2Point5Mil: Why I’m Doing It

My eyes droop and I stumble a little, and I stretch out my right ski in time to catch myself. It’s 3 a.m., and we have been skiing for 13 hours. I can barely stay awake and have fallen asleep while skinning three times now.

I’m able to keep it together for another 10 minutes, and we crest a snow-covered ridge illuminated by the full moon. The next run is creamy powder and it’s enough to keep me moving for another few hours until the sun rises.

At dawn, the sunrise is a burst of new energy. We take our longest break of the day and spend 15 minutes eating and enjoying the view of an illuminated Mt. Superior. With renewed energy we are able to carry on through the day, completing a 24-hour tour, skinning and skiing 24,000 vertical feet in that time.

Aaron Rice [Photo] Kathryn Kirkpatrick

Aaron Rice kicks into gear before Mt. Superior. Wasatch Mountains, Utah. [Photo] Kathryn Kirkpatrick

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.

Skiing has always been my greatest passion. In high school, I raced four days a week, taught skiing three days a week and traveled north to Vermont and Maine on weekends to ski with friends. In college, I began backcountry skiing in Vermont’s Green Mountains. Some friends and I would wake up at 4 a.m., drive to the mountains, skin up in the dark and sit on top of the run and enjoy hot coffee as the sun rose. We would ski a few laps and be back on campus in time for 9 a.m. classes, occasionally sitting behind a desk wearing full ski gear. After college, I moved to Alta, where I skied 150-plus days each season. I skied half a million feet one year and three quarters of a million the next, skiing big, classic Wasatch lines in the process.

Then, in the spring and summer of 2015, I was stuck. Should I go to grad school? I wondered. Or should I get a real job?

Or maybe I should go all in, I thought, and try to ski as much as I possibly could. Maybe I could break the record for most human-powered vertical feet skied in a year.

[Photo] Joey Campanelli

Rice finds what he’s been looking for in the Wasatch. [Photo] Joey Campanelli

I choose the latter and spent the summer in Vermont jumping into mountain creeks, working, mountain biking and preparing for the yearlong adventure.

I spent December getting back into skinning shape and putting up a few 10,000-foot days in Utah’s Wasatch Mountains. When January 1 came, it was just another day. I had prepared sufficiently, gotten in barely good enough shape, and the snow conditions were…actually pretty miserable. But they were manageable.

Five days into the year, the snow turned on and didn’t stop. Throughout the Wasatch, it snowed 110 inches over the rest of January. Every day was a powder day. Avalanche danger was elevated, but we managed to ski some amazing snow on mellower terrain.

As January wound down, so did the snow. But I’d shown proof of concept. I skied 310,000 vertical feet in January’s 31 days, averaging 10,000 feet per day. And now, as February rolls on, I’m planning to keep the momentum going.

As Aaron Rice stacks up vertical all year long, he’ll be sharing his stories on BackcountryMagazine.com under the tag and title 2Point5Mil. Find more about Rice at airandrice.com or through his Instagram feed, @airandrice. You can also track his progress of monster touring days on Strava

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