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Tuesday, September 11, 2012
Tempting Fear: Andreas Fransson

By Devon O'Neil
ESPNcom

There is probably a skier living in a glacial cave in Tibet who climbs and rips down gargantuan, fluted mountains every morning and afternoon, discusses the meaning of life with 105-year-old monks over lunch, hunts the elusive Himalayan blue bear for meat and drinks from the melting glaciers that surround him.

But just in case that man does not exist, we have Andreas Fransson.

Fransson, the Chamonix-based, Swedish extreme skier and alpinist who made the first descent of Denali's south face in May 2011, is the subject of a jarring and provocative new film called "Tempting Fear", created by Salomon's Mike Douglas of Switchback Entertainment, with footage primarily filmed by Bjarne Sahlén, Fransson's longtime friend and expedition partner. The trailer for the film was released on Tuesday and ESPN was given a review copy of the full 25-minute-long film to screen. The movie will start touring film festivals in October.

As you learn in the film, if you didn't know already, Fransson has a gift for articulating the way the world works and how we (should) fit in to the formula. But because much of his insight has been gleaned while perched on, or dangling from, mountains steep enough to make a grown man pee down his leg, it can be hard to extrapolate a lesson from every lesson-worthy sentence he writes or says. One of Tempting Fear's greatest successes is that it solves that problem -- the wisdom imparted by Fransson in the film is plain to behold and consider.

"Only by defying society's expectations can you find the true uncertainty that defines adventure," Fransson says.

Ski bums, professional athletes, weekend warriors -- we all can dig that.

"Tempting Fear" is organized by chapters, each representing a theme within Fransson's life, but throughout the 25-minute arc we are granted candor and transparency. Take, for instance, when Fransson recounts the terrifying 2010 avalanche that nearly killed him on the Col de l'Aiguille Verte. "I'll never forget the feeling of my own neck breaking," he says. Or when he mourns the death of his close friend and ski partner, Felix Hentz, who was killed by an avalanche last winter. "I think we both thought I would leave first," Fransson says. The candor extends to blissful moments, too, like when he looks into his POV camera halfway down Denali's south face and shouts, "Life can't be cooler than this!"

Swedish ski mountaineer Andreas Fransson lives in Chamonix, France.

The film tells Fransson's story in nine parts, bouncing back and forth over a period of 17 months, from January 2011 to May 2012. In each part, Fransson narrates a script drawn from his journal or blog over footage that lets us fully comprehend the situation's gravity. It's gripping to watch -- and hear his take after the fact.

"Fear and doubt followed me the whole way," he says of returning to ski an even hairier line on the Aiguille Verte in 2011, "but I wasn't going to let them win."

"Tempting Fear" was only supposed to be five minutes long. Douglas initially planned to profile Fransson for the Salomon Freeski TV series (they met last winter when Fransson signed with Salomon). "But I started reading his blog and thought, 'Wow, this guy is way more interesting than the average pro skier out there,'" Douglas said. "Shortly after starting, I realized it would be a shame to only spend five minutes in his head."

On that note, the sole lament I have is that we don't get more time with Fransson away from his ski mountaineer persona. After writing a story about him last July and doing our interviews by Skype or e-mail, I wondered what he's like to hang out with -- not in a tent on an expedition, but around town, maybe over a beer during Chamonix's après hour.

Our first glimpse of Andreas At Ease comes 18 minutes into the film, when he and some friends are seen leaping into frigid water off a dock in Norway, laughing and howling like kids. It's one of many moving moments, yet lest one overlook the trip's quantitative bounty, we are quickly informed they also skied six first descents in three weeks.

Will Fransson be alive to show this movie to his grandkids? It's a fair question, and one he doesn't duck. "Is my craving for the objective stronger than my will to run away?" he wonders in the film. History tells us the mountains will get him sooner or later, as they have so many of his predecessors and friends. I sure hope not, but the story wouldn't be nearly this good if he weren't living so close to the edge so many days of the year, fully comprehending each moment.