Could Kilian Jornet be superhuman?

Five reasons why the ski mountaineering sensation might truly be supernatural – and how he does it.
© Markus Berger/Suunto
By Riikka Rakic

Kilian Jornet is the sensation of mountain endurance sports. The higher and steeper the mountain, the faster and lighter the 27-year-old Spaniard conquers it. No matter if on snow, rock or gravel.

Nowadays better known as an ultra mountain runner and climber, Jornet’s roots are in ski mountaineering. And he still reigns supreme in that world too.

Kilian Jornet portrait in the woods of La Palma
Kilian Jornet in the woods © Berger

In February 2015, Kilian won World Championship gold in the vertical race in Verbier, Switzerland, which featured a single 5km uphill with 847 metres of climb. He also triumphed in the individual competition with four uphills counting 1700m vertical and three scrambling portions – too steep for skinning – over the 12.5km course. In April, he added yet another World Cup season title to his long list of victories.

For Kilian, the ski-touring season is just one of his competitive seasons. But even so, the Catalan covered a whopping 340,000 metres of vertical this ski season alone:

For someone who has already won more races and set more records than he can count, it can be difficult to find new motivation. Since 2012, Kilian’s focus has been a project he called the Summits of My Life. The four-year adventure targets speed records on some of the world’s best-known peaks. He’s already set the up-and-down records on Mont Blanc, the Matterhorn, Mount McKinley (Denali) and Aconcagua. What’s missing are Elbrus and the top of the world, Mount Everest.

Kilian Jornet hiking up the McKinley mountain
Kilian's ascent-descent record on Mount McKinley © 2014 Summits of My Life

Now you might ask what makes Kilian Jornet different from all of us? Here are five reasons that make him a superhuman mountain man.

1. He was born and raised in the mountains
Kilian grew up in a mountain hut in the Pyrenees kept by his father at an altitude of 2000 metres. He’d climbed several almost 3000-metre peaks by the age of three. By the time he was 10 he crossed the Pyrenees in 42 days. The mountains were his playground, the peaks have become his DNA.

2. He’s a natural endurance athlete
Made for uphill endurance sports, Kilian’s light frame measures 171 cm and weighs some 58 kg. With that, he matches the optimal body size for the best cyclists and marathoners of the world. His maximum oxygen uptake level of almost 90ml/kg/min puts him on par with the best Olympic athletes in sports such as cross-country skiing.

3. He bare bones it
Kilian is leading a generation of athletes that find safety in speed. His record performances are characterised by the minimal amount of gear and supplies he carries with him. He also hardly sweats. On the 11-hour 48-minute round trip atop the 6194m-high Denali, Kilian carried just one litre of water with him. In summer he can keep running all day just drinking from streams and eating berries.

Kilian Jornet running in Colorado's San Juan Mountains
Kilian in the lead © Matt Trappe

4. He is one with the mountains
Brought up to listen to and sense the outdoors, Kilian has a profound connection with and love for the mountains. He is not scared of them albeit he exhibits great respect. For him they’re home. One of the tags he uses often is #mountaindecides. After he lost one of his best friends in a tragic ski-mountaineering accident, he wrote: “The mountain takes many things away from us, but it also gives us everything we need to breathe”

Kilian Jornet training on the glacier.
Kilian Jornet is also a fan of winter running © Berger

5. He does it with heart
But most importantly, Kilian is a person with a big heart. His plan was to summit Mount Everest this year, but that changed when the massive earthquakes hit Nepal. Instead of cancelling his trip, Kilian went ahead with his scheduled travel to Kathmandu just two days after the first earthquake and spent almost three weeks helping the people of Nepal to deal with the destruction.

Nepal will climb one of the most difficult mountains, this time we must be their porters.

- Kilian Jornet

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