65 Hours of Skiing & Climate Advocacy with Brody Leven
How do you win a ski race that has no finite end? For professional skier and POW Athlete Alliance member, Brody Leven, the key to success is foot care and moral support, with the added bonus of climate advocacy work. On the morning of Saturday, February 12, 2022, at Black Mountain in Jackson, New Hampshire, 100 ski tourers set out to be the Last Skier Standing, an event put on by Ski The Whites and POW Alliance member, Andrew Drummond. Leven was competing while raising $5,004 for POW in the process. Donations were based on how many laps contributors thought he could complete, and Leven came out on top as the Last Skier Standing after 65 long hours.
This event was a natural evolution for Leven’s ski career. He started out as a park skier in Northeast Ohio and attended high school at Mount Snow Academy in Vermont. After moving to Utah, his love for the park led him to start building jumps beyond the resort boundaries, and, eventually, Leven was lured into skiing exclusively in the backcountry. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but over the course of just a couple of years, he’d become a 100% human-powered athlete with an impressive resume of first descents across six continents, making him a pretty good candidate for a seemingly never-ending uphill event.
How Leven Turns His Passion into Action
Climate advocacy has always been an integral part of Leven’s professional career. “It was part of who I was before I was a professional skier,” said Leven. He primarily focuses on environmental stewardship and public lands advocacy. “I get to enjoy all of these landscapes, and I’m of course seeing the effects of climate change first hand, and I want to protect these places,” said Leven.
With Last Skier Standing being an entirely human-powered event, Leven felt it was a natural opportunity to use his platform during the event and donate back to POW.
“It is barely hyperbolic to say that current generations may be some of the last skiers standing, as we watch the ability to be a lifetime skier decline,” said Leven. “(Clearly) unable to stand still in the face of adversity, this race’s format is an opportunity to raise awareness and funds for an organization that has been near my heart and for which I’ve been volunteering throughout my entire professional career.”
Leven encourages people to use their own skills, specializations, interests and networks to be climate advocates. There’s no definitive route to follow to effectively advocate for the climate. “For me, it’s the storytelling component of spending a lot of time outdoors, public speaking, and lobbying,” said Leven. In fact, Leven followed up the event by rallying and attending POW’s virtual Utah Lobby Day just one day after he claimed the title of Last Skier Standing, backing up his efforts at the event to real climate advocacy. Competing in Last Skier Standing was another example of how Leven uses his platform to create personal experiences and using them as an opportunity to generate climate advocacy.
To be the Last Skier Standing, all you need to do is take an uphill lap every hour, on the hour and out ski everyone else. That’s 1,100 vertical feet of climbing over a mile and a quarter, followed by a ski down. The concept is simple, but to successfully stay in the competition takes more than just being physically in shape.
Leven found out about Last Skier Standing a week before the contest start, leaving him no time to train for this uniquely formatted event. Even without time to properly prepare, coming into a field of mostly weekend warriors and recreational skiers, Leven wondered if he had an unfair advantage as a professional athlete.
“I realized that it’s 100% fair because nothing I have ever done in my life or career has prepared me for this weird formatted event,” said Leven. “I am a big sleeper and this event definitely punished that side of me. I’ve also never used skimo race skis or done any skimo racing. The only thing that really catered to it is that I’m a 100% human-powered skier.”
Going into the race, Leven’s expectations were realistic: He didn’t think he’d match last year’s defending Last Skier Standing champion, Ben Eck, who set the race record in 2021 at 61 laps. “No part of me thought I could do that. I’ve done some stuff in the 30-hour range on big trips, but 60 hours wasn’t even in the picture.”
There’s no doubt that New England skiers have grit in spades, and the fickle weather and ski conditions are character builders which breed some seasoned athletes. “My confidence started extremely low once I saw how strong New England skiers are,” said Leven. “Even at 20 laps in, there were still a lot of people out there looking very strong, but one by one they slowly disappeared.”
