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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ski Descent of Everest? Not Exactly

Kit DesLauriers is being hailed as the first woman to ski Mt. Everest, or, in the more carefully crafted reports, the first woman to ski "from the summit" of Everest. On October 18, DesLauriers climbed to the top with her husband, Rob, and other members of a team from Berg Adventures, and then she, Rob, and Jimmy Chin started skiing from the top. However, in view of conditions on the route, they decided to rappel the Hillary Step, then climbed over the South Summit and down to the South Col. They spent the night there, skied the Lhotse Face the next morning, and then skied and downclimbed the rest of the way to base camp. This is certainly a great personal achievement, and DesLauriers and the team should be psyched about what they accomplished and proud that they made the decision to put safety over personal glory by removing their skis when the conditions were too dangerous. However, Outside's web site is trumpeting that DesLauriers is the "first woman to ski the Seven Summits and the first American to ski Everest," and is plugging a big story in January. NPR ran an interview with "the first person to ski the Seven Summits."

The DesLauriers-Chin descent was far from a complete, continuous descent of the mountain, a feat that was first accomplished by the Slovenian Davo Karnicar in 2000. Karnicar skied the South Col route, including the Hillary Step, the steep slopes on one side of the South Summit, the Lhotse Face, and a dangerous bypass to the Khumbu Icefall low on the route, all the way to base camp in less than five hours. The following year, Marco Siffredi snowboarded the Norton Couloir on the north side of the peak. These two men set the standard for riding Everest.

Again, this isn't to take anything away from DesLauriers' accomplishment. And the DesLauriers have been completely straightforward about what they did and didn't do, telling NPR, for example, that "it's important to be clear" that they didn't do a complete ski descent—they skied 6,000 feet of the 8,500 feet of skiable vertical on the mountain. It's just unfortunate that the mainstream media (and many specialty outlets) have got it wrong. There's still a big goal waiting out there for the first woman to make a complete ski or snowboard descent of Everest. For that matter, Karnicar hopes to complete the Seven Summits sometime in the next few months by skiing Mt. Vinson in Antarctica. In the minds of most skiing purists, he then would be the first to ski the Seven Summits. It would be a shame to see such achievements diminished because the media had declared that someone else came "first."

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