A big day out at Thredbo just doesn’t get bigger than 47 top-to-bottom laps of the Kosciuszko Express, or Crackenback Chair as it was when that record was set back in 1995.
Think about that for a minute. You may think you ski a full day. You probably have the app evidence to prove it, in miniscule detail. But we’ll bet you never ever even got close to 47 laps of Crackenback in regular hours.
That’s 26,320 vertical metres, or 86,351 vertical feet. Try racking that up on your app, Fitbit or whatever you are using.
We were measuring with the then hi-tec Avocet altimeter watches that measured your altitude and descents etc. They were touted at the time as a way to keep your heliski operator honest by checking the vertical you achieved.
An intro heli day in NZ used to promise 10,000 vertical feet, so for the cost of a day pass our team clocked up almost nine days’ worth of heli vertical. Not quite heli quality snow of course, although the first couple of laps there was some nice windblown snow dropping down under the top of the chair.
Not too shabby an effort, and it took a couple of serious ski legends to hit that mark: the original ‘Hot Dogger’ downunder and founder of Thredbo’s iconic Hot Shots photo and video business, Randy Wieman, and former World Cup speed skier, farmer and current real estate/livestock guru Nick Kirshner. If we hadn’t stopped to take a group photo at the top before lap one I’m sure they would have made an even 48 laps.
“If they hadn’t slowed the lift for the last couple of hours because of the wind we would have done more” Randy reminded me today too from Thredbo, where he’s looking forward to a 45th straight season.
Still, 47 laps is a fair old effort, and remains the record.
The idea was to see how much skiing and boarding you could squeeze into a ski day at “recreational” speeds – there was no roped off race course (more on that point later) – and the only advantage we had was using the priority lift lane at the bottom.
Back up crew plied us with drinks and snacks to eat on the way up, and the record breakers managed their necessary fluid outgoings on the lift as well.
The lift was only 5 years young then, and maybe ran faster. At an average 7 minutes per ride that’s 5 and a half hours spent riding up, leaving just over 3 minutes per lap skiing down including load/offload times.
A solid pace to maintain all day. Nick Kirshner used to deliberately train in low visibility to be ready for anything, and would just keep on trucking. Randy Wieman has a skill set honed by a lifetime on snow. Early in the day they decided to team up for support and keep each other on mission.
I had the bright idea to organise the ‘Avocet Max Vert Challenge’ (as we called it) at Thredbo spurred on by several thoughts.
- Do something to test the Avocet that had lobbed into the in tray (it was very accurate)
- See how far you could ski in a day and equate that to the value for money from a lift pass (then $56 so = $1.17 a lap; or $3.42 at last year’s $161 day ticket price)
- Test Thredbo’s more ‘VTMs’ marketing claim. Anyone remember that? Thought not. Vertical Transport Metres was a convoluted way of saying you got more skiing at Thredbo due to their combo of bigger vertical accessed by the Kozi and Gunbarrel Quads. Well we sure did!
- See how much time you actually spend moving downhill on your skis in a day – the total even non-stopping was 2 1/2 hours
- Get some fun content for my Canberra Times ski column & the ski mag (now sadly defunct Powderhound) I was editing at the time
- Last but not least, have a huge day ..
I rounded up some ski shop mates including Steve Chait from Belco Ski & Board (who are still going strong), while Randy and Reggae Ellis roped in some talented Thredbo locals to provide a mixed crew of 13 of us ready for the challenge.
Those included our lone snowboarder Emma Martin, who managed an incredible 41 laps. Then she went to work as a waitress that night like it was nothing. What a legend!
I had put the concept to the marketing department originally. They liked it, and somehow it survived potential objections with their enthusiasm. We got the OK from mountain management.
You really couldn’t seeing it happening in these more restricted, more litigious times. Of course there’s nothing to stop you from just skiing as much as you can, preferably with an all day instructor along to keep you in the priority lift lane.
For us the whole thing almost went off without a hitch.
Sadly, a few laps into it one of the crew had a big stack. Thredbo’s resident Rossi Rep, Sean Hobday, and Fleet’s Thredbo boot guru David O’Reilly, had started out almost as quick as Nick and Randy.
Not that this was a race. We were out to prove how far you could ski in a normal day at recreational speeds, albeit the high end of those. We had bibs for identification so the tally crew at the bottom could keep count of our laps.
But as O’Reilly said, “Give grown men bibs and stopwatches and you’ve got a race.”
In line with that thinking he was wearing a helmet, which undoubtedly saved him from even worse damage when he stepped out of a binding and smacked straight into the deceptively small snow gums along the side of World Cup run.
Sean was right behind him and stayed with him until patrol stabilised him. I stopped soon after. David was sitting there in shock, which fortunately numbed some of the pain as he described in lucid detail what he had broken in both legs. He was right on the money.
I felt bad, the whole gig having been my bright idea. But as he pointed out later, that’s the way he skis – fast. On any given morning with snow that good and no one much on the hill he would be flying and likely without a helmet. He even knew the problem, his forward pressure wasn’t correct but he hadn’t stopped to fix it.
Fortunately he recovered completely. There was some serious chatter on the patrol radios about #WTF was going on with our ‘event’ while they got him sorted. But thankfully they didn’t pull the pin and there were no more incidents.
Everyone involved was well aware if we exceeded normal safe skiing limits they could, and should, pull our passes and kick us off the hill.
To put it in perspective, collectively we skied more than a dozen recreational skiers would do on a 5 day holiday, without further incident. Also, that July 1995 the snow went fast and great all over, so everyone who could fast, and many who couldn’t, were pushing the pedal.
Dave had begged Sean to keep going, and the rest of the crew did. Nick eased back slightly to pair with Randy and see the mission out together, at a remorseless pace until last lift buzzer was called.
Most of us were getting seriously stuffed by mid-afternoon, but the younger crew like Jonno Brauer, then a 13 year old star junior with Thredbo Race Club, were still finding the energy to chuck some big airs with 90 minutes to closing time.
The morning’s frozen corduroy softened nicely, wind-blown powder freshened the upper mountain, which was ‘good-as-it-gets’ enough to forget aching legs. You got reminded of those on the increasingly sugary Supertrail back to the lift. Looking at the Canberra Times article Randy had in his scrapbook it snowed quite heavily for an hour or so early afternoon too a detail I had forgotten.
All in all, an amazing day. At $1.17 per lap pretty good value too.
Be great to do it again sometime. Something tells me our Snowboard Guru Peter Wunder would be keen to show a boarder is as quick or quicker than the skiers on his new Kessler Cross – “The Lamborghini of snowboards” which he never got to really stretch out on due to poor conditions last season.
Randy, who lives in Thredbo permanently nowadays, still says it’s by far the most skiing he ever did in a day. Ditto that.
If you get a quieter midweek day with good snow just pace yourself for an hour and see how many laps you can squeeze in.