Book review: ‘The Longest Run,’ by Rainer Hertrich
January 26, 2016
Many avid skiers like to keep a tally of days spent on the snow in any given season, and bragging rights for first chair at either Loveland or Arapahoe Basin ski areas are coveted titles. For some, though, counting a season's worth of ski time is not enough. Longtime Summit County local and self-described ski bum Rainer Hertrich, author of the recently released book "The Longest Run," is one such individual. Though he is a familiar face on the slopes of all of Summit County's ski mountains, Hertrich is most synonymous with Copper Mountain, where he has worked and lived for more than 33 years.
Born in Germany but raised in Estes Park, Hertrich came to the sport of skiing at a young age, showing up regularly at the nearby Hidden Valley Ski Area until it became clear the small resort's days were numbered. Though he opted for a GED over completing high school, he did graduate to steeper ski terrain, and following a friend's advice, he moved to Copper Mountain, where he settled in, enjoying the easy camaraderie that existed among the employees.
He speaks with a wistful fondness for those old days, praising the love for skiing that was cultivated by Copper's founder, Chuck Lewis, who was a firm believer that the people who worked his mountain should love to ski and should have time to ski. The employees responded by working hard and skiing hard, Hertrich included, working as a snowmaker until he had a bad fall that changed the trajectory of his life.
MAKING UP FOR LOST TIME
Watching from the sidelines while a season drifted along without him, Hertrich was determined to make up for lost time. With this in his mind, he was skiing with friends in Jackson Hole when he spotted a plaque that gave kudos to some individuals who had succeeded in skiing 6 million vertical feet in a season. Itching to pick up the pace of his own skiing, Hertrich made their record a goal for himself, and on Nov. 1, 2003, he began.
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It was there that his real self-inflicted challenge was born, for when the end of the season approached, with die-hards skiing the last strips of overburdened snow at Arapahoe Basin, Hertrich looked back on his vertical feet accomplishment and realized that in pursuing his goal, he had not missed a single day on the slopes, so he decided to see if he could keep his streak alive.
MOUNT HOOD OR BUST
This, he knew, would take some careful planning.
"In order not to miss a day, I had to be around snow for some part of every 24-hour period, including travel days," he said.
He hopscotched his way west, aiming for Oregon and Mount Hood. Luck was on his side, as he promptly got employment for the summer, which allowed him to ski every day on the slopes of the dormant volcano. At the end of the summer, he knew his streak would be tested even more, for there were still a couple of months before snow would return to Colorado.
SKIING IN SOUTH AMERICA
South America became the next leg of his year of snowy stepping-stones. Careful flight planning and a willingness to ski in the dark of night, paired with choosing resorts close to airports, helped Hertrich complete his first year, with his skis touching snow back at Copper on Halloween.
For most people, the one-year mark would have been enough of a record, but he saw no reason to stop. In fact, arranging his life around skiing became his everything, and he insists his dedication to his streak and his love for skiing was the catalyst that helped him stop smoking.
'A UNIQUE MOTIVATOR'
Passing Year 1 also signaled a departure from a previously trodden path; 365 consecutive days had been the standing record, an achievement he had unknowingly surpassed. As he realized he was on his way to setting new records, he added a vertical feet goal to his tally, aiming for an astounding 100 million vertical feet skied. When asked why, he replied, "to do something that no one in your species has done is a unique motivator."
He fell into a rhythm of 1 million vertical feet per month, which meant he needed to ski 33,000 vertical feet per day. He used his annual time spent in South America to add to his vertical feet tally, calling it his "Slush Fund," as he was able to log more elevation more quickly there than in either Colorado or Oregon. For him, skiing is an efficient sport, and during those years, it became all about speed, but somehow, he seems to have still found the joy in it, even after so many days of a punishing routine.
He is fully aware of all the things he missed because of his daily compulsion to ski. But his skiing streak challenges the assumption that all ski bums are lazy and shiftless; he was clearly obsessively driven, resorting often to creative methods to keep his streak alive.
AN UNEXPECTED END
His astounding record of eight years, two months and nine days came to an end unexpectedly, with a medical emergency that placed him in the intensive care unit, which he called, "a most deplorable end to the happiest time of my life."
His streak, around which he had built nearly a decade of his life, is now over. He no longer skis every day and only does when conditions are right, both on the mountain and for himself, but he has fond memories of what he believes was a deeply spiritual experience, and there is no doubt he will be skiing around the county as long as he is able.
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