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The spectators at the Piolet d'or
Photo by Giulio Malfer
Steve House and Vincent Anderson win the XV Piolet d'or
Photo by Giulio Malfer
Piolet d'Or 2006:, Yuri Koshelenko, Marko Prezelj, Boris Lorencic and Ian Parnell
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Yuri Koshelenko (President of the Jury and winner of the Piolet d'or 2003 with Valéry Babanov for their ascent of Nuptse)
Photo by Giulio Malfer
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Piolets d'Or 2009, preview

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From 22 - 25 April the 17th edition of the Piolets d'Or will take place between Chamonix and Courmayeur. This is possibly the most famous mountaineering award in the world, so much so that it has been defined as the Oscar of alpinism.

So... the ball starts rolling once again. Last year, as many will remember, the Piolet d'Or ground to a halt. A pause - let's define it as a time to sit back and think - due certainly to organisational problems but also, as has been written in numerous articles, as a direct consequence of the critical view expressed by the extremely strong Slovenian Marko Prezelj, winner in 2007 together with Boris Lorencic of the 16th Piolet d'Or for the first ascent of the West Pillar of Chomolari (7326m – Tibet).

In short Prezelj, winner as it happens of the of Piolet 1991, had stated that he did not believe in awards for mountaineering and that he had participated to express his opinion. This is nothing new. All one needs to do is remember that over the course of the years there have been others (such as Rolando Garibotti in 2006) who, thanking, simply did not accept their candidature. Or think about prizes which have nothing to do with alpinism and which are perhaps far more prestigious, such as the Nobel Prize for Literature declined by Boris Pasternak and Jean-Paul Sartre... Regardless of how things may be, after this episode an attempt was made to better define the spirit of the Piolet. But as already mentioned the efforts by the organisers, Montagnes magazine and GHM, to create a "Piolet Charter" shared and accepted by all failed in 2008.

So now here we are, at the starting blocks once again, with a new "Charter prevailing over the awarding of the Piolets d'or ascents of the year". This has been created by the new organisers comprised of the GHM Groupe de Haute Montagne, by Nivéales publishing, by Montagnes Magazine and by the new entry, the magazine Vertical which, as all know, forms part of the Nivéales Group. All of this with the support of the American Alpine Journal.

Christian Trommsdorff, the President of the GHF, mountaineer nominated in 2006 and member of the last Piolet Jury, summaries the document as follows: "It's much clearer and direct than before. The new charter puts style over results." Trommsdorff states that "the Piolets d'Or is not intended to be a competition, but a celebration of world class alpinism. The purpose is to recognise and promote the values of today's state of the art Alpinism through an internationnally renowned event, and to bring together representative alpinists of all horizons." It must be said immediately that these are obviously principles which can be shared by all even if, in truth, they do not seem so different for the "antique" spirit of the Piolet. The positive aspect naturally is that these are now written down.

But apart from the "Charter" there is another novelty, certainly more curious, regarding the name which many perhaps failed to notice: the Award has received a small but possibly relevant change from singular to plural, from Piolet to Piolets. Perhaps there will be different prizes? Perhaps even a series of categories? And if so, which? Once again Trommsdorff clears things up and has explained that "there will not be several categories of alpinism; that might be considered in the future if the organisation finds more financial means."

Instead the President of the GHM continues: "The jury will award one (or several if it chooses to) most significant climb(s) a Piolet d'Or. It will also award a separate Piolet d'Or for an entire career : again, not following a competitive spirit, but to recognise a very significant career in the history of alpinism." From this one can deduce that there may be joint-equals; this occurs, albeit rarely, with all Awards. Which means that if this has been done to avoid polemics, someone will have to receive an award while someone else will be excluded. Or, put in other words, the blanket is always a bit too short... So perhaps the plural serves only to confuse and remove that uniqueness (like in all non-absolute prizes) which the award had in the past.

In any case Trommsdorff added: "The GHM, Montagnes and Vertical magazines, supported by the AAJ,  guarantee the completeness, intellectual honesty and integrity of the jury's work, but will not be part of the jury. Moreover there will be no French and no Italian jury members in this first new edition." This is clearly due to the other novelty, which sees France (read Chamonix) and Italy (read Coumayeur) acting as the joint seat of this 17th edition.

