Adrian Ballinger

Age: 35, Skiing since: 1985, Hometown: Squaw Valley, CA and Chamonix, France, Favorite product: Hi5 SKI


Who introduced you to skimo? Who are your influences?

Skiing has been a huge focus for me since I was young. I grew up skiing a little hill in MA called Wachusett, and was always chasing friends who were better than me. As soon as I finished school I moved out to Colorado. There I was doing a lot of skiing on-mountain and in the backcountry, and trying to not get myself killed in the sketchy snowpacks of Telluride and Aspen. At the same time, I was guiding climbing expeditions full-time on big alpine mountains around the world. Ski mountaineering was the natural combination of these two passions, and really came together when I was training for and finishing my IFMGA guide certification in France and Switzerland. It's really Chamonix and La Grave and the locals there that influenced me the most. The good ones charge super-hard and stay alive, and have an incredible amount of skills and experience to make that happen.

How old were you when you first became a professional athlete?

I climbed my first big high-altitude peaks when I was 17 (and started getting my first free La Sportiva shoes and Moonstone clothing shortly after) and started full-time climbing and skiing in 1997, at age 21. So I guess that was the beginning. I'm constantly amazed and grateful that my sponsors (La Sportiva, Marmot, Edelrid, and Kaenon) help to support me to do what I love... thank you!

What are some of your lifetime skiing/race goals?

This past fall I skied Manaslu, the 8th tallest peak in the world. The combination of high-altitude climbing and all the challenges it presents with skiing blew me away. I want to continue exploring this combination. There are incredible ski lines on many of the Himalaya's biggest peaks, and many have never been successfully skied. Lhotse, Everest, and the 8,000 meter peaks in Pakistan are all on my skiing dream list!

What is your proudest skiing accomplishment?

Skiing and ski guiding Manaslu in Nepal. It challenged all of my abilities and experience, skiing steep, technical no-fall terrain in firm conditions, and doing it at almost 27,000 feet and while guiding. And, with almost 14,000 vertical feet of vertical descent, we also dealt with every snow condition imaginable (avalanche-prone loaded powder slopes, ice, sastrugi, crevasses, slop), all while exhausted from the climb and altitude.

Are you a skier for life? Was there a defining moment that made you realize this?

Yes! In 1998 I decided not to go back to medical school in favor of another winter in Telluride. And, despite my parents' concern, for me there was no question. That moment gave me the freedom to pursue my climbing and skiing full-time and around the world. It's been a non-stop 13 years since then!

What do you enjoy most about skiing?

There are so many elements to my love of skiing. I love the challenge, the fact that the environment is constantly changing, and the fact that I feel I still learn and improve every day I am on my skis. I love having to manage and mitigate hazard. I love being outside. I love the connections I develop with my ski partners and the friendships that have come through my skiing. And of course, there's the powder!

Describe your dream run:

The next one, wherever and whatever it is!

Top five favorite movies:

Kill Bill 1+2, Memento, Cinema Paradiso, Steep

What do you do to train for races?

I don't actually race, but my training for big mountain skiing is my day-to-day life. I'm in the big mountains 7-8 months a year in the Himalaya, Andes, and Alps, so that's a good start to my training. In between, lots of trail running, road biking, backcountry skiing, and rock climbing. And whenever I'm home, skiing my backyard, Squaw and the Tahoe BC.

Top five favorite books:

My Kindle!

What’s the longest you’ve spent on a single skimo expedition?

7 weeks on Manaslu. It's a huge project to ski and climb an 8,000 meter peak. The 7 weeks included loads of skiing fun stuff while acclimatizing, but also lots of work hauling loads and fixing ropes. And of course, 7 weeks sleeping in a yellow tent.

Top five favorite musical groups:

Whatever my girlfriend loaded onto my Ipod recently. I love music and always ski and tour with it, but I rarely know what I'm listening to.

What’s the farthest you’ve ever traveled for a race?

The Himalaya. Getting into Manaslu included 40 hours of flying to Kathmandu, then a heli into the Manaslu region, then over 300 local porters carrying loads to our basecamp at the base of the mountain's glaciers. It was a 10 day process just getting to the base of our peak.

Top five favorite foods/meals:

Espresso, butter, chocolate, orange juice, fresh baked bread

Briefly describe your most memorable moment while skiing:

Skiing off the true summit of Manaslu. No one had ever skied from the top before, and for good reason. The summit is a hugely corniced knife-edge ridge, with thousands of feet of air below you on both sides. When we climb the peak only one person can go to the true summit at a time, and even that is pushing the boundaries of safety, since any fixed line anchors are only attached to the cornice itself. I arrived on the top with one of my good friends Namgil Sherpa. He and I have worked together for years and he knew how much I wanted to ski from the top. He helped me dig a small platform just below the cornice, and then held my GT skis as I clicked in. I made the first couple of 50+ degree turns on a rope, and then, feeling confident, unclipped and skied. It was definitely "memorable".

Are injuries a part of skiing? What’s your general mentality for handling injuries?

Of course things going wrong and injuries are a part of what we do. For me they seem to happen in the low risk stuff instead of my really high consequence skiing. My last injury was a powder day skiing last winter in Squaw, 3 days before leaving for a big trip to climb and guide Everest and Lhotse. I got knocked unconscious on my first run of the day. No idea how exactly, since I was skiing alone at the time, and don't remember anything until being with ski patrol down at the base. I'm glad I was wearing a helmet!

Top five hobbies when you’re not skiing:

Kiteboarding, rock climbing, drinking coffee, working on my business (, trying to speak Spanish, traveling the world.

If you had to ski one mountain for the rest of your life, which would it be?

Squaw Valley and the Tahoe/Eastern Sierra backcountry - Loads of snow (except for this December!), good stability, endless terrain (as big and technical as you want it), inspiring locals.