For my first newspaper interview conducted in Mammoth Mountain’s Main Lodge Gondola, I joined four, full-grown men wearing pink onesies.
As silly as they looked, Alex Drysdale, Ben Spoor, Steve Todd and Mark Sant were on a mission unrelated to fashion. All members of the 39 Squadron, Royal Air Force, based out of Creech Air Force Base in Nevada, the men were closing out the last leg of a ski weekend fundraiser when I met them on Monday, Jan. 14.
The adventure began last fall when Drysdale, perhaps feeling a bit homesick, decided he wanted to bring a piece of the United Kingdom to the States.
“Back home there is an event called The 3 Peaks Challenge where you try to climb the three highest mountains in the UK in 24 hours,” Drysdale said. “I was looking to do something similar here.”
So, he decided to create the 39 Squadron Everest Ski Challenge: to ski the equivalent height of Mt. Everest on three consecutive days in three different US states. He put out a sign up sheet among the members of the squadron and was rewarded with sign ups from Spoor, Todd and Sant who had the skiing skills that would be necessary to accomplish such a feat. Sant and Drysdale had been ski instructors and Spoor and Todd had been ski racers.
Originally the adventure was taken on simply for the challenge, however, shortly after preparations began two people close to the foursome were diagnosed with cancer.
First, a fellow squadron member was diagnosed with skin cancer, which was thankfully removed. Second, another squadron member’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer.
As stated on their fundraising page, “As a small, isolated Service community 5,200 miles from home, friends and family we’d like to show our support and are therefore raising money for Breast Cancer Charities. It also gives us an excuse to do the event in pink one-piece ski suits!”
So, the challenge had new meaning. When I met them on Monday, the group had already completed two days of the challenge, attaining the 29,029’ of required vertical in Brian Head, Utah and Mt. Charleston, Nev. At the end of these long ski days they drove from one resort to the next.
When they planned the trip they had no idea the weekend they chose would end up being perhaps the most frigid weekend of the winter. In Brian Head they experienced temperatures of -26 degrees Celsius and Todd ended up with first-degree hypothermia, but they all soldiered on and skied 29 526’ in 6 1/2 hours. They sustained themselves on Power Bars and only stopped twice during the day to warm up ever so slightly. Their Commanding Officer, Wing Commander Tom Burke also joined them on that first day.
They had to ride the same chairlift over and over again to obtain the vertical, which took a bit of a toll.
“It was a mental challenge going up and down the same lift,” Drysdale said.
“But we had a real sense of accomplishment at the end of that first day,” Todd added.
The second day at Mt. Charleston was much of the same, with several of their friends from the nearby base coming to meet them and have lunch with them to break things up a bit.
They all agreed that the highlight of their trip was Mammoth, and they even planned to stay and ski for fun on Tuesday once the challenge had been completed on Monday.
When I met them Monday morning they had already captured approximately 6,000’ feet of the vertical they needed that day. They were tracking their progress with several GPS phone apps, including the Mammoth app. Even though it was still quite cold, the men were in high spirits and claimed it was balmy compared to the last two days. They were looking forward to the large amount of terrain Mammoth had to offer … they definitely wouldn’t need to ride the same chairlift over and over again to accomplish their task.
The men successfully completed their task and had raised around $2,000 at press time. To donate, visit: