Rainer Hertrich shoots for 100 million

Seven years ago, Rainer Hertrich decided that he'd try to ski 6 million vertical feet in a single season. Since then, he has skied every day, logging some 82 million vertical feet and racking up a couple World Records in the process. His Guinness World Record for "Accumulated Vertical Descent in Consecutive Days on Telemark Gear" unofficial until he takes a day off, Hertrich wants to tally 100 million vertical feet before his certificate gets printed.

ESPN: You have the Guinness World Record for skiing the most consecutive days and skiing the most vertical feet, is that correct?
Rainer Hertrich: Yes and no. My Guinness World Record is officially for "Accumulated Vertical Descent in Consecutive Days on Telemark Gear." They put forth to me that, alpine, telemark, and cross country all have separate categories. Someday I will have to explain to Guinness that telemark skiing is the original form of skiing and covers all three of those categories. Also, the record with Guinness will not be official until I quit. I do have a concrete target. As of August 11, I had skied 2,476 days in a row and logged about 81.5 million vertical feet. I am shooting for 100 million vertical feet, which is still about 18 months away. I'm trying to keep a pace of one million vertical feet per month, about 3,000 vertical per day.

How do you keep track of your daily vertical?
I wear three altimeter watches made by Suunto. They're really cool because I can load the data off of the watch onto my computer and print graphs of that. I can also upload it to their website and anyone in the world can check my daily progress.

When did you decide to chase a World Record?

It was on vacation in Jackson Hole, WY. One day after skiing we were in the Mangy Moose and I noticed they had a plaque honoring people that had skied 6 million vertical feet in a season. I had been keeping track of my vertical for a couple of years, and at the time, my personal best was 4 million. Skiing every day was the only way to achieve that 6 million mark, and with the fast slopes in Colorado, I knew it was possible. On Cinco de Mayo that year, I reached 6 million vertical skiing Loveland. Both Arapahoe Basin and Loveland stayed open late that year so I kept going and I remember riding up the chair after I passed 7 million vertical and thought, "You know what? They didn't have a plaque for 7 million. I might be sitting on a record here!"

On June 17th, after skiing Arapahoe Basin, I took off on my motorcycle and headed west in search of snow. I figured Utah would have something so I went to the top of Wolf Creek Pass, skied back and forth for two hours and called it skiing. That afternoon, I went into Park City and found a patch on Guardsman's Pass and skied there for a couple days. Then I went to Tamarack, Idaho, then to Timberline. Through some contacts, I met the head of grooming there and they hired me as a cat driver in exchange for the wage and a free pass.

At the end of the summer I knew I wanted to keep skiing and decided to head south. I've always had an infatuation with South America since doing a geography project in 5th grade. It had always been on my mind to go see the Andes, so I started researching the areas down there.

My hat is off to the guy who surfed for however many years. But the earth is seven eighths water, so it's easy to get to water. Getting to snow and skiing this many days is a lot more difficult than a simple walk across a beach.

--Rainer Hertrich

How do you manage to ski on consecutive days while traveling to and from South America?
It's actually not that bad. I can ski at Timberline during the day and make it to Dallas by 9 p.m. for the flight to Santiago. Just to ensure a little time, I do a pre-dawn run at Timberline on a Tuesday. By the time I land in Santiago its Wednesday and I head straight to the mountain. Coming back, I ski all day in Chile and arrive in Denver at 9 a.m., in time for a solid day of skiing in Summit County. I usually ski Loveland or Arapahoe Basin early season and then at Copper Mountain throughout the winter. I've skied all over the world and Copper is still one of my favorite places.

How is Guinness validating the record?
Photographs, watch data and witnesses will all factor in. If they believe it all, they do. If they don't believe it, they don't. I have so many witnesses that have been watching over the years, race coaches, ski area managers who will provide validation letters. For the areas where I hold season passes, I can get records of the days I skied and that will match the graphs from Suunto. If they don't believe it, whatever. I know I did it and was there every day. The process and the journey have been incredible. This Halloween will be seven years of skiing every day.

Are there other World Record holders that you look to for inspiration?

My hat is off to the guy who surfed for however many years. But the earth is seven eighths water, so it's easy to get to water. Getting to snow and skiing this many days is a lot more difficult than a simple walk across a beach.

Have you ever had any major injuries or illnesses that kept you from skiing?

I've had injuries that I've skied through. The worst was a separated shoulder and it was hard to get out of bed or put on clothes. I've had five separate rib injuries. I think they were probably bruised, not broken. But it hurt sitting, laughing and sneezing, so I figured it's better to have it hurt skiing than to have it hurt sitting on the couch. There have been times where getting really sick made skiing hard too. But I still made myself get out and ski. The thing was, the more I skied, the better I started to feel. You can get healthier skiing than you can sitting at home, letting your illness ferment.

What about weather? It can't be all sunshine and bluebirds singing when you ski every single day.

My worst day ever was last winter. It was -50° Fahrenheit with the windchill and I did seven runs. I could watch the tears roll out of my eyelids and freeze on the tip of my nose. I had mittens with mittens over them, I was dressed for the cold, but it sucked. Such a freak one-day event. Days like those, the snow is really good, the skiing is incredible and there's nobody else out. If I could have gotten around the chance of frostbite, I would have kept skiing. Lightning is one thing that will make me stop skiing. When there's lightning, I'm off the hill as soon as possible.

How do you deal with days that the mountain closes?

I usually hike or skin up. Sometimes I get lucky and catch a ride up on a snowmobile or cat. One year Tim Windell had just bought a new snowmobile and wanted to see if was powerful enough to tow people. So he gave me a pull up the mountain. I've ridden up on four-wheelers, in vans — the best was a helicopter.

How do you hitch a ride in a helicopter?
These two guys from LA were down in Chile sitting across from me when these bombshell ladies walked by and sat next to me at the table. They couldn't see the ladies from their table so they asked if they could come sit with me and drink their wine. We started talking and it turned out they were going heli skiing the next day and had two open seats. I was in heaven. We were doing 5,000 vertical foot runs in the Andes in the spring. It hadn't snowed in a while and the fact that our guide could find any powder whatsoever blew me away. I must have done 50,000 vertical feet that day. I was so stoked to be able to do that.

If you reach 100 million vertical feet, will you stop there? Or will you keep going?

As far as I can tell, I will reach 100 million in late February 2012. The skiing usually gets really good around then, so it's going to be really hard to stop.

Any parting words?

Go skiing. Shut up and go ski. Quit your whining, shut up and go ski!