seems to be rather hostile but immediately attracted Naglich: Just the possibility to ski all the way down from the peak at 18,008 feet to the ocean is second to none. The longest snow covered vertical line on the planet.