Traveling in a foreign country is often thought to be the pinnacle of freedom—just you and your pack, free to go wherever you please. But reality can be a bit different, as I experienced this year while chasing vert and powder in South America.
I cough, slip and gradually slow down—my skis seem to be getting heavier, and the wind is getting stronger. We’ve been climbing for hours already and are only halfway to the top. Today’s objective is the Adrenalina Couloir on Cerro Yeaseros across from the Las Leñas ski area in Argentina.
In Argentina, nothing quite works the way it’s intended to and everything takes a bit longer than it otherwise should. But eventually you end up where you’re supposed to be.
When I chose to attempt to set the record for skinning and skiing the most vertical feet in one year, I knew skiing solo was going to be a reality. Most people aren’t into repeated 10,000-vertical-foot days or skiing in marginal June conditions.
If you are a ski bum in Utah when the season ends, there is only one thing to do—head to the desert. Spring is a hard time for winter diehards like me. Often, I don’t have the most solid plan for the summer—or the rest of life, for that matter.
Having the physical ability to ski 10,000 feet per day for several months straight is not the real challenge—the greatest hurdle is ensuring my nutrition is good, creating enough time to socialize so I don’t lose my mind, staying healthy, staying in touch with friends and family and everything else that isn’t skiing but is critical to success.
It’s been a long couple weeks. After a March that lent itself to big days and big objectives, April came and temperatures turned balmy. The Wasatch, with its lower elevation, isn’t known for good spring skiing. And generally, as soon as it looks like we may hit a good corn cycle, it snows again, leaving us with a half day of good skiing and a half day of wet, manky snow that needs a freeze-thaw cycle before it’ll ski well.
Since February 8, everything has taken me a bit more time. That day, I was skinning and had earned 9,000 feet when I tripped and put my hands before me to catch my fall. It was nothing major; I was going uphill at a walking pace, but my left hand landed on a pointy rock.
This poorly conceived idea took place in January 2015, and when I finished out the day, something clicked inside me, though it took me another six months to realize what it was. Over the spring, while spending time in the Desert Southwest exploring slot canyons, climbing sandstone and mountain biking on slickrock, I was finally able to realize what I had to do.
Early in the summer, Aaron Rice set two long-term goals. The first was to jump into the mountain-fed creek that meandered behind the house where he was living in Stowe, Vt. every single day for the duration of the season. While exhilarating, meeting that goal won’t be nearly as demanding, mentally or physically, as his second. Over the next year, beginning on December 1, Rice plans to climb and ski 2.5-million vertical feet, which would top the two-million-foot record set by Greg Hill in 2010. “You’ll never regret jumping in,” says Rice of the creek that’s a metaphor for his larger ambition. “But it’s never easy, either.”