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When Slovenian ski instructor Davo Karnicar skied into Everest base camp on October 7, 2000, he brought an end to the quest for perhaps the longest-sought, most illustrious, and most impressive snow-sliding feat on the planet. Karnicar, 38, skied 11,500 vertical feet from the world’s highest point, Mount Everest’s 29,035-foot summit, without once removing his custom-built 170-cm Elans. His route included a crossing of the notorious — and heretofore considered unskiable — face of the Hillary Step and a ginger negotiation of the Khumbu Icefall’s crevasses, plus terrain obstacles like gigantic blocks of ice and the occasional frozen body.
Ski attempts on Everest have been famously — and infamously — made since 1970, when Japanese speed skier Yuichiro Miura decided the best way to ski Everest would be to tuck it, using a parachute for speed control. (Miura spent most of his 6,000-foot descent in a cartwheel.) In 1992, Frenchman Pierre Tardivel got separated from his climbing party; with no one to belay him over the Hillary Step, he was forced to begin his ski descent from the South Summit, about 300 feet below the true summit. In ’96, Italy’s Hans Kammerlander managed to ski off the summit, but he encountered so much rock below he had to remove his skis and walk an 800-foot section. Craig Calonica’s 1997 attempt was perhaps the most hyped: His corporate-sponsored team blanketed cyberspace with updates of their climb up Everest’s Tibetan north route, only to be turned back by bad weather.
Karnicar’s success came after a failed 1996 attempt in which he lost two fingers in a storm. This time, apparently, that hard-won experience paid off.