Today we have an exclusive online premiere of the documentary Ice & Palms. In it, ski mountaineers Jochen Mesle and Max Kroneck complete their dream journey of biking across the Alps, hauling their skis and gear the entire way. Starting on their very own doorstep, the pair traveled 1,800 kilometers from their home country of Germany through four countries all the way to the Mediterranean.
What inspired you to do this journey? Why this route? What was your favorite part of the route?
Max: A journey like this had been a longtime dream for both of us. Step by step, the idea turned into an ideal tour combining our main passions: the mountains, skiing, and biking. We started to plan this trip about two years ago. The goal was to start a ski expedition right on our doorsteps, do it by fair means, and see if we could live a real adventure, 100% self-powered. If you look at the map, the main alpine ridge stretches from our start all the way down to Nice and the Mediterranean. The final route was not completely set before the start. We had some dream peaks in mind and had to adapt to the weather situation and regional snow conditions during the trip. Many decisions had to be made every day––as you could guess, when you travel by bike it is harder to get to the right spot for the right weather window than by car.
Jochen: My favorite part of the journey was the Barre des Écrins in France. This was such a special place for both of us. It is a region we have not been to before and it was incredible to stand on this 4000m peak and see the full alpine ridge, including Mont Blanc on one side and the Mediterranean Sea at the other side.
What was the most challenging thing, physically? What about emotionally or mentally?
Max: Mentally for me, it was the weather and the sunlight when documenting the project. We wanted to ski the big lines in perfect conditions, but it was quite challenging to be at the right place at the right time. Also, carrying all our gear over the mountain passes, which were still covered by huge amounts of snow, was a big challenge.
Jochen: We were both dealing with some injuries before the start of the tour. As always, it gets hectic the days before leaving on a big trip like this; we didn’t have much time left to train or fully recover from our injuries. In the end, being on the road was the best recovery. At first, I was a little bit skeptic if we could reach our destination and if our bodies can handle the challenge. However, we were getting stronger and stronger every day on the road, so by the time we reached the really challenging mountains, we felt good to go.
How many miles were you biking per day?
Jochen: We did 1,880 km in 42 days. With some days just on skis and a few days of rest, it has been roughly 50 miles per day. No biggie? Don’t forget all the gear we had to carry…
What was the ratio of biking to skiing in a day?
Max: We spent about 16 days on skis and the other days on the bike, so the ratio was 16:21 minus the five days one of us was ill. The switch from ski to bike always took quite a long time; we were busy packing for about three hours a day. We always tried to gain as much elevation as possible on the bike before switching to ski touring. For the big 4000m peaks, we usually left the bikes and the cycling gear that we didn’t need on the mountain down near the road and returned back to it after skiing. Heading out for a high alpine ski tour after several days of cycling back to back is much different than going on a one day ski trip.
Did you carry all your gear on your bike pack, or did you store things along the way?
Max: All our gear was on our bikes at all times, though when we switched on to our skis, we left a few things (including our bikes) in the valley. The packing list before the trip was super detailed and a lot of time went into determining the right gear––we wanted to bring as little gear as possible, but still have everything we would need. In the end, it was a 40 kg load on each bike, which is a lot for standard bike packing, but still super minimalistic if you want to take all the ski gear, climbing gear, cameras, drones, and cycling equipment on one trip.
In terms of your gear kit, what were a few essentials?
Max: The most important thing was to be prepared for every weather condition, so we had to take a lot of clothing to cover the whole range. We started with rain jackets and ended up with boardshorts. With this amount of varied clothing, we had to keep the weight as low as possible. Our most creative solutions were to shorten our toothbrushes and cut all the labels out of our clothings…didn’t lose that much weight with those techniques to be honest. Besides the clothes, the camera gear was very important for documenting the whole trip. We had two small full-frame cameras, a small drone, and tons of batteries with us. Our tip for people who want to do a similar bike packing mission is: you don’t really need a tent if you want to reduce the weight. In the entire 42 days, we only used our tent four times.
Where and what did you eat?
Max: Oh yes, eating was a big challenge. We pretty much ate everything we could find, buy, or cook––up to 7000 calories a day per person. Noodles, cereal, and granola bars were a large part of this adventure. Sometimes, we just pulled out the camping stove and made 1 kg of pasta for the two of us. In the valleys of the Alps, it was always easy to get food in supermarkets or restaurants, but when we were in the alpine regions it was different. Most of the mountain huts were closed in May, so we had to carry all our food into the mountains when we planned to spend several days there. We even melted some snow to get water.
Was there anything unexpected you found on this journey?
Jochen: One of the most beautiful moments of the journey came suddenly. When we were on the ascent to the Valsorey/Grand Combin, a bearded vulture floated by, very close to us…nobody said a word. We were just stunned seeing this huge bird with a 3m wingspan soaring less than 10m away from us.
Max: Getting the first flat tire of the tour was definitely an unexpected moment, which happened 25km before reaching our final destination in Nice. We expected to have flats every few days and carried untouched repair kits for 41 days.
How did people along the way react?
Jochen: Super stunned about the skis on our bikes, especially in the regions where spring was in full swing. In the valleys, people were already running around in shorts and t-shirts and we came by with skis strapped to our bikes. Everybody was super interested and asked questions about our destination, and we had a good laugh with some of them. We chatted with some lightweight road cyclists on a climb to the Oberalp Pass in Switzerland. They were pretty impressed by our 50kg rigs.
What’s next for you guys?
Max: Just a few days ago, we started filming for our new movie project (but we can’t say much about it yet). It will be a different format, but with the same crew and passion. It will be released in December 2019.