Kilian Jornet Named 2014 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year

We take our selection of the Adventurers of the Year very seriously. We want to find just the right mix of people who are pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in the world of adventure, whether that’s through feats of elite outdoor athleticism and exploration or giving back to the community in authentic ways. We hope their stories will inspire others to get outside and even follow their own adventure dreams.

While each of the 2014 Adventurer of the Year honorees is incredible in his or her own way, there can be only one People’s Choice. This year more than 75,000 votes were cast—that’s more votes than ever before. Thank you so much for being a part of our community.

Yesterday we announced the that Kilian Jornet is the People Choice’s Adventurer of the Year for 2014 (last year the award went to Felix Baumgartner). The 26-year-old Catalonian is the most prolific mountain endurance athlete of his generation. By blurring the lines between trail running and technical climbing, he is redefining what’s possible in the mountains. Last year he set new speed records on the Matterhorn, a childhood dream, and Mont Blanc. His passion for moving fast in the mountains has inspired a huge social media fan base. I personally love when he posts “good morning” mountain summit photos on Instagram—of course, he posts his greeting in five languages. And though he is a superstar in Europe, he still enjoys living in his van to be close to the landscapes he loves. In fact he lived in his van for three weeks last summer while training for the Matterhorn record.

Kilian was gracious enough to come to New York City to make the People’s Choice announcement live on CBS This Morning. Watch the segment here:

News anchors Gayle King, Charlie Rose, and Norah O’Donnell were genuinely blown away by Kilian’s incredible athleticism, spirit of adventure, and humble nature. While zipping around Manhattan from media meeting to media with the mountain legend, surround by Gotham’s skyscrapers, I learned a few things: Kilian gives away excess possessions annually so he has only two bags of stuff to his name; his sister, Naila, 25, is a ski mountaineer; he currently has three pairs of ski mountaineering skis and three pairs of steep alpine skis; he does drink alcohol occasionally; in contrast, he has conditioned his body not to need water during eight hours of Kilian-level physical activity. Then, after just less than 20 hours, Kilian caught a flight back to Tromso, Norway, to continue his training and racing in the peaks that he loves.

Kilian is a pioneer and innovator. He is a risk taker. He brings creativity and kindness to all he does. In 2014, he will take his unique style of fast and light “alpine running” to Alaska’s Denali and Argentina’s Aconcagua, then on to Everest in 2015, as part of his Summits of My Life project. Here he answers some of our questions about his passion for the mountains.

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Kilian Jornet scrambles in the Aosta Valley, where he and teammate Matheo Jacquemoud won the Italian Tour Du Rutor Ski Mountaineering competition in 2012; Photograph by Sébastien Montaz-Rosset

Adventure: Why do you enjoy sky running?
Kilian Jornet: Because I’m out, I’m moving fast, I’m exploring. I enjoy running or skiing in the mountains because is the landscape I know, I grew up and I can do (almost) all I know. Then I have friends, the skyrunning ambiance is fantastic, is like a big family.

A: You say freedom is important to you. How is what you do in the mountains an expression of freedom?
KJ: Freedom is a feeling. When I’m in mountains I’m attached to them. I’m attach to lot of things, but running there, light of equipment, moving where I want to go. I make my own decisions about where I want to go, if I want to keep going or turn around, and being far from all humanity, I can feel this emotion called freedom.

A: Setting a new speed record on the Matterhorn was a childhood dream. What were the challenges you had to overcome to achieve this dream?
KJ: Nothing, or maybe that after I need to find new goals. It was a big moment—the preparation, the excitation and doubts before, the moments enjoying and pushing there. It’s more for this feelings that made me happy, and I want to experiment again in another mountain…

A: You were concerned about the descent on the Matterhorn. Why?
KJ: It’s not a dificult mountain, but it is a risky downhill if you go fast. It’s ice, it’s loose rocks and some vertical parts during 1,500 meters of elevation. If you do one single steep wrong, you die. To beat the record I needed to run really fast, because Bruno Brunod did, so I was really concentred and exited about.

