Greg Hill sets world record for climbing, skiing down
The Denver Post
Greg Hill is taking the year off from New Year’s resolutions. He’s earned it.
Colorado ski mountaineers may recognize Hill’s name as that of the randonee racer who joined Crested Butte’s Jimmy Faust in setting the world record for vertical feet climbed and skied during the now-defunct 24 Hours of Sunlight race in 2006. But that 50,100 vertical spin over the course of a planetary revolution paled in comparison with the resolution Hill set for himself in 2010.
The 35-year-old from Revelstoke, British Columbia, rang in the new year with a world record for vertical feet climbed and skied in a calendar year, hitting his goal of 2 million on Dec. 30, 2010, with friends and family on Rogers Pass before tacking on another 10,000 for good measure at his home hill on New Year’s Eve.
“I’m a little vertically obsessed,” admitted Hill, who claims to enjoy suffering. “Nobody has ever attempted anything like this for the full year. But the number just made sense. It’s the perfect number to test me for the whole year while remaining somewhat realistic. And it came right down to the wire.”
The mission known as “Greg Hill 2 Mil” began Jan. 1, 2010, and came to fruition some 266 ski days out of the calendar year later. To put the achievement in perspective, pushing through 2 million vertical feet is roughly the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest 69 times and skiing back down. In urban terms, it’s like climbing the Empire State Building four times a day for 365 days, the difference being that there are no stairs, you’re wearing skis and a backpack, and there is constant risk of avalanche, injury and hypothermia in remote mountain ranges from the Yukon Territory to Chilean Patagonia.
Powered solely by skis, strength and off-the-charts resolve, over the year Hill maintained an average of 5,500 vertical feet a day. Every day away from the chore for the husband and father of two meant doubling the effort the next. That left precious little time for sickness, injury or weather delays during the short days in a year’s worth of winter. In December alone, he ratcheted 238,000 vertical feet.
“It’s not all bluebird and beautiful, that’s for sure,” Hill said. “In the end, the hardest part is mental. It’s the mental that drives the physical, just trying to get out there every day and average 38,500 feet every week, regardless of weather. Whatever Mother Nature throws at you, you had to keep it up.”
Hill’s passion for vertical ascent is something of a mathematical obsession. Beginning back in 1999, he dreamt up the notion of ski touring 2 million vertical feet in Y2K, quickly realizing he lacked the knowledge and the fitness at the time to accomplish the feat. Over the course of the next decade, though, the goal never left his sight. He ticked off 1 million vertical feet on his alpine touring skis in the winter of 2004-05 and racked up 80 days of more than 10,000 feet in 2006-07 as he marched toward 2010.
Lack of chairlifts aside, perhaps most impressive is Hill’s choice of terrain. He wasn’t banging out laps on groomed snow at a ski resort. He climbed 71 wild mountain peaks in some of the harshest winter climates on Earth, nearly 40 of them for the first time.
“I like powder skiing, but I also like exploring,” Hill said. “It’s best to have a backcountry skiing partner, but this was my personal goal, so I actually did a lot of solo skiing, especially during the four months in Chile and Argentina. I think 130 out of 266 total ski days were solo.”
With the full support of his wife, Tracey, and the lifelong encouragement of his parents, Hill’s typical days included a 4 a.m. wake-up followed by seven to eight hours of continuous ski touring. A particularly rough day side-slipping 5,000 feet over a frozen Chilean volcano called Villarrica stands out as the low point of the adventure – and his lifelong skiing history – but Hill comes by motivation somewhat naturally, he said, noting the name of his signature ski model from sponsor Dynafit – The Stoke.
“I’m just a very positive person, so I try to focus on the positive parts, try to keep the psych up,” he said. “For me, I love challenging myself, pushing my personal boundaries. That was my goal and it took all I had to get to it. I don’t know if somebody else can do more, but I know I can’t. Nor will I ever try.”
Despite the support of sponsors such as Dynafit, Backcountry.com, Polartec and Arc’teryx, Hill estimates the year-long adventure set him back about $70,000, at least a portion of which he hopes to reclaim through film and television projects running in conjunction with his blog (Greghill.ca).
No matter what the balance sheet totals out at, though, Hill already believes he has come out ahead.
“Trying is the important part. Attempting your dreams is a scary thing, but it’s something we should all do,” Hill said. “If you really want something, it’s not going to just happen. You have to work hard to accomplish great things. If you have some dream – even though I can’t say anybody should dream that one up again – put your head down and work hard and you can accomplish whatever you dream up.”
Just for today, though, he might consider sleeping in.