How do you get to potential freeriding locations that you can’t reach on foot or by helicopter? The pros grab a paramotor. Snowboarder Xavier De Le Rue and freestyle skier Sam Anthamatten decided to create film Degrees North about them doing just that, documented here with breathtaking photography by Tero Repo. “We spent months filming in Alaska,” says Repo. “This photo was taken on a glacier on which helicopters aren’t allowed. Sam and the pilot fly in tandem and scour the area for rock faces to descend. They aborted the landing on this plateau because it seemed too risky to ski down.”
“Paramotors are wonderful. You can even take off on snow, with your skis on, with just a few metres run-up, and you can fly for about three hours before the petrol runs out. But the paramotor does have one disadvantage: it can get out of control very quickly in the wind. To the right, you can see our experienced pilot, Christophe. He took Sam and Xavier out on alternating flights and dropped them off on pristine Alaskan slopes. This kind of paramotor has a top speed of 70kph, but you should fly as slowly as possible at temperatures of 30 below zero to avoid getting frostbite on your face.”
“I attached the camera to the edge of the paramotor for these aerial shots. Here we see Xavier de le Rue detaching himself from the pilot at a height of 5m and jumping, to set off on an amazing trajectory as soon as he lands. The location is a secluded steep face on Alaska’s Rainbow Glacier. It has a gradient of 50 degrees.”
“You can’t stop a paramotor in the air, so each drop-off was a delicate affair.
If you unbuckle yourself from too great a height, you risk rolling after you land, which isn’t good even if the snow in Alaska is deep and soft. In fact the ‘sluffs’ – knee-deep powdery snow avalanches – were dangerous. They could shift the ground under the guys’ feet. Here, Xavier is escaping one of these cascading masses of snow.”
Necessity truly is the mother of invention. The howling winds had us at the end of our tether each night. We could hardly get any sleep in our tent. And then Sam had a brilliant idea: we dug a hollow in the snow and everyone shovelled out their own bunk. It stopped the noise being a problem. After one night below the surface, we were well rested and twice as motivated.
“You need a lot of patience when you’re exploring Alaska on a paramotor because it’s rare to find perfect flying conditions – no wind, sunshine and a clear view. We spent most of our days sitting in our tents working on the film material we’d shot with our helmets, drone cameras and paramotor-mounted GoPros. Here, Christophe is in front of a fidgety Sam, who can’t wait to take off on this rare perfect day.”