Pipe Dream spoke to Greg Hill, a professional skier and filmmaker. Hill, who is also a ski guide with the Association of Canadian Mountain Guides, has set numerous world records, including climbing 50,000 feet in 24 hours. Now, Hill also seeks to use his platform and respect for the outdoors to promote sustainability in fashion. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Pipe Dream: Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Greg Hill: “I’m a professional adventurer. I grew up just north of Vermont, in Quebec, Canada, small town named Sutton. My family is an outdoorsy family so I ended up skiing a lot as a kid. And as you will learn in my talk today, I went to university but it wasn’t for me because I just had too much energy and I wanted to just live life. And I think part of the reason I ended up becoming a skier is that, with my mom, we’d skip school and go skiing. So I think every day that I’m skiing, it feels like I’m skipping school. And that’s why I’m a professional skier.”
PD: When did you know you wanted to become professional skier?
GH: “That’s a good one because I never thought it was possible. I’m not somebody that ever had posters up on my wall. It wasn’t a reality for me and funnily enough, when I moved out West and started really skiing a lot, we had an expression in my house with these Aussies, and if you had a good day, you’d come home and they’re like, ‘How’s your day?’ and you’d say, ‘Oh, sponsors are happy.’ And I didn’t have any clue that I was gonna be sponsored at the time. It was insane. And then a couple years later, once I got into the ski mountaineering where you climb and ski the mountains, and I found kind of my happy place, and I started setting records and winning races and stuff, that’s when all of a sudden this whole sponsored athlete became a reality. And honestly, it’s kind of weird to think that I’m sponsored.”
PD: What was it like setting your first record?
GH: “I’ve been trying to figure out why I do these things, because there must be some reasons. But yeah, I started doing these records because I wanted to make sure that I was fighting my potential, that I was living life to the fullest. The 50,000 [feet] was one, but I had to work my way up there. And you know, I did 30,000 feet, when nobody had done 30,000 feet that I’d heard of. I did 40,000 feet, 50,000 feet. So I really worked up to it. And each of those was an accomplishment in itself. It just just feels good to aim toward a goal, I’ve trained enough. Believe in yourself enough to accomplish it. It feels good and validates myself that I actually feel like I’m unique and trying to live life differently.”
PD: You’re more than just a skier — you’re also a filmmaker. So what motivated you to branch out beyond just skiing?
GH: “I ran a blog in 2006 to 2012 and I started creating videos for that, because back then backcountry skiing wasn’t a thing. It wasn’t as mainstream as it is. And I found it so special that I wanted to share it. And I also had all this extra energy because I was always fitter than everybody I was with. So I was like, well why not, you know, use my brain and get creative and film and create stories, and then just kind of help the sport of backcountry skiing evolve. And yeah, it was always really fun. Since then, I work with all these other companies creating videos and yeah, it’s really fun. It’s just about making engaging stories.”
PD: In terms of filmmaking, is there any piece you have that you’re especially proud of?
GH: “They’re too old now, but I did make a movie that went on the Banff [Centre Mountain] Film Festival World Tour. The Banff Film Festival is one of the biggest mountain film festivals in the world. That [film] was called ‘The Unbearable Lightness of Skiing.’ And that was really, for me, that was a moment like, ‘Wow, I just did something that’s interesting to everyone.’ But more recently, we created this movie called ‘Electric Greg,’ which kind of encapsulates where I am now and why I changed and why I’m trying to be more of an environmental person or a sustainable adventurer. Because as somebody that’s outdoors that gets all this stuff back from nature, I want to make sure I’m a steward for it. ‘Electric Greg’ really captures that. I’m proud of it.”
PD: Let’s talk about your commitment to sustainability. When did you know you also wanted to pursue that, also in terms of sustainable fashion?
GH: “My brother is a big environmentalist. He’s very well known for it and I’ve always cared for it, but I was always worried about taking those steps because I knew I wasn’t going to be perfect and everybody likes to attack you if you’re not perfect. What really happened is I broke my leg and I almost died in this avalanche. And at that point, while I was healing from it was this time of reflection and, ‘Oh what is it my life [is] all about?’ And what can I change? And I knew then I was like, ‘Okay, it’s time to make a change.’ And, if I’ve got this little soapbox to stand on then I should influence people in a better way and try to make the world a better place. It’s kind of happened basically the last five years, I’ve really been working on it.”
PD: Going back to that avalanche that broke your leg, what was that like for you?
GH: “Lying there with this broken leg with a physio telling me I probably would never be as fit or be able to do what I used to do, it was definitely a dark time because I really didn’t know if I would get my fitness back and be able to do these things that brought me so much reward. But I did, I worked hard, like anything, I just got diligently focused on it. I made sure that I rehabbed well, and I’m lucky enough to be back. My physical 100 percent isn’t what it was, but I evolved and I’ve found more value in other things. And that’s been really rewarding. And this whole sustainable adventure thing and kind of pushing the whole industry I’m a part of to being better has been really fun. Like, go back six years, all my sponsors, we would have never talked about any sustainable stuff in our line, or anything. And now it’s a huge part of the conversation. And every company I work with is trying to do their best. Right now this Arc’teryx jacket I’m wearing is made of reused polyester and nylon. So it’s actually already been out in use and it’s actually used material, which is cool. And natural fibers like wool, and really try to push these things that are more cyclical and are better for the world.”
PD: Why fashion specifically with sustainability?
GH: “You don’t even want to look at the 70 billion T shirts [that] are made every year. We’re just talking T-shirts. This is a huge impact and it’s one that all of us are part of. So if it’s something we can change, then it’ll need to change on a global scale. And that’s why the fashion industry, it’s crazy. I mean, there’s piles and piles and piles of clothing everywhere that’s not being used in South America. There’s piles that are almost becoming mountains — maybe I’ll have a mountain to climb soon. I just think it’s part of everybody’s lives and if we can make it a point of conversation and a point of change, and then you’re wearing a shirt that’s recycled material, that’ll bring it into the rest of your life. You’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m recycling. Maybe I’ll be better there and there.’”
PD: How does being a father motivate you to do this kind of work?
GH: “So when I was laying on that couch, I was also looking at my kids, I’m like, ‘OK, I’ve been showing them that you should live your life and be selfish and do whatever you want, and not care about the effects of your life.’ And that’s definitely part of the change was like, well, let’s teach them as well that we can live a great life but have a bit more responsibility to everyone else. And you do. You look at your kids, you’re like, ‘I want them to have the choices in the world that I’ve grown up with.’ And I’d like to see what I can do to make sure that happens.”
PD: What are your plans for the future now?
GH: “I’ve done a bunch of personal changes, and I’m loving influencing the companies I work with. But I also think personal changes are big, because, sure, it is all the corporations that have a huge impact, but if the mindset changes, and it becomes a part of everyone’s conversation, then it’s going to change on a global scale. So I’ve been trying to start these little backcountry trips where people come and I guide them around the mountains, but the whole conversation is surrounded about around them and figuring out their footprints and where we can make changes. And then when they go home, ideally, they’re empowered to make changes in their own lives. So I’m basically just trying to make sure the conversation grows and grows to the point that it’s on everybody’s minds.”