By Phil Brown
Alex Goff and I have some things in common. We both like backcountry skiing. We share the same birthday (March 30). And on Monday we both showed up at Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake for some late-season skiing.
But we have our differences too.
My goal at Pisgah was to climb up and ski down two or three times. I just wanted to have some fun and get a little exercise on a sunny afternoon.
Alex wanted to climb Mount Everest.
To be precise, he wanted to do laps on Pisgah until his total elevation gain equaled the height of Everest—29,032 feet. Among certain athletes, this is an actual thing. It’s called Everesting. For Alex, it was a way to celebrate his 30th birthday.
Most people who undertake the Everest challenge do so on a hill bigger than Pisgah. The climb up Pisgah—whose lift is closed for the season—is only a third of a mile with an elevation gain of 315 feet. This means Alex needed to do 93 laps. At the start of each lap, he slapped climbing skins on the bottom of his skis. When he reached the top, he ripped off the skins. All those transitions took time.
When I first saw Alex on Monday afternoon, he and a friend were stepping into their bindings. I assumed they had just arrived and, like me, planned to do a few laps. As I ascended, I noticed there were a surprising number of ski tracks but didn’t think much of it. Later I learned that Alex had been doing laps since 7 a.m. By the time I left, after 4 p.m., he had completed roughly 40 laps, usually in the company of friends.
Alex skied throughout the night and well into the next day. He finished his last lap at 2 p.m. on Tuesday—about 31 hours after starting. Except for a 20-minute nap, he was on the move the whole time.
“It’s not my body that hurts. It’s the mind,” he remarked when I checked in with him on Tuesday morning. At that time, he still had six laps to go.
A native of Lake Placid, Alex is one of the strongest backcountry skiers in the Adirondacks, with a sponsorship from Parlor Skis. He was introduced to the sport by Bill Frazer, his Nordic coach in high school. He also blames Bill for goading him into sufferfests.
This winter, Frazer came up with a backcountry-ski challenge dubbed Johannsen’s Last Call (in honor of Jackrabbit Johannsen). The idea is to ski up Wright Peak, descend via that peak’s ski trail, take the Whale’s Tail Ski Trail to Marcy Dam, head to Avalanche Lake, return to Marcy Dam, ski to the summit of Mount Marcy, return to the dam, take the Mr. Van Ski Trail to Hi Notch, and follow groomed cross-country trails to the bar at Cascade Cross-Country Center. In all, you must ski about 28 miles while ascending 7,500 feet. Alex, the second person to rise to the challenge, did ithe route in under 10 hours in brutal cold.
The Everest challenge proved even harder. After his catnap in the middle of the night, Alex considered calling it quits. His buddy Matt Schmidt wouldn’t hear of that. Matt skied with Alex throughout the night, starting at 9 p.m., and stayed with him until the very end. He probably ascended more than 14,000 himself.
“I feel tired but good,” Matt said as he relaxed in his van afterward. “Feeling what I feel now, I can’t believe Alex did so much more.”
Alex just wanted to go home—“to sleep and maybe have a beer later.”
His parents, Al and Betsy Goff, came by to watch the last few runs. On the very last one, his father FaceTimed with Alex’s girlfriend, Maddie Phaneuf, an Olympic biathlete whom the Explorer recently profiled.
His parents also brought Alex’s Australian sheepdog, Honey, who chased him up and down the hill on the last lap.
Like Alex, I once had a dog. Named Honey. Alas, she never got to see me Everest.