On March 1, the very first day of 38-year-old ski mountaineer Greg Hill’s own version March Madness—to climb and ski 100,000 vertical meters (300,000+ feet) in just 31 days—he took his two kids, ages 7 and 8, to their first summit on British Columbia’s 8,086-foot Mount Mackenzie. This was after he had already toured 10,000 feet that day.
Greg is known for his lofty goals. In 2010, he climbed and skied two million vertical feet in a single year, besting his previous feat of skiing a million vertical in a year, which made him one of our Adventurers of the Year. His 2014 March Madness goal, which involved an average of 13,000 feet per day for six days, followed by a day of rest, was in his own backcountry backyard near Revelstoke. Over the course of ten large mountains and ten smaller peaks, Greg set a new world record.
“I am a powder skier, I live for the feeling of floating downhill, playing with gravity,” Greg says. But the risks of this backcountry pursuit are very real. “In the 15 years I have skied in these ranges, this was the most hazardous March that I have had. I witnessed a few very large avalanches—all triggered by my group.”
By skillfully reading the terrain and conditions, he made it, powered by 30 liters of power smoothies and lots of stretching and resting. “All my equipment held up to my demands, only my IT bands and feet were worn down. And my psych.”
Here Greg answers some of our questions.
Adventure: March does seem to be the ideal month to pursue this goal in the very best conditions. Were they good? Do you think the goal drove you a little mad, too?
Greg Hill: I had the most incredible month of powder skiing. It snowed more than 90 inches (230cm) during the month. That did mean that I had a lot of trail breaking to do, especially because each day was in a different area.
The idea of the goal was to discover the depths of my madness. To see how far my passion for adventure could take me.
A: How many peaks did you climb and how did you pick them?
GH: I skied off ten different mountains and ten smaller peaks. The avalanche conditions dictate which mountains are possible. I had dreamed of doing many more mountains, but the avalanche risk was overly high in March.
A: Did avalanches pose much of a problem?
GH: During March avalanche paths ran larger than they had run since 1980, things were volatile, so I had to tread carefully. In the 15 years I have skied in these ranges, this was the most hazardous March that I have had. Perhaps because I was pushing the limits of the mountains I witnessed a few very large avalanches—all triggered by my group. Luckily we were in the right place at the right time, and just watched as they crashed to valley floor thousands of feet away. It was a spooky weakness that was hard to predict, and could be triggered from a distance. It really challenged me to always choose the right area to ski in, to watch, and understand the moods of the mountains. It also re-inforced that I should always be afraid in the mountains and be vigilant.
A: Which was your favorite and why?GH: My favorite day was March 11, when I summitted Ursus Minor, Video Peak, and 8812. The snow was incredible and the variety of the five lines that I skied made it a unique day. But on the last day of the month I skied something that I had wanted to ski for over ten years—the West summit of Mount Macpherson. I had watched pro skier Dan Treadway ski it in style years ago and I have wanted to do the same ever since. I was lucky enough to do it on the last day.
A: How much technical climbing/mountaineering is involved in ski mountaineering?GH: Ski mountaineering can be incredibly technical, but during my month I did not get very technical. There were small rock steps and many exposed places, yet ropes were only used occasionally.
A: How did you keep track of all the vertical you climbed?
GH: I used Suunto Ambit 2 watches,a GPS equipped watch.
A: What was your biggest day?
GH: 4,648 meters (15,249 feet).
A: Was it hard to get out of bed for more skiing the day after?
GH: It was hard to get out of bed every day, but I did feel extra punched after that day. So I tried to keep the average around 13,000 feet a day. That would earn me a day off every five days. And I desperately needed those days off.
A: How did you maximize your rest hours and refueling?
GH: I drank 30 liters of power smoothies to help my body and ate large dinners and evening snacks. I also did lots of lying down on the rug stretching and relaxing.
A: On a scale of one to ten…how much doing you like climbing up?
- Nat Geo Expeditions
GH: I really enjoy the up, the intricacies of using the terrain properly, and safely traveling up to the mountaintops. Combined with the endurance challenges of my goal. I love it as much as I love the down. But they are so different.
A: How much to you like skiing down?
GH: I am a powder skier, I live for the feeling of floating downhill, playing with gravity. Soaring down mountain sides. The excitement of the down is what energizes me on the up.
A: Now that you’re even more fit and trim, doing you want to keep it going?GH: The mental challenge of keeping that focus going for longer would be tough. I would have to have a really good reason to keep going at that pace. Luckily my reason was a 100 kilometers! I am always active and am already training for my up coming guide’s exam, but I do need to gain back some of the ten pounds I lost.
A: Can you give us a quick rundown of the gear and supplies you’d take with you?
GH: I am lucky that I work with great companies that have gear specific for what I am doing. I wore a prototype layering system from Arc’teryx that was an innovative blend of Gore-tex fabric and softshell. Skied on a pair of 105mm waisted Salomon prototype skis. Carried the necessary avalanche equipment, a large lunch substituted with Clif products. With very minimal self rescue gear, I had to be completely self-reliant and not hurt myself.
A: Did you wear out anything?
GH: All my equipment held up to my demands, only my IT bands and feet were worn down. And my psych.