High & Mighty – The Vertically Challenged Greg Hill
I was introduced to Greg Hill by his ski tracks. Halfway through a randonee race, while trying to go as fast as possible through an open bowl filled with avalanche debris, grabby snow and flat light, I vaguely registered seeing a set of near straight-line tracks. “God! I hope that guy isn’t in the race!” I thought.
It turns out he was, and his efforts rightfully earned him first place. Accepting the award, Greg seemed like a normal guy until someone mentioned that he had recently hiked and skied 23,500’ in a single day. For reference, that’s more than most heli-skiing operations get on an average day and roughly five times more than a good day of BC skiing. It’s a buttload of vertical, but for Greg, it was just a warm-up. When I saw him again a few months later, he was still smiling from having recently hit his latest vertical conquest; a mind boggling 30,000’ of vertical in 15 hours and 15 minutes. “On the last run, I was at 29,990, so I hiked up 10 and turned it over to an even 30.”
Hill had an auspicious start to his touring career when he and his Mom spent a week skiing with Ruedi Beglinger, one of the only people who can lay claim to 1 million feet of self-propelled skiing per year (200 days at 5,000’ per day). “I was just flailing trying to keep up with him, but had a blast.” Now, seven years later and a resident of Revelstoke, Greg gets in 150 days a year for roughly 700,000’ of turning.
When skiing with friends, an average day is in the 6,000’ range, but when going for huge vertical it is always a solo endeavor. Being in the Revelstoke area also seems to help, as a few other locals have also racked up 20,000’+ days. The open Alpine terrain allows climbing at 20-25º with minimal kickturns and the temperatures are often in the “ideal -6 to -12c range.” The abundance of soft, fast snow is important for his nonstop descents, which are done with big, sweeping turns.
More than anything, pacing plays a big part in Greg’s accomplishments. He uses a Suunto Altimax watch to track his vertical and tries to maintain a 2,000’ per hour overall average. For food, he subsists on Snickers and energy bars, preferring to graze at the bottom (where he stashes his supplies) rather than gorge on something bigger. His legs never seem to tire, but his back was “a bit sore” at the end of 30k. During the summer, he refines his internal pacing clock by planting 3,000 seedlings in a nine hour day of reforestation.
Aside from just having fun, Hill’s main motivator is seeing what his personal limits are, which brings up the obvious question; is 50,000’ possible? He recited the required statistics, indicating that it had at least crossed his mind, but he wasn’t overly optimistic. How about 40,000’ then? “Oh yeah. Totally doable. No problem.”
Go dog go!