Rainer Hertrich, who holds record for consecutive days skiing, writes book about experience
“I skied. A lot. Period.”
Rainer Hertrich was riding up a lift with a Summit County resident known as Tommy T-Bar when another skier on the chair started talking about the days he had racked up that season. The man was boasting about his vertical feet and time on the hill — continuing on for most of the ride up. While this isn’t out of the norm for a chairlift conversation, this particular skier had absolutely no idea who he was boasting to on the chairlift.
Hertrich, a longtime Summit County resident, skied 2,993 consecutive days from Nov. 1, 2003, to Jan. 10, 2012 — still the longest streak on record for consecutive days skiing — only ending when a near-fatal heart arrhythmia landed him in intensive care. During his streak, his story had been reported on by outlets from Outside magazine to espn.com to The Associated Press. Now, after 3 1/2 years of work with author Devon O’Neil, his story is captured in “The Longest Run: How a Colorado Ski Bum Skied Every Day for More Than 8 Years.”
HERTRICH’S VERTICAL OFFICE
Sitting in his condo at Copper, the skier recounts his time traveling in search of snow and the friends he made along the way. His mission took him from Copper Mountain in the winter to Timberline on Mount Hood in Oregon in the summer, to spending a month or so in South America before heading back to Copper. Between the two resorts, he’s logged 44 seasons grooming runs.
He’s been a skier his whole life, growing up in Estes Park and racing in high school on a team he created with his buddies. The team — not officially recognized by the high school due to its reputation for partying — would don their jeans and down jackets and repeatedly beat the kids on more formalized teams.
“They really didn’t have much grooming there to speak of, so we all skied the crud, powder and wind-blown. We were just really good, stable, strong skiers for being little kids,” he said. “We’d go to these races and kick ass and everyone like Breckenridge, Vail, Aspen — they all had their fancy schmancy race suits that all matched. The thing was, we kicked ass because even when the courses got all rutted out, we’d ski them like there weren’t any ruts ’cause we were used to skiing crap.”
In 1979, at the age of 18, he began juggling time between Copper in the winter and Estes Park in the summers, until Copper started offering summertime positions and he was able to stay in Summit. He started as a snowmaker at the ski area before moving into grooming. His jobs allowed him to repeatedly log epic proportions of vertical feet each season — 2 million his first year, 3 million the next year, reaching 4 million in a season that included a week in Alaska on a motorcycle trip. It was during a trip to Jackson Hole that he was inspired to start logging his vertical and ski every day. There was a plaque at the Mangy Moose commemorating a club that had logged 6 million vertical feet in a season.
“I did the math, and I was like, ‘Gee, if you skied every day, 33,000 feet a day, you’d do a million a month and, in six months, you got 6 million vertical feet.”
His incredible journey began, and he started racking up the days and the vertical. He was able to continue the streak by working at Copper and in the summer at Timberline, where there is skiing almost year-round, and the couple weeks they closed, he would bounce down to South America. He would make sure to plan his travels out well ahead of time, so he could logistically get on the snow every single day. Renting a car, he was able to travel around to different resorts in different countries and even did some grooming work in Argentina.
At La Hoya, in Argentina, the skier enjoyed straying off and skiing the steep stuff, doing the long traverse to hit “the stuff that was really wild.” He said if Las Lenas, also in Argentina, had an all-weather lift to the top of the mountain, it would probably be the best extreme skiing in the world.
“They have stuff where you get to the gate, and there is a patroller there and he takes your passport number,” he said. “They strap a Recco band — the avalanche receiver stuff — they strap one of those magnetic strips to your goggles or jacket, or somewhere on you, so it makes it easier for them to find your corpse. … I’ve skied all my life, so I’m really not afraid of anything, but I’m standing at the top of these runs, and I am scared. I’m just like, ‘Holy shit’ — it’s not that I can’t ski it, but I have enough common sense that if I do fall, you’re going to the bottom, which is 3,000 feet vertical, until you get to where it flattens out at all.”
A LIFE WELL LIVED
The well-seasoned traveler is fluent in German and Spanish and worked stints in both South Korea and Saudi Arabia, as well as traveling all around South America.
Out of all of the millions of vertical he’s logged at all of the different resorts, Copper Mountain still holds the top place in his heart. But, he admits, he loves Aspen for the scenery, Steamboat for the powder, Snowbird-Alta for the powder and, of course, Mount Hood for summer skiing. In Argentina, La Hoya has the best snow.
During the more than eight years of skiing, the skier had set a couple rules for himself that would cause him to quit: one, if he was in dire financial straits; two, if he was injured so badly that he couldn’t ski.
“I thought, I’ve still got my jobs, I’m not going broke, I don’t have any responsibilities or really hurting anything, so shit, why not keep going — I’m having a hoot,” he said.
It was only after he was diagnosed with a serious case of cardiac arrhythmia that made him fall short of 3,000 consecutive days by a week that he hung up the skis.
“I’m still devastated that it ended that way,” he said. “But, on another note, too, I was pretty ready to not be committed to it every day.”
Although he was really looking forward to hitting the 100 million mark, he was ready to visit friends in Hawaii or go sailing — all of those summer activities he couldn’t do near the slopes.
The man has more than a lifetime’s worth of memories to tell — from the friends he made to the steaks he’s eaten to having a machine gun pulled on him in Argentina. His new book will be a glimpse into the astounding life of Rainer Hertrich.