Mountain Gazette Unpacked
Call him the Iron Man of endurance skiing: Beginning Nov. 1, 2003, Rainer Hertrich has skied more than 438 consecutive days as of mid-January 2005. He has exceeded the 15-million-vertical feet mark and has, to the best of his knowledge, utterly destroyed the previous record for consecutive days held by British ski journalist Arnie Wilson.
Working his way through a plate of food at a Chinese restaurant in Silverthorne, Colorado, Hertrich laughs when he recalls his contact with the former record-holder.
“He called to congratulate me for skiing every day in 2004 and said something about tying the record,” Hertrich says. “But then I reminded him that 2004 was a leap year, so I beat him by a day.”
Hertrich figures his current record of consecutive days is plenty safe, but he continues to rack up days because, as he says, “Why not?”
Born in Dusseldorf, Germany, the young Rainer (pronounced “Ry-ner”) moved with his family to San Jose, Calif., when his father took a job at IBM. That was followed by a move to IBM’s facility in Broomfield, Colo., and later to a home in Estes Park, CO following his parents’ divorce. He started skiing at age 4, mostly at smaller ski areas like Eldora and Loveland, not to mention the now-defunct Hidden Valley ski area near Estes Park. (“Still a great ski area but no lifts anymore!”) After high school, Hertrich began working at Hidden Valley, but saw the handwriting on the wall and decided to stake his claim with more-established Copper Mountain.
That was in 1981; he’s been with Copper ever since. While he’s worked in snowmaking, Hertrich mainly sticks to grooming the hill, which allows him to work nights driving Pisten Bullys and leaving the days free for skiing.
While Hertrich has always skied a great many days every season, the endurance thing came about through a series of disparate events. For one, he broke his leg a few years back and took up telemarking as a way to put less strain on his healed limb. And then he got a watch that allowed him to track the amount of vertical feet he was skiing. The watch piqued his curiosity as to how many vertical feet he could actually ski in a year, while the tele skis made it a little easier to access terrain once the lifts closed.
“I was on vacation at Jackson Hole, and I heard about the 6 million club they have there,” Hertrich recalls. “It occurred to me that Jackson opens later and closes sooner than the ski areas in Colorado, so I figured I could do at least that much here.”
So he started counting, with the help of his watch. He hit 6 million vertical feet on Cinco de Mayo in ’04, finishing out the season at still-open Loveland and Arapahoe Basin. He kept going.
“When I hit 7 million, I thought how you don’t hear about tele skiers doing this kind of thing, and I looked around to see if there was some kind of record.”
Wilson’s record of 365 consecutive days (on alpine boards) was the only one Hertrich could find, so he figured he’d try to top it. He skied locally until A-Basin closed June 13, then pursued his plan to spend the summer skiing at Oregon’s Mount Hood. Getting there and continuing the streak was tricky:
“I had my motorcycle packed up with my gear and headed off to Park City,” Hertrich says. “At the top of Wolf Creek Pass in Utah, I stopped and skied there on a little patch of snow I found; some campers took a picture for proof.”
From there, it was onto Park City, where he found another patch of dirty-white on Guardsman’s Pass. He continued on his way to Mt. Hood, stopping at Idaho’s new Tamarack Resort. A guy named Smoothie gave him a lift to the top, where he was able to ski a drift. The next day, he made it to Timberline at Mt. Hood, pitched his tent and skied every day.
“They do race camps up there all summer, and there’s so much snow they have to dig out a channel for the lift,” Hertrich says. “I watched 65 feet of snow melt by the time I left on Labor Day.”
So where does a guy make turns after Labor Day? Look toward the Southern Hemisphere. Hertrich caught one last cat ride up at Timberline at 1 a.m. after Labor Day, then caught a plane to Atlanta for a connection to Santiago, Chile. He was able to make it to the Valle Nevado ski area in the Andes and get his turns in before the end of the calendar day.
Along with Valle Nevado, Heinrich also skied at Corralco in Chile, which he says was only open four days a week.
“Their claim to fame is they’re the first ski area in Chile to open and the last to close, but with only four days open, I had to skin up, hike or whatever the other three days to go skiing.”
Once October rolled around, he set his sights on returning to Colorado for Loveland’s opening day on the 15th. He skied Corralco one last time, then got on a bus for the 8-hour ride to Santiago. From there it was back to Atlanta, then onto Denver and a shuttle ride up the hill to Loveland. With Copper Mountain also hosting early-season race camps already, he was able to work a deal with Mike Unruh, the mountain manager, to keep his streak going between Copper and Loveland.
“I’ve pretty much averaged a million vertical feet a month for 14 months,” Hertrich says. “I’m just curious now to see what it’ll all add up to. Once I figured out I was probably setting a world record, it was like, why stop?”
Whether he’ll do 365 days in 2005, he says, remains to be seen.
“I just go out and try to survive every day,” Hertrich says. “If I get hurt or something, then I guess it’s over. But if anyone has any gear they want endurance-tested, give me a call. I’m happy to do it.”
*Note: As reported by Devon O’Neill, Hertrich went quite a bit further after this story appeared, making his endless turns all the way to January, 2012.