Fine Alpine Art
Meetings at summit

Johann Filliez Mountain Guide and Alpine Lover

Written by Thomas Crauwels
Mountain guide at the Parrotspitze with views of the horizon and the summit

Mountain guide and crystal-maker Johann Filliez has always been passionate about the Alps and the high mountains. Based near Verbier, in the heart of the Swiss Valais, he offers his customers the opportunity to discover the wild heights in their most beautiful light. A fervent admirer of this grandiose environment, Johann Filliez devotes his life to highlighting the beauties of a striking natural environment. Meet an unrivalled guide driven by his love of others and of the mountains.

Johann Filliez | Mountain guide in the Valais Alps

Let's start by talking about your work as a mountain guide. How would you define it?

Being a guide allows me to offer my customers the chance to discover the mountains in their own way. To choose the activity that suits them, according to their desires and the season. I live in the Val de Bagnes, near the resort of Verbier, one of the biggest in the Valais Alps. In winter, I put on my touring skis to lead my clients through the Alps for a few hours or several days. I also offer off-piste accompaniment. After leaving the lifts, we go freeriding off the beaten track to reach isolated slopes away from the crowds. I also climb icefalls, equipped with ice axes and crampons. The experience is extraordinary. And in summer, I introduce them to the pleasures of canyoning, mid-mountain walking and sport climbing. For the more experienced, I climb some of the highest summits in the Alps.

Every guide has his or her own way of working, depending on the sector in which they operate and the activities in which they engage. Personally, I like the idea of varying pleasures. It helps me manage my energy. For example, the day after climbing summit at an altitude of over 4,000 metres, I devote my day to canyoning. This gives my body time to recuperate after the hard work of the day before. Mastering a wide range of activities also enables me to adapt to my clients' needs and weather conditions. Whatever their relationship with the mountains, their physical ability and their wishes, whatever the weather when they call on me, I make sure I can give them an unforgettable experience in the mountains.

You realize that some people have been following me for over ten years! So I have to keep renewing myself. We're constantly setting ourselves new goals. New places to explore, outside the Alps and the Valais. I take them abroad, to summits all over the world. And whether I'm guiding them to the top of the Alps or elsewhere, we're having a great time together.

What does the profession of mountain guide mean to you, and why did you choose to follow this singular path?

I have an immense passion for the mountains. I love the wind of freedom that the heights inspire. That feeling of eternal discovery. That's why I chose to become a professional guide. And what makes me want to do my job every day is the richness of the relationships I forge with my customers. They come from different backgrounds and walks of life, from all over the world, with their own desires and their own way of looking at the Alps. Each encounter creates a unique relationship. And I strive to offer them the activity that best suits their desire for discovery or adventure. My guiding principle is to share my passion for the mountains and common values.

Plus, I'm deeply driven by the need to feel useful. You know, there's nothing like the happiness I feel when I catch that little sparkle in my customers' eyes. When, at the end of the day, their faces light up. Because they've gone beyond themselves, because they've realized their wildest dreams, because they've become one with nature for a few hours. When I see them, their hearts filled, finally breathing out the victories they've won over themselves, I'm simply happy. Happy to have helped them discover the mountains in a new light, happy to have made them love this grandiose nature.

Happy mountain guide posing on the north ridge of Weissmies sunrise
On the Weissmies north ridge

For some people, climbing summit in the Valais is the project of a lifetime. They prepare for years, and I have the incredible privilege of accompanying them on this memorable journey. Imagine that, at this moment, you are the most important person in their eyes. The guide who leads them to the end of their dream. The person who makes everything possible. It's hard for me to put into words the intensity of the sensations that run through me. When we live such adventures together, the relationship that unites us is precious and indestructible. And the strength of the bonds I forge with my clients, whether I'm accompanying them on their own or living at the pace of their group for several days at a time, never ceases to enrich my practice and nourish my humanity.

Johann Filliez | Professional guide driven by a love of the mountains

You talk about your job with such passion! How would you define your relationship with the mountains?

The mountains are my whole life! I live there, I work there and I can't see myself living far from it. I grew up with its values, and now I'm trying to pass them on to my children. The importance of helping and sharing. We often see the mountains as a solitary playground. But for me, it's just the opposite! You're rarely alone in the mountains, and as soon as two of you reach altitude, you become one entity with that other person. Our destinies are linked. When I climb with someone, I become one with that person. Our steps synchronize, our gestures coordinate. We listen to each other, we respect each other, we understand each other. We move forward together, whatever the cost, with Next the same strategy. In the high mountains, we put our lives on the line, and our decisions leave nothing to chance. The mountains bring out the best in us. A humanity largely buried in our everyday lives. Individualism gives way to solidarity, and egocentricity to fraternity. When we climb a high mountain together summit, we are sometimes confronted with very difficult conditions. The experience is overwhelming and of a rare intensity. Then, in just a few hours, the members of the same rope party become very close, with absolute trust in each other. Nothing matches this feeling of belonging and openness to others.

