Team Vertical
Tammy McMinn that's me (snowboarder)
Jen Hughes teammate (skier)
Leo Steiner owner Klondike Heliskiing
Bill Karman pilot
(owner Kluane Helicopters)
George Robbi guide
Bernhard Kriner guide

See the following related topics:
Behind the Scenes
Team Vertical Roles
After Event Highlights
Motivational Speaking

Starting Out

Monday, April 20th 1998, 5:45 AM: The boys were a bit early, so I quickly ate a few more bites of my cereal on the way out the door.

It only took us a few minutes to get to the small airport in the town of Atlin where we quickly loaded our gear into the A-Star helicopter and taped our food chart to the back of the helicopter pilot's seat. The helicopter fired up and Bill, George, Bernie, Jen and I headed for Paradise Peak, which is about 20 minutes away. George checked our avalanche beacons to make sure they were transmitting a signal and also warned us to stay away from the crevasses.
 

Making the First Run

6:50 AM: When we arrived at the top of the mountain, Jen and I jumped out of the helicopter, and the guides handed us our equipment. On the first run, I had to rock my board back and forth to get going since it was flat where the helicopter landed. I was worried because I knew this would slow me down and wear me out. As I headed down the mountain, I thought they may need to move the landing down a bit, but the second time was much better. My first track must have packed it down.

The run wasn't at all what I expected. I'd seen the profile on paper and thought it was going to be a straight shot down the mountain. I wasn't thinking about the natural contours that exist in the backcountry. The run started out near a huge cornice at the top of the mountain. I would head away from this for about 25 yards and make a sharp right turn, a U- turn. Then it was onto a heel side (stance: regular) edge for about 100 yards. I wasn't crazy about this, but I just put it out of my head. I couldn't do anything about it, and it could have been worse -- a toe side edge would have killed me.

After I made it through this section, I made a few turns and really tried to loosen up my legs. Next, there were a few wind blown rollers, which I let my legs absorb. After about 25 yards, I headed left and dropped down into a valley where there was a little bit of powder. The crevasses were off to the sides in this area.

After a slight curve to the right, it was pretty much a B-line straight to the helicopter. In the flat section, I put my left arm straight out in front of me to break the wind and keep my speed up. When I approached the helicopter, I would make a big sweeping curve and hold out my arms to let the wind slow me down, which helped to preserve my legs.

In the beginning, Jen and I took the most aggressive lines we could find straight down the mountain. George recommended a line which would require the least amount of energy. The line a ball would roll down or an animal would walk up. We didn't listen.


Putting Helmets On

On the third run, the light was still a bit flat and I was cruising. I don't know if the nose of my board dropped, or if I hit something. Anyway, I ended up doing two cartwheels. When I stopped, my hat was next to me and my goggles were up the hill. I quickly grabbed my hat and headed for the helicopter. I told myself I couldn't afford another fall like that, and I knew I was lucky for not getting hurt. When I reached the helicopter, George yelled at me and told me to slow down. He also gave me a cloth to wipe the snow off my face. I jumped in the helicopter, shook my hat off and put on my spare goggles. Jen said, "Maybe we should put our helmets on." I said, "Good idea."

Bill told us on our 4th or 5th run we were doing 7-8 minute round-trips. We were stoked. I knew we had to stay under 10 minutes to hit the target.


Choosing a Line

I gradually picked a less aggressive line, similar to what George had shown us. I was still choosing my line around the 25th run. After this, I changed it slightly throughout the course of the day depending on the changing snow conditions. Jen and I both took really different lines with her being a skier. She made wide turns, while I took a much more direct route. There was one part on the mountain where we crossed each others line, so we had to stay alert to each other to avoid a crash.


Planning Pays Off

10:27 AM: I logically broke the day into quarters. I knew we had to do 25 runs each quarter for a total of 300,000 vertical feet, plus a little more. Anywhere between 180,000 and 300,000 would be good. At the end of the first quarter (3.5 hours in), we were at 28 runs, which meant we were 3 above target. This was excellent news.

Bill told us it was time to refuel the helicopter, so we took a pee break on the way down, our second pee stop. You might be wondering where? Originally, they were supposed to build us some sort of a glacier toilet at the bottom of the run with a tarp, but it didn't happen. The mountain was pretty wide open, no trees, so we just picked a spot about 3/4 of the way down and told Bill to tell everyone to keep clear. Actually, on the first pee stop we joked with Bill about giving us a little heli air dry. When we reached the bottom we stretched our legs for 5-10 minutes until it was time to go. The helicopter would refuel at the end of every quarter, which was perfect for my quarterly thinking.

Every time we got in the helicopter, we checked our food chart (GU, Cytomax, Metabolol, and water) to see if we needed to eat or drink something. The chart went from 0 to 14.5 hours. I ate a GU every 30 minutes, and I drank 16 oz. of liquid every hour.

Throughout the day, I tried to be as efficient as possible. I focused on my breathing and really tried to relax my body, especially my shoulders and my legs. I thought about my form and made sure I stayed solid by keeping my arms in my field of vision at all times, legs bent and loose. I also tried to ease up on my legs by putting my arms out to slow down a bit when I made the left turn into the valley.


