The AT50: Ski Mountaineer Hilaree O'Neill (#22)
The North Face
Sports: Skiing, Alpine Climbing
Highlights: First-ever female Everest-Lhotse link-up (2012); Denali climb and ski descent (2011); Cho Oyu summit and ski (2005); first ski descent of all five of the “Holy Peaks” of the Mongolian Altai (2002); European Women’s Extreme Skiing Champion (1996)
Quote: "It’s important to feel comfortable being a little over your head, because that’s how you get better."
Fact: O'Neill's favorite travel destination is India.
AT Point Total: 41.5
Last spring, Colorado-based ski mountaineer Hilaree O'Neill assessed Everest's southeast ridge and the Lhotse Face from the 21,500-foot-high vantage point of Camp 2. All she could see was ancient blue ice and—worse—lots of rock. The whole face was bare, and rock fall was a huge problem. There were no lines to ski, no snow to even plant a ski in. Still, some part of her searched for a glimmer of hope, some impossible sign that she might be able to ski from the summit. It was a huge disappointment after all of her hard work and training, but rather than feel sorry for herself, she O'Neill climbed Everest and neighboring 8,000-meter peak Lhotse within 24 hours.
Up until that point, her entire life had worked up to that descent, beginning with learning to ski at Steven's Pass when she was three years old. Later, the classic Warren Miller ski film Blizzard of Aahhs inspired her to move to the French Alpine village of Chamonix, where she took up ski mountaineering. Today, she's one of only a few women who climb the world's biggest mountains to ski down them. To date, she's climbed and skied Denali, Cho Oyu, Mt. Waddington as well as notching first descents in Russia's Kamchatka, Canada's Baffin Island and the Andes. Always a skier at heart, O'Neill brings true dedication to her passion and admits that she spends more of her time now climbing and scouting the giant routes than she does cruising down them.