The mountains also remind us of the importance of authenticity and humility. When I was a young guide, I felt strong both technically and physically. I had the impression of dominating the mountain, that I could force my way through, that no route could resist me. Today, thanks to my close contact with the mountains and my immersion in them, I perceive nature differently. I'm happy when the mountain lets me pass. I'm grateful. I slip discreetly between the rocks without it noticing me. Over the years, I've come to understand that it's the mountain that decides whether or not to welcome us to its slopes. And when I find myself facing a vertiginous cliff or a gigantic glacier, I feel very small. The mountain knows how to put us in our rightful place. What are we, tiny humans of fleeting existence, compared to these immovable colossi of rock and ice?

So, to answer your question, my relationship with the mountain is a powerful and profound one. Make no mistake: even if the mountain gives you the impression of being inert and stagnant, it's actually very much alive! Its glaciers flow like a river, its rocks break and tumble down its walls, the nature it shelters is teeming. I can feel it changing with the seasons, and my heart beats to the rhythm of its metamorphoses.

Does your love of the mountains extend beyond the Alps?

Oh yes, of course! I travel a lot all over the world. I've just come back from Kilimanjaro. I accompany my clients wherever the mountains are. The list of destinations is long! Tanzania, Mongolia, Bulgaria, Greece, the Russian Caucasus, Patagonia, Morocco, Norway, Iceland, Greenland or the Himalayas. In spring or autumn, when activity slows down in the Alps, I introduce my customers to many other destinations.

What's the most beautiful mountain for you, the one that moves you the most?

It all depends on the moment. It's a bit like a glass of wine - it depends on who you're drinking it with! But I would say that Grand Combin holds a special place in my heart. I'm originally from Martigny, in the lower Val d'Entremont. Grand Combin is where I was born, where I grew up, and where I live. It was one of the first summits over 4000 metres high that I climbed with my father and brother when I was young. And I took my first mountaineering steps on the mountains surrounding it. I often think back to those moments when I climb them. So, finally, I can say that Grand Combin is a bit like family!

Smiling mountain guide at summit on the Combin de Valsorey
Johann at summit Combin de Valsorey

Johann Filliez | His fondest memories of the Alps

Can you tell us about your most memorable mountain experience?

I have great experiences every day! Every moment in the mountains is unique and enriching. They all help me to evolve and move forward. But I think back to a woman I accompanied to summit from Dent Blanche and Grand Combin. She only had one arm and we were one. For two years, we prepared for this rather special climb. We got to know and understand each other. It was a moment of incredible sharing.

Can you tell us about your fondest mountain memories?

It was certainly the day I climbed the Matterhorn alone with my father for the first time. I remember it like it was yesterday. It was a pretty crazy day. I was an aspiring guide at the time and had never climbed the Matterhorn at summit . On the morning of our departure, I was very stressed. I got lost at the foot of the mountain! It was impossible to find the access route to summit. When you don't know her, she tends to hide. It's as if it were reserved for the initiated. All the other groups of climbers passed us by. They were undoubtedly more experienced than me. As I groped my way along, I suddenly saw a huge black cloud blowing in a strong wind at summit on the Matterhorn. In view of the danger it represented, all the roped parties had to turn back during the ascent. But as we were almost an hour behind the others, we were able to continue on our way. And just as we were about to reach summit, the sky suddenly cleared. We were incredibly lucky to be the only ones able to reach the summit of the Matterhorn that day. Imagine how we felt! It was exceptional. My father and I alone at summit on this legendary mountain. Alone, contemplating the beauty of the Alps. That day, the mountain welcomed us. Just when we thought we were lost, it guided us at its own pace towards the sky, offering us this fabulous moment. And I'll never forget it.

Johann Filliez | A crystal maker in the heart of the Alps

You're also a crystal picker. What does your profession involve?

The crystal maker sets off into the mountains to find search treasures. He then brings them back to the plains, where he showcases and sells them. He surveys summits mainly in summer and autumn, when the snow has melted. He gets as close as possible to the glacial zones. Where the glaciers retreat, new rock faces emerge, revealing deposits that no one has ever seen before. He also seeks out remote, little-visited areas. Where the high mountains are most friable and made of scree. The forest also contains crystals, but they are harder to detect because the rock is buried under vegetation. In this case, you need to look for rocky outcrops or fallen trees under which the rocks can be seen.

What are your favourite crystals?

In the Alps, we mainly find quartz. I'm particularly fond of Gwindel quartz or twisted quartz. While quartz usually crystallizes in six faces, this one follows a particular crystallization pattern that gives it all its originality. And of course, I love smoky quartz, which can only be found at altitudes of over 3,000 metres. From milky white, it becomes black and gains in purity. It is magnificent. Altitude amplifies its beauty.

