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Basile Marclay, straight as an arrow!

Basile Marclay, straight as an arrow!

When you first meet him, Basile looks about as normal as they come. But behind his discreet glasses that emphasise his youthful looks and shy manner, you soon find someone with a rock-solid temperament who's brave too, ready to point his skis down the most extreme terrain.

Basile Marclay is a master of the steep stuff. Growing up in Champéry (Switzerland), it's mainly on his home turf that he gained his love for climbing mountains as soon as he was big enough to do so, drawn by the massive, sheer rockfaces and the narrow couloirs of the Dents du Midi. He was 12 when he tackled his first major couloir, the Dent Jaune, and since then, he's not stopped pushing the bar higher. His tireless drive for finding new lines never fails to impress, as will his skill and inner strength.

For this young Valais skier, however, skiing at top speed down near-vertical lines or performing aerial jump turns over rocky outcrops are not his only qualities. This extreme discipline requires more than just being an excellent skier, it also calls for masses of experience in climbing and mountaineering. Because when you're skiing down a steep line, making a bad turn is not an option; you'd better be sure that you are mentally bullet-proof if you want to head down a more than 40° or 45° slope, where the only things that are going to help you are your physical and technical skill.

Also, even if the sport has opened up more and more in recent years, it's worth remembering that it requires a perfect reading of the mountain to understand the risks involved and the ability to weigh up the snow conditions too. Before heading out, you need to be prepared. Being patient is essential too, and sometimes, that means waiting weeks before finding the perfect weather window, one that will ensure the best atmospheric and snow conditions. Being in the right place at the right time, that's the motto of extreme steep skiers!

Les Dents du Midi…

a paradise for couloir skiers, with 7 summits at more than 3 000 m. East to west, their names are:

  •   East summit (3 178 metres)
  • Fortress (3 164 m)
  • Cathedral (3 160 m)
  • Spur (3 114 m)
  • Yellow tooth (3 186 m)
  • Fingers (3 205 et 3 210 m) or "Doigts de Salanfe"
  • High peak (3 257 m).

The Dent Jaune couloir… on skis:

Orientation: NW.

Starting altitude: 1190 m to 1570 m (according to snow conditions).

Altitude drop: 1440 m to 1815 m.

Time required: 5 to 8 hrs, depending on starting altitude.

Grade: climb: PD (not difficult) / ski: 4.2 / moderately exposed: E2.

Slope: 40°/600m, short 45° section.

Equipment: an ice axe, crampons and helmet are indispensable.

The Dent Jaune couloir is a favourite classic in the Portes du Soleil for those who want to ski a "tough, but do-able" couloir that's in the high mountains. Some 600m long (including the bottom cone), it's quite wide and straight. Beware rockfalls, which are more likely when the sun hits the slope.

Steep skiing in les Portes du Soleil