The pro skier, famous for his world record-breaking ski mountaineering expeditions, features in the newly released film and web series The Revelstoke Diaries. Nicola Iseard caught up with him to find out what led him to move to Revelstoke 20 years ago, what drives him and his transition towards environmentally conscious adventures
Nicola Iseard: Greetings Greg! The last time we spoke was back In 2010, off the back of your epic 2 Million Feet project [Greg climbed and skied 2 million vertical feet in a year]. Does that remain as the most challenging thing you’ve ever done?
Greg Hill: My 2 million foot year was a culmination of all my training up to that point. It was a 10-year dream, where I honed my mountains sense, pushed my fitness and was at the peak of my abilities. Pushing all year, I skied off many new summits, down first descents, and pushed skin tracks into many new areas. It was the most exciting, tiring, never-ending year of incredible moments. It required an immense amount of focus and energy and will most likely remain the most challenging thing I will ever do, yet also be the most rewarding (exempting having kids, which is above everything!)
NI: What has driven you to fixate on these huge goals over the years?
GH: I have always loved the balance of challenge versus rewards, how as one becomes harder the other becomes more satisfying. Also, I wanted to make sure I was evolving in life and becoming the best Greg I could. I could not just be a ski bum, I had lots of expectations to live up to, a millionaire brother, a demanding father and my personal drive.
NI: You recently featured in a new film series called The Revelstoke Diaries, which takes a different perspective to traditional ski films, interviewing locals about what they love most about the mountains they live in. What was it that drew you to the BC town all those years ago?
GH: I initially lived near Banff, passed by Revelstoke and moved to Whistler. In both towns I kept hearing of the incredible snow in the interior. Endless amounts of snow. At the time, I knew I wanted to hone my mountain skills and learned that with all that incredible snow there was also lots of instability and avalanche hazards. It seemed like the perfect place to ski and learn from the mountains. A beautiful town, surrounded by endless mountains with deeeeep snow… so I signed up and 20 years later here I am.
NI: Guiding clients backcountry skiing was how you first made a career for yourself in the mountains. Is it still something you still do today?
GH: I first made my way into the mountains by planting trees (working for the Canadian Forest Service) and saving up for the winters, and I began taking courses to simply learn more from experienced mentors. Eventually becoming a guide. I guide around 30 days a year and get a lot back from it. I really enjoy taking people out into the mountains and sharing the experiences with them. When my pro career fizzles I will enjoy immersing myself more into guiding.
NI: You’re an active ambassador for POW Canada. What made you decide to use your influence to help spread the word about sustainable adventure?
GH: As I looked at my own personal footprint, I realised that the way I was adventuring was harming what I loved the most. And that my actions were also influencing others to live that same way. I did a carbon calculation and realised in all the places I could change my ways the largest impact would be in my travel habits. So, I sold my large truck, snowmobile, stopped heliskiing, and bought my little electric car. I started really ensuring that I was as local as possible in the areas I could be. Then I started using my platform to speak out and inspire change. The lessons learned are that I am never going to be perfect, but I can progress. Progress over perfection.
NI: I read that you’re a weekday vegetarian – can you share a couple of your favourite calorie-loading meals with us?
GH: I adopted my brother’s weekday vegetarian idea, where you eat meat only on weekends. Which is a great way to balance. To calorie load I usually go with Mexican food, like beans and rice combos, and enchiladas are pretty good. Glory bowls are one of my favourite veggie meals also. This summer I ate endless potato, onion and peppers from my garden mixed with eggs from my Covid coop.
NI: You’ve pioneered many first descents in Norway, Chile, Pakistan and Canada over the years. How do you balance that yearning to travel and explore new places with your desire to ski sustainably? Can’t you just offset your flights?
GH: If only offsets erased your impacts, they would be the way to go. They do help but not having the large footprint is better than having one and trying to cover it up afterwards. I have also found that backyard adventures resonate longer. My first descents in far off places are great but they fade from memory, where local ones you see and are always reminded of.
NI: You’ve scaled back your travel in recent years – is there anywhere you would go if it was at zero cost to the environment?
GH: Antarctica has been on my list forever. I am also working on an offset adventure where I travel to a remote community and figure out how to bring solar to their area. Then go on an adventure and come back a year later with solar panels and offset my own footprint.
NI: You’ve had some close calls over the years (including being caught in a huge avalanche on Pakistan’s Gaashot Mountain in 2014). Has having kids changed your attitude to risk?
GH: Sadly, my mistakes in the mountains happened once my kids were alive… My risk tolerance has changed but it is also a part of my DNA. I need adventure in my life to make me feel like I am living, and my kids understand that, I would not be the dad they love if I changed from who I am.
NI: Who would you say has influenced you most over the years, and who inspires you most today?
GH: I am not someone who puts people up on pedestals, but anyone following their passions inspires me to continue to follow mine. Years ago, I got really drunk with a Vietnam vet, as he stumbled away, he shouted “never give up, never give up”, which has influenced me ever since.
NI: Name three pieces of gear you can’t live without…
GH: Gore-Tex jacket and pants, to be prepared for the unknown. And the gear to get me in the backcountry safely.
NI: What is your favourite local line in Revelstoke, and is there something you’ve always wanted to ski near to you that you’re just waiting for the right conditions to do?
GH: Ripping Revelstoke Mountain Resort is pretty amazing and will forever feed my need for speed. As for the un-skied line, there are many and I keep waiting to figure out how to unlock them. There are two mountains in particular that I have tried numerous attempts and I cannot wait to finally figure them out.
NI: What advice would you give to someone who is interested in starting ski mountaineering?
GH: That ski mountaineering is the most thrilling adventure possible and that you will constantly have endless challenges. Yet start slow, learn from mentors, take courses and always be vigilant.
NI: And finally, what does the future hold for Greg Hill?
GH: Covid has really made me question my life and direction. I feel like adventures will never stop but I am keen on exploring adventures with more purpose.
‘The Revelstoke Diaries’ film and web series is now available to watch on YouTube and Vimeo. You can find direct links to the film via holmlands.co.uk.