How Aaron Rice Skied 2.5 Million Feet—Uphill—in One Year

Utah Skier Aaron Rice set out to break a world record for skiing uphill. In December, 2.5 million vertical feet later, he broke it. Along the way, he learned a few things about setting an ambitious goal and staying motivated.

Skinning near ­Bariloche, ­Argentina (Tyler Wilkinson-Ray)
Backcountry

Rice’s love of snow has grown exponentially. In 2011, the Alta, Utah, native skinned 75,000 vertical feet. In 2015, he logged 703,000. But the one-year world record was two million, set by Canadian Greg Hill in 2010. So in 2016, Rice planned to notch 2.5 million self-­propelled vertical feet by skinning (and hiking, when he had to) 5,000 to 12,000 feet per day in Argentina, California, Chile, Colorado, Utah, and Ore­gon. There were plenty of powder days, but much of it was a slog. He spent the entire month of June trudging up dirt and scree to ski down Colorado’s diminishing veins of snow. Along the way, he learned a few things about setting an ambitious goal and staying motivated. By late October, he’d pulled even with Hill. And on December 29, just outside Alta, he notched vertical foot number 2.5 million. 


Bye-bye down time: “Between skiing, eating, and transport to and from the hill, I only had about an hour and a half of free time each day.”

Homemade fuel: “I ate Probars while I skied, but my big issue was recovery. The key was four grams of carbs to one gram of protein in my recovery drink. Every night I had a half-gallon of a homemade mix of seltzer water, ­orange juice, and soy milk. The next morning I was a new person.” 

Finding ski buds: “In Utah and Colorado, friends would join me for laps. In Argentina, I used social media to find partners. It’s hard to overstate the value of two people’s energy.”

Going forward: “Pick a little drift of snow in front of you and get there, then pick another. You need to think about anything other than how hard it is.”

Turn up the volume: “There were days when I liked to put on light gear, plug in a podcast, and go as fast as I could for five hours. I even managed to listen to the entire Radio Lab series all the way through.”

Thoughts to work: “When you’re out there for ten hours every day, you have so much time to stew in your thoughts that it becomes a source of anxiety. I wrote everything down on my iPhone as I skinned, and it helped me let go. I got so good at it that I could almost touch-type with-out looking.” 

Long-term magic: “When the skiing is good, it’s easy to stay motivated and go with the flow. That motivation pulls you along. But you need stubbornness to go for a goal that takes a year.”

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