What sets apart the very best partnerships in the mountains? You might assume it’s an affinity for the same kind of projects. Or that’s it’s all about matched levels of skills and experience. Or perhaps it’s similar styles of moving through the mountains and compatible schedules that build the strongest partners. But the real secret to the best partnerships is much less about comparisons than it is about connections.
After a chance meeting two years ago, Mammut Pro Team athletes Caro North and Nadine Wallner have sparked an extraordinary partnership. The two women are from different worlds; Wallner is a professional Austrian freeride skier, while North is a professional alpinist and widely celebrated climber from Switzerland. But in the last two years the pair have been skiing, climbing and paragliding together, everywhere from Austria to Pakistan. It’s a remarkable example of the power of unexpected encounters, and proof that sometimes the most unlikely partnerships are often the best.
While the two women share little in common through their backgrounds, they are both steadfast in their belief that it’s not shared skills and experience that make some partnerships stand out from the rest. Rather, it’s a simple human connection.
“I like to be in the mountains with people I can also go for a coffee with. And that’s not normal,” says Wallner.
“Sometimes you’re just focused on a project or a sport. I like to know someone as a person, not just a mountain partner. “ This works with Caro.
“What makes this partnership different is the face-to-face level. We’re meeting each other as real people, not just as a mountain person with the skills and everything else. We get along and we have fun.”
North, who spurred on the project to climb the mythical Ave Caesar (7c) route on the Petit Clocher du Portalet in Switzerland with Wallner in 2021, echoes her partner’s sentiments.
“I think the coolest thing is that Nadine is always motivated. She's a partner who I can do everything with. So, we go skiing together. We go climbing together. We go alpine climbing together… But it's not only the climbing that brings us together.”
“We can also talk about everything. And for me, this is really important. It's not only about climbing; it's way more. Even if we're not climbing together, we call each other and just chat for hours on the phone.”
Despite their relatively short friendship, Wallner and North have built a strong level of trust, something that both agree is the foundation of success in the mountains.
“If I can’t trust my partner, I can’t climb on my limit,” says North.
“The more you climb together, the less words you need, the better you just work together and kind of have a fusion."
“And with Nadine and me, there's definitely times where we can communicate without words and we just look at each other and we both know what the other one is thinking. It's really cool. I haven't had such a good partner in a long time, where we can do everything and it's so easy."
“We want to push each other, but there is no competition to us. We want to be a strong team together. So, if she reaches something, we reach something as a team.”
Finding the perfect partner for mountain sports is a notoriously difficult task. The mental and physical challenge of elite alpine pursuits makes the task of finding teammates who are grafting on the same level especially challenging. But sometimes the stars align and deliver not just an equal, but a perfect match.
“It has to work as a team and everyone brings something,” says Wallner.
“If you can put it together and bring out something even better, for me, that’s the main goal. It’s not just about doing this route, or if you want to ski this or that. You can go solo, but it’s not so much fun. If you share it, you get double the fun. And when you suffer together, it’s half of the suffering. And I can do this with Caro.”