Summer Solitare: Aaron Rice talks solo skiing on his path to 2.5 million vertical feet in 2016

Walking in ski boots on loose talus is not pleasant. The best comparison I’ve heard is that it’s like walking on a pile of dinner plates. Luckily, my boots are light, broken-in, comfortable and have rockered rubber soles. Still, I’m not sure I would even want to do this in hiking boots. And I especially don’t like it now that I’m on my seventh lap of the same 900-foot strip of snow. A few friends joined yesterday, but it’s Monday today and they’re all at work now. It’s hard to find people to join me everyday for 6-10 hours of skinning and skiing in late June, even in the spring-skiing capital that is Colorado.

Just because it is summer in the mountains of Colorado doesn't mean Rice can stop skiing. [Photo] Aaron Rice

Just because it is summer in the mountains of Colorado doesn’t mean Rice can stop skiing. [Photo] Aaron Rice

I’ve just listened to the last of my A-list podcast reel and have now moved on to my B-list. Serial, Radiolab, Sounds of the Trail and Invisibilia made the A-list, and the B-list has the more boring, newsy and interviewy stuff like Fresh Air and WTF with Marc Maron. When the B-list runs out, then I’m really left alone to my thoughts. I ask: Why am I out here? Is it worth it? Why am I so set on this goal, and why am I willing to make so many compromises and sacrifices? As is generally the case with these types of questions, nothing is ever answered. Instead my thoughts end up doing loops in my head.

Sometimes Rice's only company on his journey is the wildlife. [Photo] Aaron Rice

Sometimes Rice’s only company on his journey is the wildlife. [Photo] Aaron Rice

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.

The winter months weren’t bad. The Wasatch has some of the most driven backcountry skiers in the world and finding partners was easy nine out of 10 days. On that 10th day, I was happy to have some alone time and catch up on my podcasts. Early spring wasn’t too bad either, as I traveled and saw friends around the Rockies. I was spending a lot of that time skiing by myself as well, but I was enjoying the alone time and the skiing was good, for the most part.


Rice laps the corn in Colorado. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

But June was hard. After a great April and good May, the Colorado snowpack looked like it would last well into July. However, one of the warmest Junes on record made quick work of that snow. Most of my friends in Colorado have full-time jobs and summer is their season to make money. By mid-June, there were only a few long strips of snow worth skiing in the Colorado backcountry. Many of the remaining skiable wind drifts—filled in from a crossloading west wind over the winter—were buried deep in the mountains. To top things off, there are the long, tiresome approaches on rocky goat paths.


The summer sun shines bright on the Rockies. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

There are a couple good strips of snow that are just above roads, and, believe me, I took advantage of them. On many occasions, I would head up and ski six, seven, or even eight laps on the same run. However, one of my favorite parts of backcountry skiing is traveling efficiently though the mountains, hopping from one drainage to the next and skiing line after line. This is just not possible in the summer. To connect one strip to another is difficult, and you might as well just ski to the bottom and drive to a new trailhead.


Rice milks turns to reach his 2.5-million-vertical-foot goal for 2016. [Photo] Courtesy Aaron Rice

With all this in mind, I am currently sitting in a cozy apartment in Las Leñas, Argentina, drinking tea and eating homemade pizza. As I think about the recent months and those still to come, I know that there will be more difficult times. I also know that the difficulties are why I am doing this, and that they will help me answer the hard questions I have been asking myself recently.

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

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