Rainer Hertrich is something of an unsung hero. Back in November 2003, the German-born snow groomer (someone who spends much of the night driving a snowcat preparing slopes for skiers to enjoy the following day) decided to ski every day for a few weeks just for something to do before or after work at the Colorado ski area of Copper Mountain.
After that, he thought he might as well keep going. And how! Once he'd skied all that winter, it seemed a shame to stop. So he moved on to the slopes of Mount Hood, a ski area in Oregon where winter tends to drag on a bit. By now things were getting serious. "I had had about four grand ($4,000) in the bank" he writes in his recently published book The Longest Run (edited by Devon O'Neil). And decided to head for the Andes where NEXT winter was just beginning. And so his "streak" continued, with just one thing in mind - to ski every day for a year. In all weathers. And that, of course, included getting soaked. If you ski 365 consecutive days, as I once did myself - let alone almost 3000 - you're going to get rained on sooner or later. Usually sooner.
The problem - or rather the gathering excitement - was that he didn't want to stop there. Having got this far, he was reluctant to give up. And as each target was reached, another - bigger, better and more unlikely - loomed. How about TWO years of skiing every day. In fact why stop then?
And so Rainer's impossible dream went on, as he passed the three, four, five, six, seven and even the eight-year mark. Incredibly, in the end the only thing which finally stopped his seriously addictive annual skiing circumambulation of 10 months (mainly Colorado, plus brief spells in Utah, Idaho and Oregon) and two months in various Andes resorts (sometimes even skiing down Chilean volcanoes) was a sudden serious heart condition. "No-one ever expects his heart to stop working at age 50" he said ruefully.
His odyssey had lasted eight years, two months and nine days. "When I told people it was over, I was pretty much in tears, quivering, sadder than I'd ever been" he said. "It was horrible... I e-mailed friends and supporters around the world and told them about my broken, fluttering heart. It hurt to type the news, but the number of well-wishers I got in return made me smile. It surprised me how much I'd impacted people's lives simply by going skiing every day."
Hertrich had been aiming for 3,000 straight days on skis and a total vertical descent of a hundred million vertical feet. Wow. Just think about those statistics! If his health hadn't suddenly let him down, would he even have stopped then? Who knows?
Cruelly, on a January Tuesday in 2012, whatever his plans were, after 2,993 straight days and 98,145,000 vertical feet, "my streak was over" he said. He had skied an estimated 928,000 miles - enough to circumnavigate the planet 37 times - or travel to the moon and back three-and-a-half times, getting through 16 pairs of skis in the process.
"As I bent over to buckle my ski boots" he wrote, "I could barely reach them. I felt bloated like a walrus from head to toe. My lower legs had turned into cankles, with no way to tell where the calf ended and the ankle began. My belly was hanging over my waist like a boiling pot of cheese. The pants I wore Monday no longer fitted me on Tuesday... I had no idea what was going on."
As you'll have gathered, Hertrich was "not a quitter" so this was very hard to deal with. "But even though I was fully committed to skiing every day - for a significant amount of time if possible - I also got wistful" he said. "I was missing out on a lot of life.
"When summer hit Colorado, all my friends stopped skiing and did other stuff. They went on vacations, sailed, surfed, lay on the beach, and soaked up the sun. I did none of that. I just thought about it."
It's extremely unlikely that any other skier will ever come close to beating his record - which as yet has not been ratified by the Guinness Book of Records, which seems uncertain about which category to list his odyssey in. Which is why I referred to him as an unsung hero. "I never did get rich" he says. "But skiing sure made me happy."
By Arnie Wilson, who skied 365 straight days in 1994. A puny effort compared with Rainer's!
Rainer Hertrich's book is available on Amazon for $16 at www.thelongestrunbook.com