Men's Journal

How to Shred 2.5 Million Vertical Feet in a Single Year

 Tyler Wilkinson-Ray

Hitting 100 days on the mountain in a season is a ski bum’s dream. Skiing 332 days, as Aaron Rice did last year, is a slog. What’s more, 26-year-old Rice, from Alta, Utah, climbed up every hill under his own steam in an attempt to set the record for the most human-powered vertical feet skied in a single year.

Rice started strong, covering 11,555 feet on January 1, 2016. He totaled 71,935 feet in the first week alone. But 39 days in, during a backcountry tour in Utah, he lost his balance while climbing with skins and fell, breaking the fall with his left hand. When he stood up, his fingers were bent at a 45-degree angle. “Without thinking, I pulled them back to where they were supposed to be,” Rice says. “That’s when the nausea hit.” Rice had broken (and inadvertently reset) two fingers. But after taking the following morning off to get a cast, he logged 3,097 feet in the afternoon.

To break the 2010 record of 2 million vertical feet, and reach his ultimate goal of 2.5 million, Rice needed to ski an average of nearly 7,000 feet a day. That meant chasing the last of the U.S. snow in spring, then flying to South America for its winter. In July he showed up in Argentina raring to go. Unfortunately, the Andes were not. In Bariloche, unseasonably warm temperatures meant no snow. So he took a 22-hour bus ride to Las Leñas, where he found a similar situation. Just as Rice started to panic, a storm blew in and dumped nearly four feet of snow. “It got really good after that,” Rice says. He broke the record in Villarrica, Chile, after six weeks of perfect conditions in Las Leñas and six weeks of skiing hut to hut outside Bariloche. But he was far from done. In November he traveled to Oregon in the wake of a blizzard. “It was an amazing storm, and I got to ski powder on Mount Shasta,” says Rice, “which is so rare.”

Back home in Alta, he surpassed his goal on December 29, then skied December 30, bringing his total to 2,506,499 feet. He didn’t ski on December 31. Rather, he did, but he didn’t count it in his 2016 tally. “It was a leap year,” Rice says, “so that wouldn’t have been fair.”

365 Days, 2.5 Million Feet: Adding It Up

1. Utah
Vertical Feet: 1,401,573
Ski Days: 161

2. Argentina
Vertical Feet: 472,059
Ski Days: 76

3. Colorado
Vertical Feet: 277,368
Ski Days: 49

4. Chile
Vertical Feet: 158,363
Ski Days: 21

5. California
Vertical Feet: 103,875
Ski Days: 11

6. Oregon
Vertical Feet: 93,261
Ski Days: 14

Days Off: 33