20 days of sailing between these islands at the end of the world for an incredible adventure between splendid landscapes and hostile territories
The Kuril Islands, an incredibly hostile environment, extend for more than 1,000 kilometers between Japan and Russia. It is an archipelago of still active volcanic islands, with steep reliefs, between cliffs falling abruptly into the sea and craggy rocky coasts. A story of a journey to the other side of the world, and survival in extreme weather conditions!
Thibaud Duchosal, a former competitor on the Freeride World Tour, and now a professional freerider, has succeeded in turning his passion into his profession, with the mountains as his office. As an adventurer and skier, what motivates him every day is his passion for skiing and the intoxication of travel, the discovery of largely untouched landscapes, where he can leave his own trace, as a memory of his passage.
I will board a sailboat in Yuzhno Sakhalinsk to reach Petropavlosk Kamchatski in Kamchatka. On the program: 15 days of sailing with 7 to 8 days of skiing on the different Kuril Islands. We are the second expedition known to date to make this trip!
I have been skiing regularly in Russia for the past 10 years, but more in the western part of this huge country. When I arrived in Yuzhno-Sakhalinsk, it dawned on me: we are really at the end of the world!
The journey was long, the airport basic, the city austere and cold. The weather conditions are extremely harsh, we see and feel it strongly in the city’s architecture. No windows on the ground and first floors; it’s easy to imagine the astronomical amounts of snow that can invade the city!
I join the other skiers, photographer Stéphane Godin, and the three Russian crew members who will take us to the islands. Before boarding, we spend a day preparing the equipment, and making sure we have everything we need in terms of safety (bear bombs, distress rockets, fishing waders, etc.). Over there, in these uninhabited islands, polar bears are king, and they are numerous!
I already have my ski equipment with me; my skis, skins, Cairn I-Brid Rescue helmet, etc. All personal equipment travels in the hold of the plane.
Two days after our arrival, we finally get to our boat. There, surprise: the Dumbo is actually a small 11.50 m sailboat. With 10, it is a little cramped... and a real puzzle to find room for all the equipment! Ultimately, the skis end up firmly attached to the stern.
The first crossing to Kurilsk is quite pleasant, with very mild weather and ultra-flat seas. We enjoy these unique and splendid landscapes while spotting plenty of wildlife: during a crossing, about forty killer whales follow and swim around us for more than two hours!
However, the good weather is not there to stay, so we also spend a lot of time below, talking about our projects and adventures, our passion for skiing... From time to time I even take the helm.
The Kuril Islands expedition provides me with the opportunity to go further in my adventures, to do what only four people in the world have done so far: skiing in a totally hostile and isolated place on the planet. I'm not disappointed: we don't meet anyone during the crossings, we’re in an area off the radar, out of time.
Four times a day, the captain receives the weather report by satellite. Storms are frequent and there are hardly any ships out there, so it we need to be extremely vigilant about quickly changing weather conditions!
The two other crew members manage the organization and saving of energy and food. On a boat, everything is planned and rationed to make sure you reach the end of the journey!
Between storms and volcanic eruptions, conditions are really not ideal for skiing.
On the morning of May 10th, we go for our first ski attempt on Paramushir Island! Unfortunately, it falls through and turns into a rescue operation.
When we land, the dinghy that brought us to shore turns around and the engine takes on water! The captain, soaked and in shock, no longer wants to row back and forth between the boat and the beach. Feeling the situation getting out of control, I try to take command to recover the four skiers already on land. But the captain doesn't want to lose face, and then makes a series of bad decisions! The boat hits a shoal, the keel breaks, he tries to pick up the skiers in a place that is both inaccessible to them and us, tension has moved up a notch!
Finally, I take the oars and move the dinghy between the waves, alternating between swimming and rowing. In the meantime, a polar bear has moved in and overlooks the beach where our companions are waiting for us. We aren’t overconfident, but one after the other, I manage to get all the skiers safely back on the boat. Only to learn that the waters in which we sail and in which I just swam are infested with white sharks!
We had to wait until the end and the return trip to finally be able to ski a little.
Looking back, I realize that we came within an inch of real tragedy. Because in these completely hostile and isolated territories, if anything happens to you, you're a dead man. The water is at 4 degrees, and there is no boat that can come rescue you in this remote part of the world! Facing the elements, we really don’t count for much...
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