Backcountry Ski Icon Greg Hill Proves a Hardcore Powder Hound Can Give Up Gas and Go Electric

Backcountry ski icon Greg Hill has conquered one first descent after another. His latest goal is even more audacious: proving that a hardcore powder hound can go electric.
Backcountry ski icon Greg Hill has conquered one first descent after another. His latest goal is even more audacious: proving that a hardcore powder hound can go electric.Bruno Long


When three inches of wet snow covers the highway as Greg Hill points his electric Chevy Bolt toward the summit of Rogers Pass, deep in British Columbia. It’s late March, and the sky is dumping powder on the peaks around Revelstoke, which means that the skiing should be excellent high on the Asulkan Glacier, a two-hour hike from the road we’re on.

 

 

Normally the Bolt is full of Hill’s buddies, hence its nickname, the Electric Taxi. But no one else could make it today, so there’s less weight anchoring the tiny, two-wheel-drive hatchback to the slushy asphalt. I expect it to struggle in the slop, but the car holds its line, silently cruising through the blizzard.

Hill, who is 43 and one of North America’s most accomplished backcountry skiers, leased the Bolt in July 2017 to test a theory. Typically, Bolt owners use their cars—which get about 238 miles on a full charge—to commute around cities and suburbs. Hill wanted to see if it could match that performance on mountain roads, hoping to slash his reliance on fossil fuels and prove a point to the outdoor industry.

Greg Hill
Greg Hill Bruno Long

 

It’s fair to say that most hardcore skiers and snowboarders would call themselves environmentalists. But their pursuits are not particularly friendly to the mountains they so adore. A helicopter uses about 53 gallons of jet fuel per hour to ferry people to the top of their powder runs, and snowmobile exhaust contains seven times as much carbon monoxide and 50 times as many hydrocarbons as that of a pickup truck. Even human-powered skiing—that is, hiking to the summit and skiing down—requires getting to the trailhead. Over time, this creates an enormous impact, says Hill, who often notes the irony of these adventurers positioning themselves as staunch stewards of the environment.

Hill is quick to admit that he’s guiltier than most. After all, being a professional skier means being a full-time globe-trotter and until recently Hill was often jetting from Revelstoke to France to the Himalayas and beyond—and feeling increasingly conflicted about it.

“We’re the ones who will be most affected by a lack of snow and shrinking glaciers,” Hills tells me as we hum along beneath some of the world’s best backcountry ski terrain. “So if we’re not willing to change, why would people in cities change?”

And so Hill set himself a goal: to summit 100 mountains over three years without the use of fossil fuels, instead powered only by electricity, his legs, and his lungs. So far, he’s bagged 56 peaks, many of them full- or multi-day affairs, almost all in the nearby Selkirk and Monashee ranges. Among his objectives this winter, Hill hopes to make a rare summit ski descent of Mount Robson, the highest peak in the Canadian Rockies. “If I can prove that even big adventures are accessible with this little hatchback,” he says, “then all of a sudden it opens up electric vehicles to way more people.”

Hill hits the brakes on the Bolt—avalanche mitigation above the highway has stopped traffic. After 10 minutes of idling, we decide to bail. Hill pulls a U-turn and we head back to Revelstoke, then up to the ski resort. We grab our skis, climb into a gondola, and traverse to an adjacent backcountry zone, where we climb and ski four laps in a foot of fresh snow before returning to town. Hill breaks trail the entire time, swiftly and silently like his Bolt, then arcs sweeping powder turns on the way down.

Hill and Chris Rubens embark on a 10-day. self-propelled traverse through the Gold Range, near Revelstroke.
Hill and Chris Rubens embark on a 10-day, self-propelled traverse through the Gold Range, near Revelstroke. Bruno Long

 

Hill has long been known as an abstract thinker whose goals push at the line of possibility. In 2010, he climbed and skied a record 2 million vertical feet in a single year, earning the nickname Two Mil Hill.

“The reason Greg skied 2 million feet and is so stuck on what he’s doing now is because he is a stubborn motherfucker,” says fellow pro skier Chris Rubens, who starred with Hill in the Salomon-backed film The Curve of Time, about climate change, in 2017. “His morals are super high, and once he decides to go a certain way, he’s going to stick to it.”

“At the end, we saved 400 liters of fuel,” Hill says.

In 2014, Hill narrowly escaped a class 3 avalanche in Pakistan and shattered his leg. During his recovery, he kept thinking about his environmental impact as a professional adventurer. He often drove great distances, alone in his pickup, or flew across the world to film a single run. He decided he had to cut the cord. So in December 2016, he quit his part-time job as a heli-skiing guide, sold his F-350, gave away his snowmobile, and resigned to fly only if absolutely necessary. The following spring, he and Rubens drove from Vancouver down the West Coast in a rented Nissan Leaf, an electric car with a 100-mile range. They skied six volcanoes, charging their car 30 times over two weeks.

Loading up the Chevy Bolt
Loading up the Chevy Bolt Bruno Long

 

“At the end I thought, OK, cool, we saved 400 liters of fuel. It’s something, but it’s not a lot,” Hill says. “But think about the thousands of people we saw on those mountains—if 50 percent of them started doing it this way, then all of a sudden it is a lot. That’s when I started to realize if we can use our voices and influence others, it can become a massive change.”

Hill told his sponsors—which include Salomon, Arc’teryx, and Suunto—that he was finished with far-flung expeditions. The news brought mixed reactions. “A couple of them have been like, ‘Well, we want you to travel the world,’ ” Hill says. “And I’m like, ‘Well, that’s great, but this is a more important story.’”

Since selling his truck, Hill estimates he has saved more than 1,200 gallons of fuel. (He and his wife, Tracey, a schoolteacher, still have a four-wheel-drive, gas-powered SUV to transport their kids, ages 11 and 13, if the conditions are gnarly.) He charges his Bolt in a 240-volt socket outside his front door. “It’s the same as plugging in your phone before you go to bed,” he says.

Clearly, Hill can be intense, and his efforts have attracted their share of criticism. Social-media trolls accuse him of being a “ski-industry muppet”—“I think you’re just playing the marketing game and don’t really give a shit,” one Instagram commenter wrote. And his friends who remain gasoline-powered ski guides—one of the top professions in Revelstoke—tease him about his gear. “We’re waiting for him to go back to using wooden skis and leather boots,” jokes Hill’s former boss and longtime friend, Scott Newsome, owner of Eagle Pass Heliski. “I’m pretty sure we all know where plastic comes from, right?”

Hill acknowledges the conflicts. “We’re all hypocrites no matter what, especially being North Americans,” he says. “If we’re not living in a cabin in the woods dressed in bark, we have a footprint. Yeah, I’m driving a car with carbon fiber in it, but am I just going to accept that it’s bad and not make any changes?”

The message appears to have some takers. Last fall, a skier in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, sent Hill and Rubens a message on Instagram, saying they had inspired him to purchase an electric car. In an industry where athletes are paid to create lust for new gear, it struck them as ironic—and perhaps foreshadowed the future. “Buying a pair of skis because of us is pretty cool,” Rubens says. “But buying an electric car because of us is next-level.”