Hertrich at Loveland October 31, 2008
For pictures from Hertrich's incredible journey, go here or click on the links below.
Copper Mountain, CO -
Can you think of anything you have done consecutively over a prolonged period of time? Most people probably haven't even brushed their teeth everyday or even slept every night in the past five years.
Rainer Hertrich is not like most of us.
On October 31, 2008, he marked his
. Five full years. A few days later he hit another milestone: 61 million vertical feet skied.
I guess I forgot to mention that not only does the 47-year-old Hertrich ski everyday, he skis hard everyday. Which means rain or shine, summer or winter, Rainer averages 33,000 feet per day or one million feet per month.
The old record of 4.1 million vertical feet skied over 365 consecutive days was smashed by Hertrich years ago. And he’s still going.
I caught up with German-born, American-raised Hertrich while he was getting some early season turns at Loveland last month.
, and his used-and-abused K2 Anit-Pistes dangled from his feet. Despite the untold obstacles he has endured over the years to see this dream to fruition, the only thing he had to complain about was the day’s vertical. At 3pm,
. Bummer. He was hoping for 47,000 feet that day. All I could do was smile and nod…it was after all, my first run of the day.
A twenty six-year veteran of the Copper Mountain grooming crew, Hertrich is probably the only person in Summit County (home of Breckenridge, Copper Mountain, Keystone, and A-Basin) who drives to the hill with his
, wearing tele boots and a ski helmet. Yeah, Hertrich is a bit notorious in these parts.
So, I couldn’t believe my luck when I found myself on Chair 1 with him. It didn’t last long, because I soon found out,
. At least when the lifts are turning.
“There’s no vertical standing around talking about it, “ he yelled as he pushed off the lift and headed straight down the mountain.
Motivated by his discovery of Jackson Hole’s Vertical Foot Club on a vacation six years ago, Hertrich got to thinking that it was possible for him to ski six million vertical feet in one season as well.
“I thought that even though Jackson is a pretty big mountain, I bet I could do it in Colorado too. So mathematically, I figured if I started on November 1st and ski 33,000 feet a day, every day, I could hit six million by the end of the season.”
When he realized he had already skied 7.25 million vertical feet by that April he figured he had set some kind of record. Sure enough, he had. So, like Forrest Gump who started running until he felt like stopping, so did Rainer Hertrich ski. Only he hasn’t stopped yet.
No Sick Days
During the winter, keeping up his streak is not a problem. He lives at Copper and grooms the slopes at night, leaving his days free to rack up the vertical off of the Super Bee lift. But come spring, things get a little tricky.
When Copper closes for the season, he makes his way up to Timberline Ski Area on Mt Hood where he works as a cat operator during the summer months. But just getting there, especially in drought year, poses a challenge to holding onto his record.
In the season he started (2003-2004), Hertrich said he was lucky to find a couple patches of snow on the top of Wolf Creek Pass and Soldier Pass in Utah.
“I just put on my stuff and skied back and forth for an hour and called it skiing. It was actually just a drift behind a tree. It didn’t do much for my vertical, but it was skiing.”
The following day he made it to Tamarack, Idaho and called in a favor from an old friend, who gave him a lift to the top of the mountain so he could ski what little snow was left there. Finally, he made it to Timberline the next day where he offered his grooming skills in exchange for lift tickets. He has worked there every summer since.
When the Timberline season comes to an end, he takes a pre-dawn run, then heads straight for the airport where he
and lands the following morning with
at Valle Nevado (two hours away) or Termas de Chillan (four and a half hours from Santiago). Despite a long flight, a grueling drive, and bumpy train ride, Hertrich still doesn’t break his streak.
After six weeks in the Southern Hemisphere, he returns to Colorado
and Arapahoe Basin to open amid their infamous competition. Its not easy, he admits. But it’s worth it.
“Some mornings I wake up and I just don’t feel like it, but I make myself go. Logic plays a part because it is a world record. That is a big motivator. Two, I have so much time, money and energy invested…Am I just going to let it go because I’m not feeling good? No.”
While Hertrich’s accomplishment is impressive to say the least, you won’t find his name in the Guinness Book of World Records yet. The category he will own is “accumulated vertical descent in consecutive days of telemark skiing” but they don’t acknowledge the record until his run ends. And when that will be is anyone’s guess, including Hertrich’s.
“I don’t really have a specific goal I am shooting for because every day is every day and the challenges are always there. When it’s over, it will be over," he said.
Hitting the five-year mark was big target for Rainer and the next milestone he has his sights set on is Day 2000, which by his calculations will fall on Earth Day in April 2009. But as he points out, after that it will be time to start his summer job at Timberline again.
In the meantime, I say give the man a crown and Beer. After skiing five years straight, god knows he deserves it.