His confidence would continue to drop until it was just him and Eck left. At this point, he was living the race moment to moment. “In my head, I was thinking ‘one more lap.’ You can always do one more lap,” said Leven. “I went from thinking everyone is stronger than me, to ‘I will walk up and down this hill until I die doing so.’”
Somewhere around the 24-hour mark the hallucinations kicked in, and they wouldn’t subside until he finally got some sleep. He recalled seeing a white Mazda Miata pulling a small tug boat, but really it was just two small piles of snow on the side of the trail. He also saw levitating Amish women attending a funeral, when he was really just looking at the trees.
While the experience made for an entertaining story, he wasn’t trying to be comedic. “I didn’t have the mental capacity to be creative at a certain point, and the stuff I was saying was extremely inventive and not coming consciously at all,” said Leven
The hallucinations combined with sleep deprivation didn’t make for an easy competition. The hardest part was staying awake. At a certain point, this event isn’t about how long you can keep skiing, but how long you can keep skiing without sleep. Leven recalled falling asleep while skinning and ended up on the wrong trail. He was also caught on film sleeping at the starting line. Sleep skiing combined with the hallucinations would be enough for most to call it, but he persisted.
What kept Leven moving? Primarily really great foot care. “I wouldn’t let my feet get soggy. I had 20 pairs of socks, three boot liners and I was cleaning and drying my feet between laps,” said Leven. “They still got destroyed after all that, but it really helped with my success.”
Foot care aside, he also had a wonderful support system. Leven was surrounded by a team of people he had never even met before who cared for him and took time away from their own work and sleep just to help keep him fed and moving. “To have people bend over backward and help me achieve this was very special,” said Leven. “I’m not used to that kind of support, and I had a difficult time accepting it. I’ve never seen that level of selflessness before in my life.”
While skiing, the final three competitors really leaned on each other for support as well, or at least it helped keep Leven moving. “After a couple of laps I told them that this was a special experience for me and I’m not seeing it as a competition, and rather a team sport, since not one person can keep going unless someone else is with them because that’s how this race ends.”
Leven recalled Eck telling him he wanted to beat his last year’s course record by one lap. “I said, Ben, I want to help you achieve that goal. I have no idea how I’m going to do 61 laps, but I want to see you achieve it so let’s go for it,” said Leven. And go for it they did with Eck beating his course record by two laps, achieving a total of 64 before dropping out of the race leaving Leven to be the Last Skier Standing with 65 laps.
“I’m not a competitive person when it comes to skiing. I just saw it as skiing with new friends and pushing each other,” said Leven.
Will he do it again?
Leven is already signed up for Bubba’s Backyard Ultra in October, the running version of the event that’s also put on by Ski The Whites. As for Last Skier Standing, Leven said his body isn’t destroyed and that he had a great time.
“Everyone finds their limit except the last skier standing. I fully expected to find mine, and since I didn’t this time, I might have to another time,” said Leven.
Brody’s LSS Fun Facts:
- 39 minutes average lap time
- 65 laps skied to win
- 69,993 vertical feet climbed
- 169 miles skied
- 13 ski sock changes
- 3 base layer changes
- 3 sets of ski boot liners used
- 2 sets of climbing skins
- 73 total hours awake
- 6 total minutes of sleep
- 4 (still) purple toenails
- 1,100 vertical foot lap
- 300 feet of bootlicking per lap
- 100 participants at the starting line
- 4 racers remaining at 36 hours
- 2 quadriceps that never got tired
- 0 caffeine consumed
- -15 degrees Fahrenheit evening temperature
- $5,004 raised for Protect Our Winters through an online fundraiser while skiing though hallucinations and various states of delirium.
- Success made possible with the support of Fischer, Garmin, & Goal ZeroInfinite
Author: Stacie Sullivan
Stacie always knew she wanted to pursue a career in the ski industry from a young age, having first clicked into skis at the age of 4 and writing her 8th grade career project on being a professional skier. While her dreams of becoming a professional athlete didn’t quite pan out the way she planned at […]