How do you feel when you uncover crystals?

It's an indescribable sensation. Going in search of crystals awakens wonderful memories in me. I came to the mountains through the attraction of crystals. When I was a child, my father used to take my brother and me to pick them in the mountains. Imagine the exhilaration of a child setting off on an adventure to find search treasures. We'd walk for hours before discovering any. We were united by the same passion, and we still are today. When you embark on this exhilarating quest together, you forget everything. In contact with the mountain and focused on our goal, nothing else matters. Neither the passing hour nor the weather. So, to be on the safe side, we divide up the tasks. When one of us picks the pieces, the other selects the most interesting and packs them. The one who extracts the crystals from the furnace where they are stored acts with fervor, driven by gold fever, while the second, subject to the cool winds, keeps an eye on the passage of time. He's the one who tells the group when it's time to pack up. For the mountain, even when it nourishes our dreams, requires our vigilance.

The crystal-maker holds a magnificent piece of crystal in both hands

Being away from home and the world for hours at a time taught me from childhood to appreciate the things in life. All the things that may seem trivial to us, but are nonetheless of the utmost comfort. Taking a hot shower after a hard day's work, enjoying an evening with the family by the fire, finally resting in a soft bed. When you rediscover these simple pleasures after days of deprivation, you quickly forget the lack and the pain. Our mountain escapes have taught me to stay aware every day of how lucky I am to live free from want and surrounded by the people I love. And when I come back from a climb or a long trip, I'm delighted to be living in Switzerland, in such a magnificent frame . I'm overwhelmed by the forests and mountains that surround me, and I marvel at the things I have that I used to miss so much. In turn, I try to pass on these values to my children.

Johann Filliez | Passing on and highlighting Alpine heritage

Your job as a mountain guide is not without risks. Has your relationship with life and the mountains changed since you became a father?

My relationship with life has certainly changed. My sons will soon be 5 and 3, and when you become a father, you're only responsible for yourself. When I'm away in the mountains, I think of my children and my wife. They're always by my side. But this new strength hasn't really changed my relationship with the mountains. As a guide, I've always been careful to be as cautious as possible. I've always had a deep respect for nature and for life, and becoming a father hasn't changed my approach to risk. I'm just going away for less time, so I can make the most of my family.

You know, whatever activity I do in the mountains, I don't feel I'm taking much more risk than someone who drives to work every day. In fact, I'm almost more afraid on the road than in the mountains! Probably because in the car, my survival depends in part on the attitude of other drivers, whereas in the mountains I have more control over the risks I do or don't take. The mountains are demanding but fair.

How would you say that your work as a mountain guide helps to highlight the beauty of the Alps and the high mountains?

Most people have changed their outlook when they come to the mountains. Previously, their goal was to climb a particular summit or achieve a particular sporting feat. Now, they come to the Alps to get away from the hustle and bustle of the world, to cut themselves off from the outside world. They yearn for peace and quiet, and want to experience the power of the mountains. A time out of their daily lives to open up to the world and reconnect with themselves. The path itself becomes a goal, and the return to nature a quest.

I offer people who put their trust in me access to exceptional places. I introduce them to the splendours of the Alps and try to raise their awareness of this unique environment. During our expeditions, I talk to them about rocks, plants, the history of summits and mountaineering. I like to open their eyes to the fabulous world of the mountains. They amaze us as much as they surprise us. Who can imagine, for example, that behind the high summits we admire lie immense glacial plains that link the valleys together? I love to see in people's eyes their amazement and joy at the idea of having unlocked the mountain's secrets, of having approached its deepest truth.

Mountain guide at summit Äbeni Flue with the sea of clouds in the background
Visit St. Johann at summit Äbeni Flue

The high mountains are a world unto themselves, and I feel it my duty to share their incredible beauty with others. I like to pass on, I like to enlighten, I like to nourish the spirit of the people I accompany. These days, everyone has a strong opinion on everything. So I think it's essential to offer people a fresh look at the Alps, to help them understand things differently. My parents and grandparents introduced me to Alpine traditions, the way of life in the past, agriculture and transhumance. So I feel it's important to be able to pass on the history of the Alpine environment. What could be more essential than knowing one's roots in order to flourish? Future generations will be all the better equipped to face the world of tomorrow if they know the riches of their land and the heritage bequeathed to them by the mountains. 

Johann Filliez continues to guide us from summit to summit, discovering the most beautiful summits in the Alps and beyond. Thanks to him, I've pursued some fascinating adventures. With him, I've climbed some legendary mountains. At altitudes of over 4,000 metres, we climbed high into the sky, inspired by the splendour of the panoramic views before us. Through the Monte Rosa massif, the Imperial Crown of Zinal or the Bernese triptych, we experienced unforgettable moments together. And life will, I hope, lead us to share many more odysseys.

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