119 Down, Five to Go

Meet Nick Palazzetti, quite possibly America's most fanatical skier

Nov 1, 2003
Outside Magazine

The man who's skied everything: Nick Palazzetti in Alaska's Chugach Range    Photo: Lel Tone/Powder Guides

Certainly, overseas powder has its appeal. But Nick Palazzetti has found enough steep and deep stateside to keep him occupied every season since 1978. This winter, barring injury or untimely airline bankruptcy, the 58-year-old fundraiser from Pittsburgh, who started skiing when he was 28, will complete a quest to ski every major mountain in North America—all 124 of them (by his count). Over the past quarter-century, he's ticked off 95 resorts and 24 heli-ski or snowcat operations, from Arizona to Newfoundland. Still to go: Castle Mountain (Alberta), Le Massif (Quebec), Whitewater (British Columbia), Silver Mountain (Idaho), and Silverton (Colorado). Five mountains, three cross-country flights, and an all-day drive—just an average winter agenda for the peripatetic Palazzetti.

Why the wanderlust? Why not just find a nice resort and keep going back?
I did do that for a little while. The first place I skied out west was Aspen, and I liked it there. But as I improved, I wanted steeper and more extreme.

How does a resort make your list?
Initially, I set the threshold at 3,000 vertical feet, but I quickly realized that wouldn't work because Taos, a great mountain with about 2,600 feet, wouldn't qualify. I reduced the number to 2,500, but that still disqualified Alta. So I settled on 2,000. I have to ski 60 to 70 percent of a mountain before it counts.

That's a lot of mountain—how do you get it all done in a day or two?
High-speed lifts have really helped.

Is there a downside to your quest?
Yeah. This type of travel isn't conducive to a relationship—not many people want to ski six mountains in one trip.

What's been your worst experience?
I've been injured a couple of times pretty badly—torn rotator cuff, torn calf muscle, torn ACL, broken ribs, two broken shoulders. I fell in a chute called Turbo, at Arapahoe Basin, and slid for about 500 feet. I stopped just above a cliff. I've also had a few close calls with avalanches.

What's missing in the North American ski experience?
The ability to ski from village to village. Other than that, it doesn't lack anything.

After all these years, what is your favorite North American resort?
Whistler Blackcomb, B. C., because the snow quality and terrain are as good as anywhere in the world.

Once you finish the list, how will you celebrate? I'll focus on South America next summer. When I'm done with that, I'll ski in Europe until I die.