While in the depths of Der Lange Weg, a roughly 1067 mile traverse across the Alps from Vienna, Austria to Nice, France, Janelle Smiley sought gratitude in the smallest things. “I would find things to be thankful for. Like oh, my inner thigh is warm.” It kept her going. The only woman in a team of seven athletes including her husband Mark Smiley, the team went on to break the previous record of 41 days by finishing in 36. They averaged daily elevation gains between 8000 and 14,000 feet, for a total of approximately 294,107 feet. It was like skiing a Grand Traverse everyday, she said, and no rest days.
Janelle gives a new definition to determination and grit in the mountains. The feat of skiing across the alps is only one of many formidable accomplishments the Aspen raised and now Jackson, Wyoming based ski mountaineer has on her resume. She has several first descents to her name, including Huandoy East (6000 m) in Peru and first female to ski from the sea to summit to sea of Mount St. Elias. She’s also a five-time National Ski Mountaineering Champion and Swiss National Teams Champion, among others. She and Mark have ticked off nearly all of the non skiing 50 classic list, the 50 Classic Climbs of North America (they turned back from two climbs due to safety concerns). And her latest endeavor: motherhood.
Not too mention she provides delightful company. We recorded this episode in the Smiley’s kitchen on the flanks of Snow King Mountain (her husband, Mark, will make his own appearance on a future episode). With humor and wit, Janelle provided insight into her racing alter-ego, Giselle, the utility of lists to anchor one’s goals and the power of curiosity that supersedes the desire to quit a hard effort. Insightful and inspiring, hearing her talk might just push you to pursue that next big goal or surpass a limit you never thought existed. Have a listen and find more info on Janelle’s website.
Fact check: in the episode, Janelle and Doug discuss another trans-alps traverse record undertaken by Dynafit CEO Benedikt Bohm in March 2019. He toured 130.5 miles with 47,572 feet of climbing from Ruh- polding, Germany, to Kasern, South Tyrol/Italy in 28 hours and 45 minutes. This is a different traverse than the Der Lange Weg, which Janelle, Mark and their team embarked on.
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Manasseh Franklin is a writer, editor and big fan of walking uphill. She has an MFA in creative nonfiction and environment and natural resources from the University of Wyoming and especially enjoys writing about glaciers. Find her other work in Alpinist, Adventure Journal, Rock and Ice, Aspen Sojourner, AFAR, Trail Runner and Western Confluence.