Featured: The Winter Challenge Leg 3: Carving Up The Icy Cliff Faces Of The French Alps

The Winter Challenge Leg 3: Carving Up The Icy Cliff Faces Of The French Alps

Will_Broadhead By Will_Broadhead
February 23, 2018
12 comments

Photography by Will Broadhead

This story is part of our series on the 2018 HERO Winter Challenge, you can catch up with the preview and days one and two.

There are moments in life that literally take your breath away. You often meet them for the first time as a toddler when you fall off of something to land on your stomach, but then there’s the better sort, those occasions when you experience something so stunning that all you can do is try to absorb it and store it to be fully processed at a later date. I had one of those encounters on the evening of the third leg of the HERO Winter Challenge while descending from one of the higher passes in the French Alps, whereupon after rounding what had to have been the millionth hairpin turn of the day, I was presented with a vista that fell squarely in the category of spell-binding. Hundreds of kilometers of countryside were cast out around me hundreds and hundreds of meters below our parade of cars, all in the glow of an early spring evening. This was the cherry on the top of a long day, and I don’t mind telling you it was all quite emotional for me.

It did not begin there that morning, and the final view of all views was just part of the list of spectacular roads and scenery experienced during the day as we pushed to our highest point of the trip so far. The morning began with a fight through the breakfast traffic of another valley floor metropolis that served as our base for the night prior, very quickly though, a seemingly unassailable bank of mountains appeared in the windshield and our ascent soon began in earnest. The first regularity test of the day passed through small vineyards and sparse clumps of houses of the people that tended them, along with some of the slenderest roads we crossed yet. The classic car troupe were all in fine song as they sped through these sections, and were rewarded with the first sighting of proper, proper snow at the top of the climb.

The day would run along a series of regularity tests like these, making up the stages with link sections in between. Each more challenging than the last, and some on roads so narrow that parking the media wagon up in a safe place became almost as much of a game as finding a great spot to photograph from to begin with. Not that finding superb vantage points was a problem with the landscapes we were immersed in all day, and the problem was more of a case of being spoilt for choice! No sooner had you moved on from a photo spot than you found someplace a few hairpins down the road that was even more stunning. The snow was deep but not constant, and we seemed to either be staring at lush green pastures, imposing rock faces, or, in parts, glistening white pistes heavy with powder and ice.

The rally certainly found the cold stuff on the frozen grounds of a mountain ice track that served as a location for the day’s speed trial. The presence of a bunch of mad classic car fanatics attempting to counter-steer around a frozen surface drew a good-sized crowd of interested locals, which may have provoked the drivers to slide a bit more aggressively than usual, particularly from those with rear-wheel drives.

Man-made ice circuits are all well and good, but the draw of the natural alpine scenery was far more tempting, so my two new friends and I that completed our media trio took to the roads once more to stay ahead of the rally and photograph the cars as they made their way through the afternoon’s regularity tests in the mountains.

The scenery kept getting better as we climbed higher, and we were treated to rock overhangs lined with daggers of icicles which occasionally let go and fell onto the road as they melted in the low afternoon sun. Torrents of meltwater cascaded off of the rock verandas above us and the cars danced through the spray almost in silhouette in the water’s refraction of the light. It was really a wild effect in an already otherworldly spot on the globe.

We were also fortunate enough to photograph the machines as they passed through one of the many sections of tunnels and precipices that guided the road around the often sheer cliff faces, the age-old rock towering above and careering away from the road into the valley many hundreds of meters below. The forces that had created these natural forms we were seeing are millions of years in the process, and it made the history of the automobiles on our trip infantile in comparison. However, their timeless designs complimented the panoramas of the stages and showed no lack of maturity, in my opinion anyway. These climbing snakes of road in this kind of isolated, extreme landscape are what sports cars were built for, but usually this only happens in their commercials. It was a beautiful thing to see in person, and judging by the smiles and conversation at the coffee stops, an absolute riot for those competing. Not even the abandonment and re-routing of the day’s final test—due to one snow drift too many—could ruin what had been a sublime day.

It was all quite magical, and as we pulled into our dinner stop for the evening and the mechanics went to work on the problems and niggles developed through a hard day of driving, in cars that ought to be drawing their pensions rather than hammering through tight high-altitude passes. I wished to be able to do it all over again almost as soon as it was over—it seemed too perfect to end just yet. Then again, there was the night stage…

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Carlo MuroNicola Wayne FolliDavidejackcB Bop Recent comment authors
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Carlo Muro
Carlo Muro

Southern France is a gem amongst gems. If it were possible for me to live anywhere, it would probably be there. I prefer to explore it by motorcycle but by vintage automobile would be a close second.

Davide
Davide

Maybe putting in a road map every once in a while so we can enjoy these beatiful sights in real life wouldn’t be the worst idea. But thanks for the pictures and the story.

Nicola Wayne Folli
Nicola Wayne Folli

Quote, I live near French Alps (in Sanremo) and I’d love to take a ride on those roads!

MephistosComplaint
MephistosComplaint

The photos almost to a number are over exposed , out of focus , poorly composed and about as amateurish as can be . In as far as Will’s lame and erroneous excuses living in an Alpine environment myself I say total BS ! In as far as the use of filters are concerned : might I heartily recommend Will take the learn the proper technique and usage of filters As for the text . If this pile of inanity is what now passes for automotive journalism then no wonder the business of automotive journalism is in the Weeds financially… Read more »

B Bop
B Bop

Automotive journalism is fine and well. It’s just not accommodating those with mental health issues such as yourself, so move on GS and stop bothering the journalists and commenters.

mikey p
mikey p

Will keep up the good work…excellent coverage! I’ve throughly enjoyed all of your pics and commentary…job well done!!

Mark St Clair
Mark St Clair

Good images. Real colour and not gimmicky filters laid over top would have made them truly great images. Please, spare us the de saturated muddiness.

Will
Will

Thank you. I’m not sure what you mean by filters, the only filters I use are on camera. Usually a circular polariser to cut down reflections of the are body work and to make the sky closer to why we see and also a graduated nd filter to slow the sky down, as I’m sure you can appreciate inhigh alpine environments like this the difference in exposure between ground and sky can be as much as four or five stops. In post I actually boost saturation a touch, as the on camera filters tend to flatten colour out a little.… Read more »

Jack Chesnutt
Jack Chesnutt

Mark I have to differ with you. Even before I read Will’s reply, I went back and looked at all of the fine images from these installments of the event coverage. I know a “manipulated” image when I see one, and I can only detect a light touch on the filters, as you refer to them. Having covered multi-day events, I congratulate the fortitude in this coverage. Getting out ahead of the pack, finding great shooting locations, post-event image selection, writing and editing turns a long day into a very very long day and night. Drivers having a nice dinner… Read more »

MephistosComplaint
MephistosComplaint

How very kind of you Mr Chestnut to join in with the pathetic excuses for Will’s substandard work verging on the Spectacle of the Inept . Might one assume by your words that quality is not in your vocabulary , never mind a part of your life ?

MephistosComplaint
MephistosComplaint

My congratulations to you good sir for spotting the obvious as well as having the stones to expose it in and amongst the mindless little drones who wouldn’t know quality if it his them upside the head that make up the majority of those expressing their banal sycophant opinions in the desperate attempt to gain approval on this site .

Jack Chesnutt
Jack Chesnutt

Attention MC, or is it GS? I stand by my observations on the article and it’s images. If you can figure out how to spell my name, feel free to google it. My background in journalism is pretty easy to find. I recently started an account on Instagram- jackchesnutt812. Please show us YOUR work and creativity, MC.