Vertical Limit: Can a kid from Mass. top Greg Hill’s two-million-foot record?

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.”


Aaron Rice checking off a bit more vert. Photo: Louis Arevalo

Rice, originally from Acton, Mass., is just 25 years old and his interest in skiing big vertical has been a short time coming. He picked up backcountry skiing while studying engineering at the University of Vermont and learned to love the uphill while teaching others to backcountry ski through the University’s Outing Club. “I think before even the vertical became fun, there were mornings where we’d go out at 4 a.m. in the dark,” Rice says. “And at that point, it was not purely about the downhill, but about enjoying the hike.”

After graduating in 2012, Rice took his skiing interest westward where he worked as a busboy at Alta, Utah’s mountainside Rustler Lodge. That season, he skied a quarter-million feet. The next year, a half million. And last season, while working at the Alta Lodge, nearly three-quarters-of-a-million feet.

Along the way, while out on 10,000-vertical-foot tours in the Wasatch, he began pondering the math behind what it would take to more than triple that total. “It’s only like 6,000 feet a day,” Rice says, almost nonchalantly. “Like, I could work full time and do 6,000-foot days.” But he doesn’t plan to work over the next year, instead committing fully to this goal in order to ski nearly every single day. Achieving that endless continuity, he says, will be his greatest challenge.

So he has a plan: 150 days in Alta at 10,000 feet a day, which totals 1.5 million. Then 200 days, give or take, to amass another million, spending spring in Colorado, late spring in the Pacific Northwest or Sierra Nevada and summer in Argentina, with a month or two at Refugio Frey, a backcountry hut near Bariloche with easy-access vertical.

Rice says loneliness will be another struggle in his solo journey, but he has a partner committed for some of the mission, one he’s trained and skied with consistently for the last few seasons. Joe Campinelli was 45 days into an unsupported speed hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, averaging 46 miles per day, when he stopped due to foot issues and learned of Rice’s goal. “I found out about it when I got back and was shocked that he was going for it,” Campinelli says.

Campinelli, who thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail in 57 days in 2014, began skiing with Rice in 2012 and their skill sets compliment one another well. “He dragged me into the skimo scene,” Campinelli says. “I had the endurance and Aaron was already experienced. After a few tours, I could keep up and we could go on longer tours.”

One such longer tour was a 25-hour mission last February where the duo skied around the clock and through the night, knocking off 18 named runs in Days Fork and totaling 24,000 vertical feet. “By the end of it, he was putting me in the hole,” Campinelli says, pointing out that he, the ultra-runner, was being cracked by his friend skiing 120mm-waisted DPS Lotuses. “His mind just kept him trucking. He’s got the motivation; he’s got the drive in there. I think he’ll do well.”

“It’s a mind-numbing experience, at least for myself,” says Greg Hill, with whom Rice has spoken about the demands of hitting this goal. “One of my recommendations was to have a van and to be able to be fluid; to go where the snow is and to really travel. Especially at his age—he’s young, he’s single—it would benefit him well.”

For now, Rice plans to stick with the Wasatch for the bulk of the winter before hitting the road come spring. “The goal is to ski the most good snow, which is why I’m going to be in Utah,” Rice says. “I’ve said I think I can do it. But now I want to provide it to myself.”

So what’s Greg Hill think about the possibility of his two-million-foot record being broken? “I’ll be impressed to see it, that’s for sure,” Hill says. “I fully support just givin’ ’er. I know what he’s looking for, and I hope he finds it.”

To stay up on Aaron Rice’s progress, visit his website 2Point5Mil. This story first appeared in the November 2015 issue of backcountry Magazine where we originally reported that he started his mission in December 2015. He in fact started toward his 2.5-million vertical foot goal in January of 2016. Look for updates as Rice continues to share stories and essays on throughout the year.


  1. […] Vertical Limit: Can A Kid From Mass. Top Greg Hill’s Two Million-Foot Record – Backcountry Magazine – Aaron Rice is shooting for 2.5 million vertical feet of human powered uphill this year. This will beat Greg Hill’s long standing record. We’re cheering for you dude! […]

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