Couttet Champion | The Visionary

Couttet Champion

inventor, pioneer, modern sportsman

Couttet Champion cross-country ski bindings

Couttet's ski bindings

My grandfather was often opposed, even disowned, because he was too far ahead of his time and the sometimes narrow-minded attitudes of the time. He was certainly one of the most active skiers and guides and his avant-garde spirit led him to found the very first French Ski School and the Chamonix Climbing School, as well as, with his older brothers Jules and Joseph and Doctor Payot, the Chamonix section of the French Alpine Club (CAF), which was to become one of the most important sections of the CAF.

A pioneering researcher and technician, he and his brother Jules invented the COUTTET's binding, a revolutionary cross-country ski binding for its time. Made entirely of metal, it is by far the simplest ever designed for Nordic skiing. Robust and lightweight, it was to equip all the Chasseurs Alpins battalions for many years to come. In fact, he himself had plenty of time to try it out during the long patrols he carried out in the Vosges during the great turmoil of 14/18.

Globetrotter guide

While most guides remained attached to their valley and the peaks that surrounded them, Alfred COUTTET was one of the first guides from Chamonix to go and challenge other mountains in other territories. In this way, he covered most of the mountains of old Europe. The "Freeride" spirit and the "Freestyle" attitude were already present in the sporting approach of this pioneer.

Greatly attracted by the Dolomites, he undertook several campaigns there, and his Italian colleagues were not mistaken. Indeed, no sooner had they achieved a first than Alfred COUTTET took it up again with such brilliance that he pulverised the timetable. Soon, in Cortina d'Ampezzo or Val Gardena, a new expression was on the lips of the mountaineering world. When a climber was described as having done a Couttet-style race, was that he had run a race with speed and elegance. "A real class act!

Alfred COUTTET also learnt from the Italian experience about the use of pitons and carabiners, the same that made Demaison and Rébuffat so famous. Until then, the equipment used by Italian climbers was completely unknown in the Mont-Blanc region.

In the Dolomites, he also learned to tackle large vertical walls and brought back the first espadrilles with rope soles, which worked wonders on limestone walls, where shoes with nails were becoming inappropriate. In his concept, the espadrille was undoubtedly the ancestor of today's climbing shoes, and he used them as a precursor in the calanques of Marseille and in the forest of Fontainebleau.

Communicating sportsman

Decidedly modern and avant-garde, he was one of the first sportsmen to communicate and exploit his fame through the media and the budding advertising industry. We find him lending his image to an Ovomaltine advert, or the aura of his name on adverts for the famous Parisian shop Au Vieux Campeur.

On 15th August 1932, he and his student and friend Roger Frison-Roche took part in the first live radio broadcast from the summit of Mont Blanc. Frison was the commentator for the broadcast, while Alfred Couttet, the leader of the rope party, was responsible for the expedition and the logistical aspects of this incredible technical feat and media event of the time.

His futuristic visions led him, long before the development of winter tourism gave rise to La Plagne, Avoriaz, Courchevel and Tignes, to make the Roselend valley in the Beaufortin massif a super French ski resort for spring skiing. He studied all the data - average snowfall, temperatures, accessibility, skiable area, etc. - built a luxury hotel with electricity, hot and cold running water and central heating, and began to bring the fledgling resort to life. Unfortunately, the only thing he couldn't foresee - because visionary doesn't mean reading the future - was that a few years later, EDF engineers would create an artificial lake by flooding the valley to build a hydroelectric dam. Expropriated, Roselend was perhaps the only dream that Alfred COUTTET was unable to fully realise.

Whatever field he touched, he always showed his contemporaries the way forward, and in the end they followed him: Climbing schools, ski resorts and ski schools have sprung up all over France, top sportsmen and women sell their image to the media, major companies use the fame and name of sportsmen and women to enhance their brand image, and Chamonix guides have ended up leaving their mark just about everywhere on our good old Blue Planet ; not to mention the fact that by approaching mountaineering in a different way, with elegance and speed, and by setting hourly records, he paved the way for the Vallençant, Boivin, Profit, Destivel,... sports mountaineers. And if my grandfather didn't get all the attention, nor all the gratitude that he could have expected from his contemporaries with regard to his discoveries and inventions, at least he had the satisfaction of seeing all his ideas come to fruition.