The Alps, traversed by few and revered by many, holds in its terrain a plethora of feats. With triumph comes incredible stories, one of which was told here at MSU by a happy couple who not only made the long haul through the Alps from Vienna to Nice, but they did it on skis—in 36 days.
On Tuesday, Jan. 22, students and community members gathered in the SUB to hear Mark and Janelle Smiley share their unbelievable experience with the Bozeman community. The duo, possibly the most experienced mountaineers hailing from the U.S., are renowned for attempting the 50 classic climbs of North America. Red Bull challenged this couple along with five more international athletes, to ski tour the entire range of the Alps, calling the epic journey “Der Lange Weg,” German for “The Long Way.” Inspired by the four ski mountaineers from Austria who completed the traverse in 40 days in 1971, the team set out to accomplish the feat in record time.
Taking the stage, the Smileys’ good humor and stoked-on-life energy intrigued the audience. Going in chronological order, they talked in hindsight of how unprepared they were. Focusing on vertical training in the Tetons of Jackson, Wyoming was a good start, but as the adventure began, they realized it was more about long-distance stamina.
On average, the team spent 14 consecutive hours travelling 30 miles and gaining 8,100 feet of elevation each day. Putting it into perspective, they found that this would be equivalent to starting the day at Gallatin Canyon on Highway 191, and ascending all the way to Lone Peak, then ending in the Big Sky Resort parking lot. The team used skinny, nordic-like skis for climbing up and skiing down the mountains.
Unexpectedly, the greatest challenge the Smiley’s faced was the team’s dynamic. As the only Americans in the international mix, different athletic and cultural backgrounds combined with strong personalities divided the group. The women competitors from Italy and Spain had to drop out for safety reasons early in the race, leaving Janelle Smiley as the first and only female to complete the world’s longest ski tour. By day 21, their bodies had adjusted to the physical demands and the two became determined to finish strong.
On April 26, 2018, after 1,069 miles trekked, over 294,107 feet of cumulative elevation gain and 375 hours, the team tasted sweet, passionate victory as they ran into the Mediterranean Sea. Starting the expedition on March 17, they had completed the challenge five days faster than the Austrian team, for a record 36 days.
Their story is one the Office of Student Engagement hopes will inspire students. To learn more about this expedition and the team members, visit RedBull.com