Craig Calonica intends to become the first person to actually ski Everest in its entirety from top to bottom.
Calonica's go-for-it attitude is apparent even over the telephone wires; he's humble, learned, wise -- and wildly ambitious. His unpretentious demeanor is refreshing among extreme athletes. Calonica has managed to sculpt his life into what so many dream about doing -- unabashedly pursuing two of his great passions: climbing and skiing.
Calonica was born in the Sierra Nevada mountains, where he lives today, near Lake Tahoe, California. He began skiing when he was four years old. At 20, Calonica was competing on the International Speed Skiing circuit and the US Pro circuit in all events where he placed consistently in the top ten. He began rock and ice climbing at age 16. Jim Bridwell and Kim Schmitz were his mentors.
With more than twenty-five big-wall climbs (predominately El Cap routes) under his belt and over fifteen years of Himalayan climbing, Calonica is in a league of players that only a handful of people can match. Here is a sampling of his mountaineering accomplishments:
A technical staff will send digital images as well as audio reports to the Mountain Zone during the entire expedition -- both the training on Annapurna and the climb and ski descent of Everest itself. Five tough and talented Sherpas, whom have all summited Everest no less than five times each, will also assist Calonica. The Sirdar, Lakpa Dorjee (from Solo Khumbu) and Kikami Sherpa are the two lead climbing Sherpas.
In the past, there have been several attempts to ski Everest, but to date, only sections have been skied. Tyrolean Hans Kammerlander has claimed to have skied the 8,848 m (29,028 ft) of Everest in '96, but he only skied the first 200 m (600 ft) of Everest. Due to the lack of snow during the month of May he had to walk down from 8,648 m (28,365 ft) to 7,000 m. Since Calonica is skiing the North Face during the monsoon season, he is certain the whole mountain should be skiable this time of year. He plans to ski from the summit (29,028 ft) to advanced base camp 21,400 ft. Because the ski descent is being filmed, it will take about two days to complete (otherwise it would be only a matter of hours).
Their first stop is the Annapura region where they plan to acclimatize by climbing to 6,990 m (23,000 ft.) After the acclimatization process they'll hop a bus to Tibet. From there, the plan is to go directly to Everest and begin the ascent and ski descent around the 22nd of August. Since it is the monsoon season, finding the perfect weather window is critical for the success of the venture. Sometimes the window opens....sometimes it doesn't. Whatever the case, Calonica will use his years of successes and failures to gauge the feasibility of his ascent and descent.
On a more personal note, Calonica is a positive and upbeat personality. He has a no-bull manner about his life and adventures. When Calonica's best friend for 35 years was killed by a drunk driver, his inward journey became intense and unrelenting.
"I've been in this game for many, many, years and at an international level, meaning I know lots of crazy people world-wide. My schedule for 15 years was something like this: 10 downhill races, 12 speed skiing events at 130+mph, for vacation, two El Cap routes and one Himalayan climb. I was very busy and never knew what a beach looked like... and of course met many crazed people. I was at one time losing 15 to 30 friends a year... I must say though I did pretty good with it all until my best friend (Steve McKinney) got killed driving away from my house. That one nailed me; I was vacant for a long time after that one."
About the '96 tragedy on Everest, he says, "life is a fragile thing and until we get hit right between the eyes by it, we forget how vulnerable we actually are. There are dangers that exist in those places and will always be the driving force behind the attraction for now and the rest of time."
"Sometimes I actually wonder what it is ... that's in me that allows me to keep going through it all, but I do and it's one of my strengths and always has been."
Jane Bromet, Mountain Zone Correspondent