Piolet d'Or Suspended for 2008

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Marko Prezelj (left) and Boris Lorencic from Slovenia pose with the piolet in 2007. Photo by Giulio Malfer, courtesy of Planetmountain.com.

Marko Prezelj (left) and Boris Lorencic from Slovenia pose with the piolet in 2007. Photo by Giulio Malfer, courtesy of Planetmountain.com.

Organizers of the Piolet d'Or, the best-known prize in international mountaineering, have scrubbed plans for the 2008 award ceremony after running out of time to organize a prize with new criteria. The Piolet d'Or ceremony had been scheduled for February 15 in the Val d'Aoste, Italy.The Piolet d'Or, launched in 1991 and organized primarily by Montagnes magazine and the Groupe de Haute Montagne, a sort of alpine club for elite French climbers, has had a rocky road in recent years. Several high-profile nominees have declined to participate in the awards process, decrying the whole idea of choosing the “best” climb of the year in a pursuit as diverse and personal as mountaineering. Last year's co-winner, Marko Prezelj from Slovenia, denounced the prize on stage and then wrote widely published essays explaining why such prizes were incompatible with the spirit of alpinism. The Piolet d'Or was further embarrassed by the revelation that one of the teams chosen as a finalist last year had lied about the style and even the success of its climb.Attempting to address these concerns last autumn, Philippe Descamps from Montagnes led an international search for opinions on the best ways to improve the Piolet d'Or. This resulted in substantial changes to the criteria and methods for choosing the prize recipient, including a rejection of old-school expedition-style climbs (which in the past had won the Piolet d'Or) in favor of alpine-style commitment. The nominees themselves also would vote in the final selection of the Piolet d'Or recipient. The organizers disseminated a new charter (see text below), and the GHM, which had pulled out of last year's Piolet d'Or, announced in late December that it would come back on board. But all this was too little, too late to pull off the major award ceremony slated for February. Moreover, many critics felt, although the new charter was a big step in the right direction, it did not solve the fundamental problem with alpine prizes. Though it now calls the Piolet d'Or recipient an “ambassador” for mountaineering instead of a winner, the end result is one climb and team of climbers selected over all the others, a bow to the reality that the mainstream media and general public need to have a “winner” to make sense of the ceremony.In its announcement of the cancellation, the committee said, “The organizers of the Piolet d'Or have dedicated all their efforts in order to give this international celebration of great alpinism the widest possible international support. [The new] charter has...gathered a great endorsement, and in the future it will be possible to further improve it.”Meanwhile, an Asian Piolet d'Or and Russian Piolet d'Or (unaffiliated with the French prize) have already been announced for 2007. They went to a South Korean team's climb on Garmush in Pakistan and to the Russian climb of the west face of K2, respectively. Climbing magazine also just published its annual Golden Piton awards in the latest issue (Climbing 264).Sources: Philippe Descamps, Russianclimb.com, Planetmountain.comAn English translation of the revised Piolet d'Or charter, mailed out by the organizers, is reproduced below:The Spirit of the Piolet d'OrThe mission of the Piolet d'Or is to present the year's great first climbs to the largest public possible. Its objective is to glorify the need for adventure and the sense of exploration, and to pay tribute to the art of climbing and to the world's most beautiful summits. It is a celebration of great mountaineering. The spirit of the Piolet d'Or draws its inspiration from the rich history of mountaineering, which is all about going where no one has gone before, without forgetting the teachings of the great mountaineers of the past, and facing risk to better appreciate the value of life. It is a public celebration of the roped party, of a spirit of camaraderie and solidarity, highlighting the beauty of individual and collective achievements. It involves the whole mountaineering community. In modern mountaineering, the question of the means primes over that of the objective. Mountaineering is no longer a question of achieving success at any cost using artificial means (oxygen bottles, fixed ropes, porters, etc.). It's all about imagining new itineraries, of making great climbs with very little hardware and of learning something along the way. It is a question of wisdom and daring, of conviction and courage. Performance evaluation criteriaThe climbs of the year will be evaluated in terms of elegance of style, taking the alpine style as a reference and taking into account the characteristics of each mountain. There will be no national preference. Each climb will be evaluated using the same criteria-individual evaluations will be followed by a collective evaluation.

  • The spirit of exploration: originality of the itinerary and/or of the summit, creativity, innovation

  • Commitment and autonomy

  • High technical level

  • Intelligence of the itinerary, taking into account the objective dangers.

  • Economy of means.

  • Respect for the communities.

  • Respect for the environment.

  • Respect for future generations of mountaineers, making sure they can relive the same adventures in the same conditions.

Selection of the climbs of the yearThe mission of the international jury is to ascertain the value of the climbs of the year by highlighting the strength and the contribution of each one of them within the diversity of modern mountaineering. In December, the international jury will designate the climbs which are going to take part in the Piolet d'Or ceremony. This preselection should be arrived at by consensus. In the absence of an agreement, votes can be organized inside each group. One group is composed of mountaineers, another is made of journalists. Each group casts one vote. In case of a tie, the president of the jury, who will always be a highly experienced mountaineer, gets the last say. The jury must be representative of the various cultures of high-level mountaineering. Its composition and the choice of its president are the responsibility of the GHM and of Montagnes Magazine. The GHM picks the members of the mountaineers group, and Montagnes Magazine is responsible for the choice of the specialized journalists. Before the ceremony, each team will present its climb to the jury with a detailed description of the means employed, backing up its presentation with as many documents as possible (photographs, testimonies, films). At the end of this first presentation, if the jury considers that a climb does not fit with the spirit of the Piolet d'Or, it can decide to exclude the team from the ceremony. This charter, the values and the procedures exposed therein, form the premise on which the mountaineers and the members of the jury can base their appreciation. Participation to the Piolet d'Or means that one approves the charter and considers oneself free from any personal commercial, national or political motivations. The Piolet d'OrAll the climbs which have been selected will be honored. With the Piolet d'Or, the jury's task is to identify which of them best exemplifies the values of modern mountaineering, without classification. It is only a question of designating every year an ambassador of modern mountaineering. The choice should be made by consensus. Only if necessary, a vote can be organized. The climbers participate in the process of selecting which team deserves special recognition. Each team can vote for what it considers the most remarkable climb, thereby choosing the great mountaineering's spokesperson for the coming year. It is not allowed to vote for itself. The group of nominees have one vote, like the two other groups (mountaineers and journalists). The president of the jury has the final say.