Talking about the Jury, it has to be said that the Jury members are truly important climbers. Starting with the President, Doug Scott from Britain: a true mountaineering legend. And continuing with Jim Donini from the USA, the current President of the American Alpine Club and a high-class mountaineer with numerous ascents in Patagonia and the Himalaya (such as the N Ridge of Latok I together with Jeff Lowe). Austrian Peter Habler's value is absolute: one of the strongest Himalayan climbers of all times and author, amongst others, of the first ascent of Everest without supplementary oxygen together with Reinhold Messner. The Jury is also comprised of Korean journalist Im Duck Yong, "inventor" of the Asian Piolets d'Or and member of the Jury for the third time, and Spanish journalist Dario Rodriguez, co-editor of the extremely famous magazine Desnivel.

Another member of the Jury, Dod Kopold, deserves a different approach. The Slovak mountaineer has just recently been at the centre of a dispute which the definition "unpleasant" completely misses the mark. So much so that apart from appearing on some specialised internet sites, including explorers.com, the controversy necessitated a press statement by the Slovak Mountaineering Association. This imputed Kopold not only for having lied about his ascents of GI, GII and Broad Peak, but above all for having stained himself with "abandoning" his companions, in particular Vlado Plulik who disappeared on Broad Peak. Now, without wishing to talk about the vicissitude and while wanting to safeguard Kopold's right to confute these bitter accusations, it seems to us that the choice of him as Jury member is, at the very least, not opportune. Even wrong for those ethical and moral values declared by the Piolet "Charter"... An easy one-liner would be that we believed these things only happen in Italian politics.

What remains to be mentioned is the last novelty of this 17th Piolet, or rather its desire, as the GHM President explains "to be a festival with conferences, meetings, debates, films and activities." Detailed information about the program will be made public in the coming weeks. All we can do now is wait until 24 April, when in Courmayeur the candidates will be announced for the 2008 ascents and to the lifetime achievement. While in Chamonix on 25 April the award will be given to the Piolet, or, Piolets d'Or. After mentioning that we regret the choice of dates, better still even, we feel that these are not ideal as they clash with the TrentoFilmfestival and, above all, with the period when many mountaineers are away on expeditions, we would like to conclude by saying: Bonne chances, "non- competitive" to all.


Piolet d'Or - winners and ascents
2007 Slovenians Marko Prezelj and Boris Lorencic, for the first ascent of Chomolhari's northwest pillar
2006 Steve House and Vince Anderson for the first rapid alpine-style ascent of the Rupal Face of Nanga Parbat
2005 Russian team led by Alexander Odintsov for the first direct ascent of the North Face of Jannu
2004 Valery Babanov and Yuri Koshelenko for an ascent on the South Face of Nuptse
2003 Mick Fowler and Paul Ramsden for a new route on the North Face of Siguniang (6250m) in China
2002 Valery Babanov for a solo climb of Meru Central
2000/2001 Thomas Huber and Iwan Wolf for the first ascent of the direct north pillar of Shivling (6543m)
1999 Lionel Daudet and Sébastien Foissac for the ascent of the Southeast Face of the Burkett Needle
1998 Andrew Lindblade of Australia and Athol Whimp of New Zealand for the first direct ascent of the North Face of Thalay Sagar
1997 Russian team from Ekaterinburg led by Sergey Efimov for the first ascent of the West Face of Makalu
1996 Slovenians Tomaz Humar and Vanja Furlan for a new route on the East Face of Ama Dablam
1995 Andreas Orgler, Heli Neswabba and Arthur Wutsher Germany for numerous new routes in the Ruth Glacier area of the Alaska Range and especially a new route on the South Face of Mount Bradley
1994 Francois Marsigny of France and Andy Parkin of England for the new ice and rock route up the Esperance Col on Cerro Torre
1993 The youth high altitude expedition of French Alpine Club (median age 20 years) for ascents in the Pamir Mountains
1992 Michel Piola and Vincent Sprungli for the ascent of the East Face of Torre South del Paine in Patagonia (the name of the route is "Dans l'Oeil du Cyclone")
1991 Slovenians Andrej Stremfelj and Marko Prezelj for a 3000m ascent of the South Pillar of Kanchenjunga's South Summit, 8476m, in the Himalaya

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