Rethinking Adventure with Greg Hill
An interview with professional skier/adventurer Greg Hill on adventure, exploration, fitness and family. Learn how he performs at his best.
The GORE-TEX brand recently caught up with all-around athlete and professional mountain man, Greg Hill, to discuss adventure planning, fatherhood and how our readers can dive into journeys of their own! Here’s what he had to say:
For readers who may not already be familiar with your lifestyle, can you tell us a bit about what you do, how long you’ve done it, and how it all started?
Sometime in my second-year university, I took a detour from the traditional lifestyle for one of adventure and exploration. I knew that experiences in life weighed more than money and I have dedicated myself to this belief since the mid-’90s. My main form of exploration is backcountry skiing, where for years, I have pushed my own physical boundaries through endurance feats and first descents.
My main goal in life is to continually progress and evolve who I am.
I live in Revelstoke, British Columbia, Canada because it is an idyllic mountain town surrounded by an endless sea of mountains that get covered with amazing snow and boast a lifetime of challenges.
A lot of people are interested in my stats as an outdoor athlete, which I obsessed over for years. These numbers were a way to gauge my quest for progression, to let me know that I was getting better and it gave me something to work toward. With my backcountry skiing, I aimed to get really fast so I would be a great partner. Then I started to realize that I could do big days and link together many great descents, at which point I became totally obsessed. The more vertical, the better the day. I worked up from 5000-foot days, to 10, then 20, 30, 40 and finally set a record of 50,000 feet in 24 hours of skinning up and skiing downhill in 2005.
This was a huge challenge, and so rewarding to work my way up and up till I reached my personal max.
While I was obsessing about my daily potential I started dreaming of a year-long challenge, and in 2010, I set out and began to climb and ski towards 2,000,000 feet.
Seventy-seven mountains later, on December 30, I achieved that goal.
Since then, I have tested myself on a month-long challenge I called “March Madness 2014.” Each day I had to adventure into a new zone, and I climbed 330,000 feet in that month alone.
Since it’s progression that keeps me happy, I have been pushing myself in other adventure sports like trail running, mountaineering, and biking. Just last weekend, I tested these limits with a 23-hour car-to-car mission, climbing six summits, covering 25 kilometers, and climbing 13,000-plus feet.
We climbed our first summit in the moonlight and walked off our last in the alpenglow.
You’ve been dubbed one of the fittest athletes around, why is fitness and personal health so necessary to your sports and how do you maintain day-to-day?
Fitness is key to my personal happiness. I love the feeling of being able to run free through the woods, to breathe deeply while pedaling up a trail or to scream with joy after having summited a mountain. Nothing makes me happier.
I always have some goal I am training for, that way I can stay inspired on my day-to-day working toward something bigger.
You have a beautiful Instagram feed that would make any aspiring peak bagger drool. What are three or four of your favorite summits and what sets them apart?
This is a tough one. In Rogers Pass sits Sir Donald, which has a 1000 meter (3,000 foot) NW ridge that has incredible quartzite climbing. When looked at from a distance, it seems impossible and terrifying, but when you break it down and climb it, it presents perfect climbing with manageable hazards.
In Europe, it is hard not to have Mt. Blanc on the list, it is so iconic and beautiful. In 2009, I climbed and skied it in a day and have always dreamed of returning.
Who or what has been the most profound influence in your outdoor career?
I would say that anyone who has the ability to push themselves. Alex Low was a big influence on me in the ’90s. His ability to push the limits in climbing, skiing, and mountaineering blew my mind and made me realize that we can go much further than we know.
If you had to drill it down, what is the single best element of the outdoor community in this day and age?
A sharing of the passion. With social media, it is now possible to share the experiences as they happen and inspire others to get out and experience their own.
2017 seems like it’s off to a great start! Can you share a bit about some of your recent adventures and your mission to uphold sustainable practices, travel, and habits?
Nature inspires me, makes me happy, and is my favorite place. But I realized that the way I live and access the mountains is, in fact, killing what I love the most. Last summer, I did a few carbon footprint calculations and it scared me. It scared me that I was teaching my kids that this was the right way to live, and that I was inspiring others to live in a similar fashion.
Doing those carbon tests showed me that my travel habits have been out of control and that I needed to look at ways of adventuring without guzzling gas and began looking at local adventures.
I wanted to change to be better to the earth.
In April, I did a local 10-day ski traverse, where we hitchhiked down to the trailhead and headed home from there. In May, I rented a Nissan Leaf electric car, and journeyed down the west coast climbing and skiing volcanoes. We traveled 3,000 miles, climbed six major volcanoes, from Washington to California, and had zero emissions. In two weeks, I will buy my own electric car and begin a chapter of more routine electric adventures.
But it turns out that eating meat was one of my worst habits, so I finally adopted the “Weekday Vegetarian” practice my brother has done a TED talk on. Since January, I have almost exclusively eaten meat on the weekends. I love meat, and this has made it special again. I have also enjoyed lots of vegetarian meals that have surprised me.
What are some of the most attainable sustainable practices that the average weekend warrior or adventure families could engage? Where can our readers start in their own lives?
This all depends on where you live, but as I mentioned, the biggest change can be eating less meat, and shopping as locally as possible. And then look to local adventures and microadventures as there are quite often so many overlooked backyard excursions.
What are some of the must-haves in your bag for any excursion in the near future? Are there garments or gadgets that always have your back?
Must-haves usually depend on the season and adventure, but since humans have no fur or protection from the elements it is essential to always have a GORE-TEX brand layer. It is like armor that can protect you if things go south. On my summer alpine days, I have an Arcteryx Norvan SL GORE-TEX, a super light minimalist jacket, that is hidden until needed, and then perfect to protect me against a summer storm. In the winter, I have a variety of GORE-TEX membranes, depending on the cardiovascular output of the day.
How has becoming a father shaped your view for, approach toward, or perspective on adventure and risk? And how do you share your experiences with your family?
Being a father has made me more conscious of the effects of a mistake in the mountains. But I also understand that I have a need to explore, a need to push limits, and a need to adventure. Adventures have risk, I just need to be careful. I know that it is who I am, that I will never be amazing with my kids if I am not happy with who I am, so I continue to adventure but with extra care.
Where can our readers keep up with your travels day by day?
Typically, I am OK on Instagram and once my electric adventures truly start this summer/fall, I will have a website up and running. My blog greghill.ca is in a state of dormancy.
What are two or three pieces of advice that every outdoorsman and woman ought to keep front of mind wherever they go?
The 3 Ps: Partners, Preparation, and Patience
Finally, how do you spend your time between summits? What do you do when you’re not conquering slopes and how do you feed your adrenaline and wanderlust? Are there other influences or hobbies that get your fix?
I really like to read and relax, I understand that life is about balance and I cannot go hard all the time without taking time off to heal and recharge. This summer, I am running a lot, climbing, and trying to combine the two into speed ascents of the peaks around my home.