Talking to Vail native Jon Kedrowski, you can’t help but wonder if he’s a mere mortal, or if his skin covers the elegant mechanics of a well-engineered machine. Dr. Jon, as he's also known, seems super human, living in some sort of a time warp, with extra hours in each day. And he can use it, considering he’s gunning for the record for skiing all of Colorado’s 14ers in the least amount of time.
Only a handful of people in history have skied down all of Colorado’s 54 highest peaks. Lou Dawson was the first, finishing in 1991 after 13 years. In 2007, Chris Davenport became the first person to ski all the 14ers in less than a calendar year, completing the mission in 363 days. Now Kedrowski is on pace to smash that mark to smithereens, having started January 4 and hoping to finish by the end of May for a total of 149 days. As of March 11, he’d already knocked off 15.
If anyone can do it, Kedrowski can. At 36, the guy has climbed Colorado’s highest peaks approximately 650 times (he’s lost track of the exact count). Do the math: That’s an average of 26 a year since he started at age 11. He’s climbed Everest, of course. And Rainier, 17 times. In 2011, he became the first person to sleep on top of all of Colorado’s 14ers, a feat he accomplished in one summer. Then in 2014 he combined speed and skiing, climbing and skiing down 20 of the Pacific Northwest’s highest volcanoes in 30 days.
Kedrowski chronicles those adventures in meticulous detail. He’s written two books: Sleeping on the Summits (about his Colorado 14er high bivys), and Skiing and Sleeping on the Summits, about his 20 peaks in 30 days volcano adventure, which is hot off the press this month. In his spare time (uh, what spare time?), he leads basketball camps, traverses the country giving speeches, films television segments, and leads trips up Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania and Aconcagua in Argentina. And did we mention that he has a PhD in environmental geography?
We sat down with Kedrowski to hear about what drives him, lessons learned in the mountains, and his game plan for skiing Colorado’s highest peaks.
What sparked your love of the mountains?
I grew up in Vail and was outdoors constantly. My parents would take me on hikes to the Gore Range and on backpacking trips. In the winter it was skiing. When I was 10 years old, I was up on Grouse Mountain above Beaver Creek, and I saw all the way to the backside of Mount Holy Cross, over to the Elks, down to the Sawatch, and I thought to myself, “It would be really cool to climb all those other peaks.”
How old were you when you did your first 14er?
When I was 11, I went up Mount of the Holy Cross with my mom and dad. We did Mount Elbert and Mount Massive. I got so hooked on it that before my senior year of high school, I did 40 14ers in one summer.
What’s your favorite Colorado 14er?
I really like Capitol Peak. In the last decade I haven’t missed a summer. I’ve tried a lot of different routes. Last spring I skied it. It’s a psychologically difficult peak. If the conditions are too soft, it’s dangerous. It they’re not set up enough, it’s dangerous. This year there may not be enough snow.
What do you like about skiing off peaks?
To be able to strap on a pair of skis and go down is the best. You can spend eight to 12 hours ascending and you can be down in an hour. You look back up there and say, “Man, I was up there such a short time ago!” Skiing makes it so much nicer coming down.
Your feats take endurance and athleticism to a whole new level. What drives you?
I like the resiliency and the physical fitness aspect of being in the mountains. It’s really fun to apply it to projects and use fitness to my advantage. I also like the opportunity to take photos and show and tell stories that are unique and inspirational to the average person.
I have a slogan: N.O.D. No Off Days. It’s about doing your best—whether it’s business, family, personal stuff, working toward your goals. It’s giving every day your best to be successful.
What do you learn from all of this?
Mountains are metaphors for life—they teach you to take situations you’re in and never give up on something. I have failed a lot. Sometimes I try to climb a peak, and the weather is bad so I have to go back down and redo it.
When you’re on your own, you learn the value of self-sufficiency on the mountains and what mountaineering is all about. We all put ourselves through suffering, but we should all understand that it’s meant to be short-term suffering and it should lead to long-term gain. If we push ourselves through it, a lot of times we look back and say it wasn’t that bad.
What factors will play into you beating Davenport’s record?
A lot goes into it. Mother Nature decides some of it. I think the biggest challenge is getting the peaks in the right condition. So far I’ve had had pretty good fortune. Part of it is to do as many as I can now, and hopefully we get some more spring snow. Historically in May it snows enough and it sticks enough that you get enough coverage to ski them. There’s a fine line between peaks melting out to where they’re not skiable, too, so I have to watch that as well.
Right now I’m trying to get out there and do as many as I can. If the conditions set up right, then I’ll try to knock them out. But if I need to use the fall, I have until the December 31 to get them all in within the year since I started on the 4th of January.
Where are your favorite places to train?
I like skinning up Vail in the morning. One of my favorite loops is a trail run above my house in Eagle-Vail—a 10-kilometer loop. Going out and climbing peaks here is good training. I think tomorrow I’ll try to do a quick jaunt up Princeton. [Author's note: On March 4, Kedrowski indeed skied the east/southeast face of Princeton.]
Tell us about your new book, Skiing and Sleeping on the Summits.
It chronicles my 2014 project climbing and skiing 20 of the highest Pacific-Northwest volcanoes in 30 days. It’s really fun to turn a project into a tangible element and record the projects I do, and give a perspective that is rarely seen, like sunrises and sunsets on tops of mountains. And to showcase the skiing is a special, unique thing. For each peak I give a discussion of potential ski lines and have maps, photos, and three to four good ski lines. I also include discussions of weather and meteorology, snowpack and avalanche safety, and a how-to guide to sleeping on top of a volcano.
It seems like the two projects—sleeping on Colorado’s 14ers, and climbing and skiing 20 peaks in 30 days in the Pacific Northwest—are the perfect combination to prepare you for this latest bid. How will they help?
I’ve climbed Colorado’s 14ers hundreds of times. And I know from the experience of doing the volcanoes (20 peaks in 30 days) that when April and May come, I’ll need to be out on the road constantly. If I have 30 of them left at the beginning of April, then I know can do 15 in a month, drawing from my experience.
Blown away yet? Take advantage of the chance to ask Kedrowski about his incredible experiences (or simply express your awe) in person at Zeal Optics in Boulder on March 31 for a special presentation (and beer). Don’t keep him up too late, though: Chances are his alarm will be set for an alpine start the next day.