A freeride at the ends of the earth
When something happens in Antarctica, you can’t just wait around for the rescue team. You have to trust in your abilities and in your team one hundred percent,” says Matthias Haunholder just before leaving the comfort zone of Central Europe with his long-time partner Matthias Mayr. They are off to enter untouched territory and ski the tallest mountains of Antarctica.
Both of them are highly experienced expedition skiers and restless explorers of the world’s most remote mountain ranges. They know what ‘No Man’s Land’ means: “an expedition to the coldest place in the world – in the middle of the largest white spot on our map. About 200 kilometres of cross-country skiing to even get to the mountains, and then climbing up the largest one on the continent.”
If there’s no wind, we will have to make the entire journey on our skis, each of us pulling a sleigh with more than one hundred kilos of equipment. That can take us up to two weeks or more.
On the lookout for the extreme.
‘No Man’s Land’ is not your average expedition. But Matthias Mayr and Matthias Haunholder are not your average adventurers, either. The ski adventurers and filmmakers from Tirol, Austria, are two of the most successful freeriders of their generation. Nowadays, their travels take them to the most remote regions of the world, such as the uninhabited volcanic island of Onekotan, which is part of a very inhospitable and windy archipelago in the icy Pacific between Russia and Japan. Their latest expedition takes them where rarely anyone has gone before.
Preparing to conquer the eternal ice
A ski expedition in Antarctica requires more than excellent skills in deep-snow skiing. The adventurers have been making detailed plans for No Man’s Land for 15 months. How much food will they need if a snow storm delays them for more than a week? What will they do if someone falls into a crack in a glacier? What is the most efficient way to cover the long distances?
If they want to get anywhere in Antarctica, the partners will have to learn completely new techniques. One of the most important skills will be kitesurfing, without which the long distances might not be possible.
Thus a few months before their trip, the two learned the basics of kite surfing in the south of Spain. “If there’s no wind, we will have to make the entire journey on our skis, each of us pulling a sleigh with more than one hundred kilos of equipment. That can take us up two weeks or more. If the wind is blowing perfectly, we can use the kites and make it to our destination in as little as a few days.”
Tests at -60°C
The partners took advantage of BMW’s cold chambers to test the limits of each piece of equipment under extreme temperatures. Whether or not something works during the expedition has nothing to do with comfort. “You need a backup for every important piece of equipment: snow goggles, bindings, skis – we won’t be able to find a shop to get replacements.”
An expedition into the unknown
The way there is already a mission in its own right. “We are flying to Buenos Aires. From there, we’ll drive down to the southern point of South America with a BMW X3 and all the equipment we need for the eternal ice. From there we will catch a ride to Antarctica on one of the regular supply ships,” says Matthias Haunholder.
You can never predict what you’ll find when you reach the goal of your journey. Of course there will be snow-covered mountains, virgin slopes and cracks in the glaciers. “When people think of Antarctica, many imagine flat, endless ice deserts – but the tallest peak there is higher than Mont Blanc.” The two want to prove that these steep mountains offer the opportunity for some spectacular skiing, even if other experienced extreme skiers have said that there is little chance of any good downhill skiing, because it’s too icy or too extreme.
But what about the risk factor?
“We are not just freeriders, we are also risk managers. When you’re out there, you have to be ready at any second to react correctly to unexpected situations.”
The weather and the cracks in the glaciers are the two biggest unknown factors. They can make the trip uniquely enjoyable – or turn it into a living hell at the end of the earth. “If a storm front blows in, temperatures can drop to as low as -50 degrees Celsius or lower. Our only retreat is our tent,” says Matthias Haunholder.
If a storm lasts for a week, things will get pretty hard.” The two laugh. “We assume that we’ll have to deal with some very serious situations. We will certainly be pushed to our limits. One thing is for sure: it will take us to the next level.
Matthias Mayr, born 1981, and Matthias “Hauni” Haunholder, born 1979, are Austrian freeride professionals and BMW athletes who have made their names through spectacular ski expeditions to isolated mountain ranges. On their trip to Antarctica, they will be accompanied by cameraman Johannes Aitzetmüller, with whom they have already worked on films like “The White Maze” and “Auf den Spuren der Ersten”.