Photo by Christian Knight
Rainer Hertrich traveled from Colorado to Timberline with his skis on his motorcycle — twice.
By CHRISTIAN KNIGHT
News staff writer
July 16, 2005
With a pair of red K2 telemark skis piercing into the thin air from the back of his blue BMW motorcycle, Rainer Hertrich weaves down the mountain road away from his one-man tent and away from Timberline Mountain Resort.
He merges onto the highway headed to Government Camp, stops, then backs into a vacant parking space in front of Charlie’s Mountainview Restaurant, where a group of four guys and a 20-something woman have been watching him.
When Rainer peels the red helmet from his sunburned, chapped face, one of the four men sitting outside the bar asks him: “Hey Rainer. What’s the total today?”
“Weak,” Rainer says flatly.
Rainer stops to consider the question.
“Delays,” he replies.
“You mean sore back, bad knees?” the middle-aged man wearing flip flops, shorts and a goatee smiles.
“No, no,” says the man in the Carharts and work boots. “It was the lift. The horrible lift.”
Rainer and the small group watching him laugh.
“A small town is where everyone knows everyone,” Rainer says. “Which I like.”
Rainer arrived just 27 days ago. But everybody in this redneck ski bar in this ski resort town should already know who Rainer Hertrich is: He’s the one setting the world record.
He has – as of July 11— skied every single day since November 1, 2003: 619 days and still counting.
The streak obliterates the current Guinness World Record, set by Arnie Wilson, who skied all 365 days of 1994.
When Rainer had successfully skied every day of 2004, Wilson called Rainer to congratulate him on tying his decade-old record.
Rainer thanked the British skier but informed him he shares the title with no one.
2004, you see, was a leap year. It had 366 days and Rainer skied all of them.
Snow is, of course, a fleeting substance in the lower 48 states and especially at Copper Mountain Resort, Colorado, where, the 43-year-old ski trails groomer has made a home in a 750-square foot condo.
“If I miss a day, it’s over,” he says.
To maintain his streak, Rainer has had to link ski days. Most of the time, this means waking up the next morning and loading on the ski lift. At least three times a year, however, skiing every day makes “Amazing Race” contestants seem more like amusement park visitors.
On his way to Timberline on June 18 last year, after all of Colorado’s ski areas had closed, Rainer found a couple-acre patch of snow in Utah’s Wolf Creek Wilderness on which to ski. The next day he found another patch of snow further north at Guardsman Pass. The following day, he skied Tamarack in Idaho. And on June 21 he was skiing the Palmer Glacier at Timberline.
When Timberline, the last open ski resort in the United States, closed for two weeks on September 8, Rainer’s world-record streak faced its most significant obstacle.
That day he had convinced a fellow groomer to drive him to the top of the Palmer Glacier at 1 the following morning. He skied one run down the glacier and by noon the next day, he was skiing northern Chile’s Valle Nu Veda ski resort.
“I logged 40,000 feet that day,” he says. “If I get hurt it’s over. If I get really sick it’s over. If there’s a day where there’s lightning all day, it’s over. And since I’m skiing on a volcano, one of the things I’ve thought of is a volcanic eruption. That’ll probably end it too.”
This frantic globetrotting satisfies only one half of Rainer’s record. He’s going for the most vertical terrain in the most consecutive days. To the best of his knowledge, no record like it exists.
His goal is to ski one million vertical feet each month and to reach that, he figures he has to carve down 33,000 feet every single day. That, he’s calculated, is about 22 runs down the Palmer Glacier. To achieve that, he has to be on the lifts when they first start running until they close at 2 p.m.
Today he was 10,000 vertical feet short of his goal, which is why he’s kind of bummed right now.
His worst day was back at Wolf Creek, where he figures he managed no more than 20 vertical feet on the fairly flat patch of snow.
On Jan. 13, 2004, Rainer says he skied 88,700 vertical feet by skiing Copper from open to close and then moving onto Keystone’s night time gondola run.
“So it all kind of balances out,” he says. So far, he’s skied 21,775,000 during his streak.
“Nobody is ever going to try to break this record,” Rainer explains. “So right now, I’m just adding cushion. No one is going to think about it. But I’m just making sure.”
He records every foot of gained or lost elevation on his Suunto wrist-top computer. And every day at 2:30 p.m., he winds down the mountain road to Charlie’s to eat lunch and download his day’s progress on www.suuntosports.com
He didn’t acquire the altimeter until he was already 332 days into his world record quest. So he’s relying on lift ticket receipts, photographs and Copper Mountain’s personalized vertical feet log to verify his claim.
The idea started quite whimsically, he says, somewhere on the road to Alaska. He had heard about Jackson Hole’s supposed Six Million Feet Club for those who had skied six million vertical feet of Jackson Hole’s runs in a single season.
Rainer figured he’d try the same thing at Copper. But once he reached seven million, he decided to go for a page in Guinness.
He earns $12.50 an hour here at Timberline, not nearly enough to pay for all those miles and all those runs. He’s sinking into debt.
“I knew there’d be expense to it, and I just decided if I was going into debt, a world record’s worth it,” he says. “And I’m still not out of debt, but whatever.”
In the last few years, he’s skied 100 incredible days of powder, two months of ice and 30 miserable days of rain.
“Yesterday I thought about quitting,” he says. “I had trouble with ski patrol, trouble with the mountain manager. I thought: ‘I could go home and live in a nice house.’”
“But it’d be over,” he continues. “The adventure would be over.”