A: You lived in your van in Cervinia, Italy, to train for the Matterhorn. Is it comfortable inside your van? Do you live like this often?
KJ: It’s more than comfortable. I have been living in my van for many summers. It’s perfect, you can wake every morning with the landscape you want, and just start running from the door of the “house.” And, I’m lazy to clean and move around inside a big house, so a van is easy!

A: You ascend and descend, unroped, on terrain that is very exposed. Are you ever scared? Does the thought of falling ever enter your mind?
KJ: Yes, I’m scared a lot of times. It is very important to feel afraid. If we don’t feel afraid, we die. It’s this scare that make me turn around a lot of times.  Then I train and prepare more to come back with more knowledge so I am not afraid. During the record, I was inside my limit zone, so in control, I was feeling safe. But always in the mountains something can happen.

A: How do you physically train for these speed attempts?
KJ: I train almost every day on the year, not really diferent from one goal to another. I train with skimo [ski mountaineering] during winter and running in mountains on summer, like 20 to 30 hours per week and 600,000 meters elevation a year. Then I practice more the routes and the races the week before to know the track, the strategy.

A: How do you mentally and emotionally train?
KJ: I don’t specifically train like this, but I’m really interestd in psychology—and I study this a lot on the side. It’s makes a really big difference in what we can accomplish if we are limited by  mental barriers.

A: How much technical climbing is required during your speed record runs on mountains like the Matterhorn?
KJ: I’m not a good climber. I just climb to feel confident in easy long routes, to feel confident in 5+ 6a soloing.

A: You tend to wear a just a t-shirt and shorts. What safety backup gear do you bring?
KJ: It depends where I go. In winter, outside I always take my ARVA [avalanche beacon] and some clothes, depending on the conditions, the route, the weather. In summer the same, sometimes in low-middle mountains you just need shorts. Then it depends, the route has a hard climb maybe a rope, or ice axes, or clothes, or water. It really depends every day. It’s important however to point out that what do I do is risky, and therefore I’m taking risks. I shouldn’t be an example for anyone.

A: What piece of gear brings you the most comfort when you are in an endurance event in the mountains?
KJ: It really depends on where I go. In winter my skis, or a good pair of skins. In summer, my shoes probably. I adapt to every type of condition—I have shoes with different soles for trails, ice, rock, and glaciers.

A: How do you pick your routes? Are you generally on a set route?
KJ: A lot of times I plan in the maps. Sometimes I get lost or I see a mountain or somewhere I want to go there.  Then the plan disappears, and I am constantly re-planning and improvising when I’m out moving.

A: What do you eat or drink while doing an endurance event?
KJ: Depends the time and the temperature. Normally if I’m out less than eight hours I don’t eat, and I can drink between 0.5-1 liter of water. I always takes a gel in case I feel I need energy to come home.

A: How do you decide when to turn around and give up on a day’s objectives?
KJ: When I reach the risks I accept to take, or when the intuition says me to go back.

A: You lost a dear friend and mentor on Mont Blanc. How did that experience change you?
KJ: A lot. I keep doing the same things, because it’s my life, it was our life. But before the accident, I knew that mountains were risky and we could die. After I was conscious that mountains are risky and I can die. It’s a small but big difference.

A: Tell us about The Summits of My Life. How did you pick the peaks? Which peak means the most to you?
KJ: It’s the summits I was dreaming when I was kid, means something to me, history, pictures… They’re much more summits I want to go, but we need to choose just a few…

A: How would you compare what you do to what Ueli Steck does?
KJ: We do diferent activities in the same landscapes. He does fast dificult climbing, he run-climbs in the faces. I do endurance moving in mountains, up and down not try to go in a dificult way but in a way that makes me possible to move fast. Ueli is a big, big inspiration!

A: Do you think there will ever be a name for your hybrid sport of fast and light sky running with technical climbing?
KJ: We call it “alpine running,” but I don’t know if it will ever have a name.