Hitting the Mid-Point

During the middle of the day, the sun baked the snow, and we were going very fast. Our quickest time down 3,025 vertical feet was 3 minutes. We had a few of these and averaged 5 minutes overall. During the quicker runs, George said we came in so close together we were both out of our gear in 2-3 seconds, in the helicopter and gone. I could never have done what I did without my Clickers. With time being so critical throughout the day, it was essential for me to put my board on and take it off in a few seconds.

1:40 PM: At the end of the second quarter (7.25 hours in) we were at 53 runs, 3 above target. On our 60th run we broke 180,000 vertical feet, which was our original proposal. After the 66th run, Leo (owner of Klondike Heliskiing) interviewed us in the helicopter. He asked us how much we were going to do. I said, "Anything is possible. We're not going home until Bill tells us we have to go home (because of flying regulations)."


Ending the Third Quarter

5:32 PM: At the end of the third quarter (10.75 hours in) we were at 80 runs, 5 ahead of target. We were still hitting 7-8 minutes round- trip consistently. As the guides said many times, "UNBELIEVABLE!" At that point, I felt like I could go for 24 hours. I was definitely ready to go the distance.


Dealing with the Storm Followed by the Burn

Shortly after this, a storm started to move in and the light went flat. I noticed the snow slowed down quite a bit because I didn't have to hold my arms out anymore when I turned left into the valley.

Not far into the fourth quarter on run 86, we surpassed the women's 24 Hours of Aspen total. George kept us aware of these statistics to keep us pumped up.

As the storm moved in even more, the conditions really started to change. It was very difficult to see at the top, and the bottom of the mountain. At the top, I couldn't see anything under me, so I headed towards a rock I'd been looking at all day. I did touch and feel with the board and hoped I would not hit anything. It was during this time I could feel thigh burn on the long heel side edge near the top. I really had to focus on totally relaxing my legs right after my first turn to relieve the burn. I also focused on my breathing a lot more. At the bottom of the mountain, I pointed towards the helicopter and tried to avoid catching an edge. Looking back, I'm sure I was working twice as hard in these two sections.

On run 90, George said we surpassed the men's 24 Hours of Aspen total. At this point, Mark Bennett's world record was within our grasp. Beyond this run, I no longer felt thigh burn. My left foot was hurting a bit, but it didn't affect me. My mind and body were on automatic pilot.


Going Beyond All Records

George told us we had broken Mark Bennett's world record for the most vertical heli-skied in a day. I know I should have been really excited about this, but I wasn't. I was going for as much vertical as I could possibly do.

I ate a GU on practically every run towards the very end. I'm sure I was well fueled. There was definitely no chance of dehydration. In addition to 16 oz. of liquid every hour, I drained my water filled 70 oz. CamelBak twice.

My mind stayed sharp and in tune. There was never a time when I thought about how many more runs I was going to do. I just took it one run at a time.

Near the 100th run, my legs were getting a bit wobbly. I couldn't figure out how I could still possibly snowboard when I was having difficulty walking.


Making One Final Run

At the end of the 100th run as I came in, I released my bindings (quick release hooked between the two Clickers). When I did this, my right leg buckled under me. I started to push myself up and George may have grabbed the back of my jacket. My spirit was still up, but my legs must have been tiring.

George told us the helicopter needed a fourth refueling. He knew this was at a critical point, since we had been riding over 14.5 hours and it was nearly 9:30 PM. He told us to take our time coming down on the 101st run, to take a pee break, and then to stretch at the bottom.

On the 101st run, the visibility cleared at the top of the mountain. It was almost surreal. At the pee stop, I made a comment to Jen about the sunset. She said something about the glacier fall up on the mountain. It was the third time I'd taken time to look around all day. It was beautiful. I headed down into the valley and the light was still flat in the bottom.

I don't know if it was the flat light, squatting down for the last pee break or possibly my leg buckling on the last run, but I couldn't keep the board flat in the valley. I was afraid of catching an edge, so I kept going from my heel to toe edge as I approached George. It seemed like I would never reach him. When I finally did, I told him to get me out of my bindings. I told him it took everything I had to get across the valley. George knew I meant what I said. He said to wait until Jen got down. He asked her what she wanted to do, and she had her own reasons for not wanting to continue. He tried to rally us for one more and neither of us was up for it. We were happy with 101 runs. When he realized it wasn't going to happen, he told us he was REALLY proud of us.

It was just as George said it should be, "There is never a last run, just another one." At that point, we were beyond our goal and we'd broken the world record set by Mark Bennett in April 1997. We completed 101 runs for a total of 305,525 vertical feet in 14 hours and 50 minutes. This works out to 232.3 miles!


Sponsors:
K2 Snowboards and Clicker, Klondike Heliskiing (host), Kluane Helicopters, Subaru, Oakley, MICA Sport Canada, Betty Rides (clothing), Acerbis (helmets), GU, Smartwool, Cytomax, Loffler, YMCA, CamelBak