Greg Hill is a machine. Last month, he met his goal of climbing and skiing 100,000 meters of vert, or 328,000 feet. It’s a bit difficult for us mere mortals to comprehend how much that really is, so look at it this way: 5,000 feet is a fair estimate for a solid day in the backcountry for your average, strong skier. Double that and add another 3,000 feet, and that was Hill’s daily routine for the month.
Even though Hill has already proved he’s a force on the skin track—in 2010, he climbed and skied 2 million vertical feet in a year—this project was not without its challenges. March in the Revelstoke area of British Columbia saw loads of new snow and dangerous instability in the snowpack. Yet every day, with the exception of the five he took off during the month, Hill was out the door early, pulling 10-hour days breaking trail and skiing more powder than the rest of us. He had the company of friends and family for part of his project, but the vast majority of his time in the backcountry was spent solo. Nobody can keep up with him, says photographer Bruno Long, who went out with Hill for seven days to capture his feat. “The fittest guys I know are getting lapped by him,” says Long. By the end of the month, Long says Hill was crushed, but he was never defeated.
“He was just moving all the time,” says Long. “He just had this focus and determination. I knew that the only thing that would stop him during the month would be weather, and that would only be if it rained all the way to top of the mountains.”
A week after he accomplished his goal, POWDER caught up with Hill to ask him why he’s so focused on counting his vertical feet up the mountain. As Hill says, “Some people make their millions. And I hike them.”
POWDER: Do you measure life by the amount of vertical feet you climb?
Greg Hill: I measure how much fun I’m having. It quantifies how much good skiing I have had. That’s what the number really does. It’s just a way to measure myself. I do it to make sure I’m still sharp and strong.
How did this one compare, speaking in terms of difficulty, with your other projects—2 million vertical feet in one year and 50,000 vert in 24 hours?
They’re all so different in scope. I found that for the 2 million, I was more attached to it. This one, it was so intense. It’s almost like I barely had time to recognize how intense it was and then thankfully it was 31 days later.
There was an avalanche that you set off one day on Grizzly Mountain. Looking back, you’re very critical of that day. What are your reflecting thoughts?
Yeah, we set it off. You have to be hard on yourself because when you make decisions and things go wrong, you want to make sure you analyze them correctly. I hadn’t seen anything for five days. I skied some fun lines, ventured up all aspects and hadn’t seen a thing. On that one, I put my skin track in a place I wouldn’t normally, then that lingering weakness stepped up and surprised us.
I know there’s a grey zone and always hazards. You always want to be harsh on your decisions. There were still a lot of great decisions that were made that day, and that’s why nothing [worse] happened. But you still have to look at the mistakes that were made. There were just a few wrongs, and it’s those wrongs that you pick up on.
How did you sustain such a high level of intensity—13,000 feet day in and day out—and stay motivated?
I really get into the breathing on the skin track. Breathing with every step. I just try to get into a nice kind of rhythm and meditate almost. I love the up and the intricacies of going up, but I definitely enjoy going down. I’m a powder skier.
Your children seem to know what’s at stake with your projects. And you started the project off with a family tour up Mount Mackenzie. How do you balance your family life with the things you love?
I thought it was a neat idea to start off the first summit with climbing [my kids] first summit and skiing off it. It was super challenging and hard for them, and it was fun to watch them. They got a better understanding of what their dad does.
To me, a life where I always know the outcome is boring. Sure, at some point I will thoroughly enjoy it, but at this point in my life, I have to live life to its fullest. For me, that means adventure, challenge. I understand that there are risks to what I do, and the biggest challenge is mitigating these risks, and then if shit goes wrong to analyze what I did wrong and make sure I do not do it again. Having kids is super amazing and they mean more to me than anything, but I also need to continue to be who I am—a wild adventurer. They give me even more reason to be vigilant in the mountains. I would not be the father I am if I stopped all risks and did nothing, my passion would be gone and enthusiasm for life would dwindle. It does scare me that what I do could sweep me out of their lives, but I also understand how much it is a part of me.