Want to try to set the world record for most consecutive days ever skied? It might cost you an ankle or two, as well as a hip.
That’s the sacrifice made by Rainer Hertrich, a longtime snow groomer for Colorado’s Copper Mountain, who skied a whopping 2,993 straight days in a row—and is now paying the price in appendages.
“The injuries just came from skiing too much,” says Hertrich, 59. “I wore out the cartilage in my ankle and got Charcot foot. The bones were grinding together so I had to get it amputated.”
As detailed in his book The Longest Run: How a Colorado ski bum skied every day for more than eight years (thelongestrunbook.com), co-authored by MJ contributor Devon O’Neil, Hertrich skied every day for eight years, two months and 10 days. He was forced to end his world-record streak on Feb. 12, 2012, at his doctor’s request, after he was diagnosed with cardiac arrhythmia.
Still, he took one last run even that day, bringing his tally just seven days short of 3,000—every single day since his quirky quest began on Nov. 1, 2003, when the Marlins won the World Series.
Hertrich began his streak after witnessing the hoopla created by some Jackson Hole skiers who notched 6 million vertical feet in a season. After he passed 7 million vertical in 2004, he kept going. And going, through bouts of the flu, injuries, and weather and logistical hurdles.
He tallied six months of daily skiing each year while working at Copper Mountain. Then he’d hit shoulder-season days at Loveland and Arapahoe Basin, nearby in Colorado. From there, he’d head to Mount Hood, OR, where he worked as a snowcat driver through the summers.
“You have to remain dedicated,” he says. “Some days were tough, and there were a lot of logistics to deal with. I also skied through some miserable conditions, as well as pain and illness. You just have to get up and deal. When I separated my shoulder, I still skied the next day; I just didn’t plant my pole.”
He’d etch the final notches on those poles every year by traveling to South America—still somehow eking out runs on consecutive days.
“Changing hemispheres was tough,” he says. “Santiago is three hours later than Oregon, so I’d pre-pack my gear and take a pre-dawn run on other equipment before my flight, then skin for another once I arrived. Once I got lost driving in the fog and barely made it in time. Coming home to Colorado, my flight usually arrived in the morning so I’d hit Loveland on the way back.”
Anything counted, he said, “as long as your skis are underfoot on snow” — even though some days that meant just a lone strip of corn.
En route, he amassed nearly 100 million vertical feet, as well as a peculiar record in Guinness. “To me the vert is more important—the record is accumulated vertical descent in consecutive days,” he said. “That’s a million vertical feet per month, which is a lot.”
He admits that anyone trying to mimic his feat during today’s COVID era might have it tougher. “Resorts in South America didn’t open until early September, missing most of their season,” he says. “If COVID hit while I was doing it, it would have been over.”
Climate change is also making it more difficult. “It’s making it harder in both hemispheres,” he says, adding he still watches the weather around the world. “To have to hike a 14er just to get to a little patch of snow is kind of ridiculous.”
The injuries started racking up right after his streak ended. That spring, he joined a group of friends on a raft trip down the Grand Canyon, walking barefoot in the sand for three weeks. That was too much for ankles accustomed to being locked inside ski boots; one of them “swelled up to the size of a football,” he says.
“The doctor said I was going to have trouble,” he says, adding he finally got it amputated in 2016. “I just wore myself out.”
The hip replacement came a few years later in 2019, also a victim of nearly 3,000 straight days of schussing down mountainsides. Then, this past summer, while trying to ride his BMW 1200 motorcycle to South America, he crashed on California’s Rubicon Trail, crushing his other already compromised ankle. If the surgery doesn’t work, that one, too, might join the prosthetic club.
Still, he’s happy he got the consecutive days in, and set the quirky record, while he did. And, per doctor’s orders, he plans on skiing again come January. As for his prosthetic ankle, he says it even has its advantages. “For one, it never gets frost bite,” he says, adding he carries a spare whenever he travels. “And you can buckle your boots as tight as you want; if it gets crushed, it works as parts.”
And he’s not that worried about anyone stealing his thunder anytime soon. “I think I’m pretty safe with the record,” says Hertrich, who, when not skiing, now has plans to get his captain’s license and run sailboat trips in Florida. “I doubt anyone will ever break it.”