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Quintessential retirement: feet up, reclining chair reclined, beverage in one hand, remote control in the other, satisfied grin. And the more challenging and stressful the career, the sweeter the “rest” that follows it. But that’s just not the way Simi Hamilton is put together.
On trails, on ridgelines, on summits all up and down the perimeter of the Roaring Fork Valley: that’s where you’ll often find Simi Hamilton. A lifelong resident, he’s been exploring these mountains his whole life. Now, he happily re-traces the adventurous climbs and descents of his youth, and plans for the new adventures to undertake in this, his retirement. Simi Hamilton may be retired from the world of international ski racing, but his long and challenging trail continues.
The Elks Traverse
Someone should tell Simi Hamilton that the world considers him to be a sprinter: explosive, powerful, intense, fast-twitch. But if that narrow characterization were true, Hamilton would not also be such a force in endurance events. For a number FIS World Cup of seasons, he was the top American male competitor in most distance races as well as sprints. To put things in simple terms, this is a guy with a serious engine, and he just loves taking it out for a spin.
Recently, Hamilton’s Strava account confirmed his accomplishment of the Fastest Known Time (FKT) on the Elks Traverse, a hair-raising, high altitude route stretching from Capitol Peak to Castle Peak (and touching the summits of seven 14,000 foot peaks along the way). The stats on his accomplishment: 45.03 miles, 22,562 feet of elevation gain, 16:46.49 hours. A serious engine, indeed…
“[The Traverse] went well,” Hamilton said. “I’m very comfortable on technical terrain, especially where there’s exposure and risk, so I was lucky to move well through the many miles of that found on the route… I think that was my biggest asset because I was able to kind of turn my brain off for that. I ate well and stayed pretty hydrated, and I had probably the nicest day of the summer for it, so that was huge. I don’t think I did anything that special, there were just a lot of things that lined up perfectly and I was lucky enough to do it on that day when everything came together.
Hamilton routinely travels where other less-experienced climbers and skiers might not necessarily be safe. He attributes his abilities to a lifetime of observing these mountains, and following the examples of those who went before him.
“The Elks Traverse summits all seven of the “14ers” (peaks whose summits are over 14,000’),” he said. “The route is through wilderness, so you have to be on foot the whole time, and it’s generally done starting with Capitol Peak and ending with Castle Peak. You can take any route you want, but the route I took—and the one that is generally considered the fastest—is 50 miles with 23,000’ of elevation gain. About 22 miles of that is on well established hiking trails, and the rest is on third, fourth, and fifth class terrain, much of which is very, exposed and considered fairly technical and dangerous. There have been quite a few people who have done it, but until recently it hadn’t been done in under 24 hours. Some incredible athletes from the Roaring Fork Valley did it before me and I give them full credit for figuring out the best route. I just kind of took what they had learned and applied it to my own effort, so really they did all the hard work.”
Between 2010 and 2021, Simi Hamilton logged 144 World Cup race starts as a Team USA mainstay. Four World Cup sprint podiums distinguish his palmarés (including a victory in Stage 3 of the 2013–14 FIS Tour de Ski), along with three Olympiads (2010, 2014, 2018) and six World Championships (2011-2021). Hamilton is a skier who wore his team’s colors proudly, and much of the success being enjoyed by younger generations of American skiers is attributable to his attitude and example.
Hamilton is married to two-time Olympian—and two-time World Cup sprint winner—Sophie Caldwell Hamilton. together, they raise and care for their year-old daughter, Lilly. During their skiing careers, they trotted the World Cup globe together. Now, it’s now the act of staying home that brings Hamilton joy and purpose.
“Being at home (mostly) full time is incredible,” Hamilton said. “Obviously I miss our teammates and traveling through some of the most beautiful places in the world, but to not be living out of a duffel bag—and to feel more ‘grounded’ on a day-to-day basis—is such a nice and welcome change. Most of my immediate family still lives in the Roaring Fork Valley, so to see them on a fairly regular basis is pretty incredible. And lastly, to be back adventuring in my home mountains is the best feeling in the world. You could spend a lifetime exploring all the nooks and crannies of the Elk Mountains and never see everything, so it’s really cool to feel like I’m always getting to know my backyard better and better even though I’ve been running, riding, and skiing those mountains for 36 years.”
Many of the “local adventures” in which Hamilton engages would be adventures of a lifetime for mere mortals, few of whom could begin to match the fitness required to do what he does every day. But, for Hamilton, all this is more about lifestyle and less about training. He laughed as he describes his relationship to training and performance:
“Ha! I feel like the last thing I do right now is train,” Hamilton said. “I’m climbing and ski guiding full time now, so just being out there for work allows me to feel like I’m staying healthy and getting the time outside that my mind needs. Maybe that’s why I’ve taken a liking to challenges and adventures that are 10+ hours. I certainly don’t have the time or flexibility to do any sort of structured training, but I can work and be outside, and when I have time to adventure on my own, with Sophie and/or Lilly, or with buddies I try to make that happen. I think if I were trying to plan out training and do specific workouts, I’d have a different relationship with the mountains and fitness that would ultimately not allow me to enjoy just being outside and doing cool stuff with great people.”
Hamilton mentioned in his Instagram feed that he’d originally planned to ski the Elks Traverse last May, but snow conditions and weather windows didn’t cooperate. Having changed plans to accomplish the traverse in summer rather than winter, he still considers his record-setting run to be more of a reconnaissance mission toward another on-skis attempt next spring. Needless to say, FasterSkier reporters would never be fast enough to accompany him on that adventure, but we’ll do our best to report on it when Simi Hamilton, once again, comes home.
John Teaford—the Managing Editor of faster.com—has been the coach of Olympians, World Champions, and World Record Holders in six sports: Nordic skiing, speedskating, road cycling, track cycling, mountain biking, triathlon. In his long career as a writer/filmmaker, he spent many seasons as Director of Warren Miller’s annual feature film, and Producer of adventure documentary films for Discovery, ESPN, Disney, National Geographic, and NBC Sports.