While the rest of America was donning green and clinking glasses of Guinness, Mike Foote, a 34-year-old ultra runner and ski mountaineer from Missoula, Montana, was spending his St. Patrick's Day a little differently.
Skinning up the face of Ed's Run at Whitefish Mountain Resort, Foote was attempting to break the world record for the most vertical feet climbed and skied in 24 hours. The standing record, held by Austrian skimo racer Ekkehard Dörschlag, was set in 2009 at 60,350 feet. Foote's goal was 61,200 feet, 60 laps of the 1,020 feet of vertical on Ed's Run. To put those numbers into perspective, Foote's elevation gain would be equivalent of travelling from sea level to the peak of Everest, twice, in just a 24-hour window.
A professional ultrarunner for The North Face, Foote said the idea for breaking the record came last year as he competed in Colorado's Hardrock 100, a 100-mile ultramarathon through southern Colorado's rugged San Juan Mountain Range. "Races like that normally last about 20 to 30 hours," says Foote. "As I've been getting into more ski mountaineering and skimo racing, I thought, 'If I can run 100 miles in 24 hours, what can I do on skis in 24 hours?'"
After some initial research and finding Dörschlag's 60,000 foot mark from 9 years ago, Foote had his work cut out for him. His next step, besides a ridiculous amount of training, was to find the right hill to accomplish this monumental task. "Logistically, I needed to find a venue," says Foote. "I needed to find somewhere with a longer slope and perfect gradient. What that perfect number is, I'm still not sure."
Foote finally settled on Whitefish, where he had worked as a ski patroller from 2007 to 2010, and more specifically, Ed's Run, an intermediate slope that's a straight shot from the village base to the top of Chair 2.
Then came the training, which Foote says was both for his body and his mind. He spent long days in the backcountry, working on cranking out as much vert as he could before the day's end. "I would get in a ton of 10 to 15,000 foot days, sometimes multiple days in a row," he says. "My biggest was doing two 20,000 foot plus days back-to-back.
Outside of getting himself ready for the attempt, Foote knew that he wasn't going to be able to do it alone.
"Normally when you show up at a race, you just need to have yourself ready," says Foote. "But this was like putting on my own whole event." Foote says he had about 20 people helping out over the 24 hour period. "I had a few people at the base drying out gear, putting on skins, and giving me food and drink," he says. "They would do that for four or six hours and then take a nap."
To accomplish the feat, Foote had lightweight Dynafit DNA race skis. "Not the best in powder," he jokingly admits, but at 65 underfoot and 800 grams a piece, they were necessary for quick climbing and descending. He alternated between two identical pairs, with one always waiting for him at the bottom with skins already applied to cut down on any wasted time. He also had two pairs of lightweight carbon fiber skimo racing boots, but in an effort to save time, he only used one. "My feet are really regretting that decision," he laughs. "They're pretty destroyed."
While he felt a little uneasy during the first five or six laps, Foote says he really found his rhythm after that, saying there were some low points during the night, but he had pacers helping him stay where he needed to be. Good fortune also came in the form of his friend, who works as a groomer at Whitefish, coming through and laying down fresh corduroy a couple times in the middle of the night. It was a relief, Foote says, as hot weather during the day and freezing temps overnight made the run into an icy nightmare at points. "It was slick going up and teeth chattering frozen on the descents," says Foote. "The conditions were not ideal."
For the entire 24 hours, the only time Foote wasn't moving was when he was swapping his skis or the few times he ran off into the woods to pee, "probably one of the highlights," Foote says about his short-lived bathroom breaks. Other than that, Foote was on the move. Burning an average of 500 calories an hour, he was eating nearly anything and everything to help keep up his endurance. Among the list of menu items was goo gels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, potato chips, chicken broth, and a lot of drink mix. "It was all over the board," he says. "I had both sweet and savory, but after eight hours it's not really fun to eat, you're kind of sick of everything. I had these sweet potato bacon rice balls that were dope though. Towards the end, all I wanted was savory."
While there were definitely points where he didn't know if he was going to make it, with five laps left, Foote saw the finish line in sight. "I would count down the laps in my head, five to go, four to go, three to go," he says. "By my last lap, I felt like I was sprinting up the hill with all this newfound energy."
Crossing the line after lap 60, Foote officially set the world record at 61,170 feet (77 miles), just seven minutes short of the 24-hour mark. Foote admits he didn’t have much energy left to celebrate the feat. "I didn't have an appetite, I just kind of fell asleep," he says. The appetite finally kicked in a couple days later, when he admitted he had five meals before 11:30 a.m.
Now a world record holder, Foote says that he doesn't have any plans yet for another big event and is just excited to get some regular skiing in. "I can't wait to just go backcountry skiing," he says. "I've been so focused on training and not having fun and exploring in the mountains. I'm gonna go touring in the Eastern Sierra this spring and just have some fun with it."