Q&A: Alain Hubert (Rolex)

Alain Hubert is a certified mountaineer, polar guide, civil engineer, and entrepreneur. But more than anything, he is an explorer. 

When did you realize that you wanted to live a life of adventure?

Probably when I first reached the summit of a mountain, in Austria. The sun was setting and I had below me a sea of clouds stretching to the horizon. At that particular moment, I knew that my life would be one of a mountaineering. Through that, I became a polar explorer. But essentially, I’m an entrepreneur without any boundaries between all my activities.

You first ascended the East Ridge of the Amadablam in Nepal in 1983. How have exploring tools evolved since then? What is the biggest advancement you’ve seen during your career?

Definitely the lightness of all our equipment, and the synthetic fibers for clothing and all the technical materials, which gives us the possibility of pushing the limits while at the same time being closer to nature. One of the most important evolutions was the GPS and, later, satellite phones. Not for the progression of comfort, but for ultimate safety. Although now I am a little nostalgic when I think of the total isolation of my first expeditions.

What about watches?

My first Rolex was the Explorer II. I still use it on expeditions because I know it will not stop out on the ice and it is also the one I wear every single day of the year. In the middle of the Arctic Ocean, I’m surrounded by an environment that is white as far as the eye can see. You can only find your way by using the sun and the wind. But my Explorer can be used as a compass to help me keep my bearings in any conditions. I just have to look at my wristwatch to check my direction in relation to the sun. When I’m not on expedition, a quick look at my watch is enough to remind me that I made some fantastic expeditions and it makes me dream of new adventures.

How has the brand impacted the field of exploration, not only for you directly, but overall?

Rolex has such a long tradition of supporting exploration that the name has become intrinsically linked with it. It’s a connection with all the explorers who have experienced firsthand the fragility and exponential speed of change in the environment. This partnership with explorers and scientists has put Rolex in a privileged position. It has become a form of recognition of achievement.

What’s the most dangerous situation you’ve experienced during a climb or expedition? Is there a time you remember being scared?

Certainly my first encounter with polar bears in the Arctic. One huge male surprised me from the top of a block of ice. I had just been pushed back by an extremely strong wind while trying to cross an open lead in the middle of a big storm. I thought it was the end. And yet, at the same time, I was fascinated by the majesty of this animal, rightly called Lord of the Arctic.

In 1998, you set a world record crossing the Antarctic continent in 99 days, the longest crossing ever made on foot and ski. What other record would you like to attempt?

Nowadays breaking a record is no longer the most important goal in my life. When looking at the huge challenge of building a future—to be able to survive and live together on planet Earth as a human family—I have to do all I can. [I want to] share this new human adventure.

So how can we build a more sustainable world overall? You come from an engineering background, and developed the solar- and wind-powered Princess Elisabeth Station in Antarctica. What lessons did you learn?

The Princess Elisabeth Antarctica Research Station was designed and built with the International Polar Foundation. It is a zero-emissions station, with a micro-smart grid that produces all the energy needed for our activities. Having to adapt the rhythm of our activities to the availability of the energy, which depends on the sun and the wind, we realized that it wasn’t that difficult to change our habits—and that it didn’t imply suffering or reducing our standard of living. Building a more sustainable world will only be possible if we reconsider our relationship with energy. This is absolutely feasible. But the question is: Are we able to adapt?