By Eric Hansen
Many people trek the 26-mile trail behind Aspen called the Four Pass Loop. The more ambitious endurance athletes in town run the scramble-up, tumble-down ridges. And then there’s U.S. Ski Team Nordic skier Simi Hamilton. One day last spring, Hamilton and a couple of fit friends knocked off the crust-covered route on skinny, edgeless, cross-country skate skis. It was a fast, if dicey, expedition. “There were a few places that you wouldn’t wanna lose an edge, but of course we couldn’t, because we didn’t have any,” recalls buddy and Aspen area architect Ben Koons.
Their five-hour circuit might qualify as an unofficial Fastest Known Time, but for Hamilton, at least, it hardly matters. The 29-year-old grew up in Aspen, the son of an ultramarathon-winning father (Leadville Trail 100) and a marathon-winning mother, and quickly excelled at everything from cycling to kayaking. In his late teens, he led groups up the Tetons for Exum Mountain Guides, and at Middlebury College, he got serious about cross-country skiing and became a three-time NCAA All-American. “I don’t want it to go to his head,” says Linden Mallory, a product manager at Patagonia, “but he’s one of the most talented multisport athletes I’ve met.”
Hamilton logged his most impressive result in 2013, winning a stage in the Tour de Ski in Switzerland, making him the first American male in 30 years to win a World Cup race. Last winter, he continued to podium—while still climbing in the mid 5.11s and ripping singletrack in the high mountain desert. Depending on how you look at it, Hamilton is either the most adventurous ski racer alive, or America’s fittest mountain man.
From November through March, he spends most of his time in Europe with the U.S. Ski Team, and his life is about economy. Nordic racing and training—unlike marathoning, for example—features lots of climbing and descending on variable snow surfaces. Meaning it’s easy to blow up. “You need a feel for efficiency,” Hamilton says. To get it, he skis in the southern hemisphere, roller skis or runs with poles when there’s no snow to be found, and dices corduroy on innumerable courses in Scandinavia, trying to fine-tune just how powerful each stride should be. (Hamilton skis “big”—his kicks tend to be more powerful and his glides longer than most competitors.)
“April is the month I get to do what I want,” he says. “So in April, I’m usually in Aspen.” He often burns the daylight hours sniffing out new ski touring lines above a family cabin in the wilderness west of town. Then he might zip over to Fruita for a day of trail riding. When a problem with a Finnish visa took him to California, he went surfing. And he does all of this multi-sporting with friends. “You come across crazy robot athletes driven by demons,” says Koons, who met Hamilton when both were competing at the 2004 Junior Olympics. “Simi is just not like that.”
His ambitions include creating Nordic events in America to rival the Holmenkollen, a famed Nordic race on the outskirts of Oslo, Norway that regularly attracts 200,000 spectators. Why couldn’t cowbell-clanging sprint races be hosted in, say, Manhattan’s Central Park? “All you need is 700 meters of manmade snow and the right people putting on the event,” he says. Ultimately, he plans to get his doctorate in snow science and work as an avalanche forecaster.
Meanwhile, Hamilton’s crust cruising foray on the Four Pass Loop crystalized another plan. The snow had set up perfectly, with a smooth, hard sheen as far as the eye could see. So they herringboned up 12,500-foot passes and sideslipped down the steep ones with ice axes in hand, not a soul around. In the last wide basin, they effortlessly clocked 35 miles per hour and made it back to the car without having to slow, let alone posthole. “It was one of my all-time favorite adventures,” says Hamilton.
Next up? The Grand Traverse, a 40-mile backcountry ski race between Aspen and Crested Butte, is high on his list. If the conditions were right—unbreakable crust—the Grand Traverse could make for a similar high-speed cruise. When pressed, Hamilton confesses that he could probably “demolish” the record.
From the Deep Winter 2017 issue.