Michael & Steve Marolt
Hall of Fame Class of 2017
By staying true to themselves and finding peace at 26,000 feet, these Aspen twins became the country’s most accomplished ski mountaineers.
The climbing exploits of Mike and Steve Marolt, identical 53-year-old twins from Aspen, place them in an elite fraternity of the world’s most accomplished mountaineers.
Adhering to an old-school “pure style” – without the aids of supplemental oxygen, altitude drugs and porters – pushes these achievements to an even loftier level.
The fact that they culminate these climbs by descending on skis from the world’s highest peaks – while battling hypoxia, avalanche danger, obscenely dangerous terrain, minus-20 degree cold and vertigo-inducing whiteouts – places them in the U.S. Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame.
For almost 30 years, the Marolt brothers have quietly labored at the forefront of ski mountaineering with some 50 expeditions to the world’s highest peaks, where their sport has no stadium, no cheering fans, no TV coverage and no prizemoney. They are family oriented, mild-mannered CPAs whose mantra is never to exceed their abilities on an expedition, the exact opposite of the image most associate with “extreme”. Their careers are based on a natural progression of building skills and knowledge, a deep respect for the mountains and a true appreciation for “No Fall” zones.
They excel at inhospitable, life-threatening altitudes that reach to an oxygen-starved 26,000 feet, where the pulse rate soars, blood thickens and clots, cells die and digestion is nearly impossible. Nausea and vomiting are normal human reactions. “It feels like a massive hangover combined with a very bad case of the flu,” Mike says. “Learning how to suffer is a really satisfying aspect of what we do,” adds Steve.
The Marolts had spent the 1990s notching major peak experiences around the world (including an ascent of Denali) when their future coalesced in 2000 on a windblown mountainside in Tibet. They were vying to become the first Americans to climb and ski an 8,000-meter peak, 26,273-feet Central Peak Shishapangma. The ascent was physically and emotionally taxing, the weather horrible; a Taiwanese climber from another expedition actually died in Steve’s arms on the way up. There was a total whiteout on the final ridge to the summit as they lugged extra camera gear along with their early iteration AT (Alpine Touring) ski gear, which they now realize was totally inadequate for the task. He thought of turning back hung in the air and Steve recalls hearing a voice in head saying, “You shouldn’t do this.” His response: “I was born to do this.”
The public’s reaction to the successful expedition surprised them with extensive media coverage and widespread interest, “It changed our lives,” Mike says, noting it also provided a critical spark for the incredible growth and progression of AT skiing since.
The Marolts’ resume is now full of “American Firsts.”
They became the first (and only fifth of any nation) to conquer 8,000 meters again, adding 26,795-foot Cho Oyu, also in Tibet. They were first to ski the North Ridge of Mount Everest (they would do it twice); first to ski the highest peak in Bolivia (21,463-foot Sajama) and in Ecuador (20,650-foot Chimborozo); and first of any nation to ski Tibet’s 23,642-foot Norjin Kansang.
They are the world leaders in ski descents from above 7,000 meters (23,000 feet) with six and arguably the world’s most accomplished in the window of 5,000 to 8,000 meters. They are pioneers in winter Himalayan and have made dozens of expeditions to South America’s Andes Range. Outside magazine listed their exploits in its “Top 25 Achievements in the First 25 Years.” Independent Skier Magazine billed the brothers as “America’s most accomplished ski mountaineers.”
Mike and Steve were born and raised in Aspen; their father was Max Marolt who was on the U.S. Ski Team and raced in the 1960 Squaw Valley Olympics. Their uncle was Bill Marolt, also a former U.S. Ski Team member, who would later lead the U.S. program to its finest Olympic results as its CEO (and be inducted into this Hall of Fame in 1993).
While they wins raced with the Aspen Ski Club when they were growing up, they found their true calling when Max led them into the backcountry to Montezuma Glacier, below Castle Peak and then up Independence Pass – always stressing a smart, safe approach. They’ve never made any money off their ski mountaineering careers and consider themselves fortunate to have sponsors to cover their expedition costs. Both are married with children and find their day jobs as accountants to provide the perfect counterbalance to their other lives as the country’s most accomplished ski mountaineers.
1990: Ascent of Denali (20,320 feet), North America’s highest peak
2000: First Americans to ski from 8,000 meters, Shishapangma, Tibet (26,273 feet)
2003: First Americans to ski Mount Everest’s North Ridge (25,175 feet)
2007: First Americans to ski a second time from 8,000 meters, Cho Oyu, Tibet (26,795 feet)
2008: First Americans to ski Bolivia’s highest peak, Sajama (21,475 feet)
2009: First ever to ski Tibet’s Norjin Kansang (23,642 feet), their sixth ski descent from above 7,000 meters
2010: First ever ski descent of Peru’s Coropuna on Baraco Route (21,079 feet)
2011: First Americans to ski Ecuador’s highest peak, Chimborozo (20,700 feet)
2015: World-record highest winter ski, Himlung Himal, Nepal (21,000 feet)
2016: First ever ski descents of Ampato (20,600 feet) and Sabancya (19,600 feet) in Peru
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