Roger Romani at the summit of the last of his California 14er projects.
A 14,000-foot peak is a spectacle to be seen. Because of their towering rarity, they have earned their own nickname and are referred to as “14ers.” The massive height and beauty of 14ers attract the most ambitious mountain enthusiasts looking for an adrenaline challenge. There are only four states in the U.S. that contain 14ers.
Climbing and skiing down just one 14er is a feat to be proud of and is something only a fraction of one percent of all skiers ever accomplish. The state of California boasts 15 of these awe-inspiring peaks. Conquering all of them would be a task that requires determination, passion, and a valiant blend of mountaineering and skiing prowess.
This is exactly what Roger Romani, a 26-year-old Ph.D. Physics student at UC Berkeley, accomplished earlier this year when he became the first person to ski all 15 of the California 14ers. His journey started in May of 2016 and was completed in April 2023. Just under seven years.
Roger on the Palisade Glacier
“I had been thinking about this for a long time,” Romani said. “It first started when I just wanted to climb all the 14ers in California, which made me think what if I could ski all of them. Then I heard about Chris Davenport skiing all the 14ers in Colorado in a year and I was like ‘Whoa, that’s the coolest thing ever.’ I started to look into if anyone had done it in California. It didn’t seem like anyone had done them all. So, I did Mt. Shasta and afterward, I thought ‘I want to give this a try.’ I don’t know if it’ll work, I don’t know if I can do it, but I want to give it a try.”
To his knowledge, both Chris Davenport and John Morrison had skied 14 of the 15 California 14ers but had left off Starlight Peak. This could have been because it can be controversial how you define a separate peak. The U.S. Geological Survey requires a peak to have at least 300 feet of “prominence” from its neighbors. Starlight Peak and Polemonium Peak fall into this technicality.
But Romani wasn’t going to leave them off his list. “I don’t want to mis-advertise. I had a personal list, and this was me completing it. To my knowledge and research, I don’t think anyone’s done the exact thing before,” he disclosed.
To train for his quest, Romani would do run training up until the ski season. Then he would transition to ski touring once the winter started. He would often do 10,000 vertical feet touring days before the spring and summer months which is when he bagged the majority of his 14er summits. Rock climbing had to be implemented as well, which was imperative to get to some of the summits. Finally, resort skiing was important to gain confidence on the descents. “The last thing you want is to be at the top of a peak and not have the confidence to ski down,” Romani declared.
When he finished the project on April 30, 2023, the feeling was hard to describe.
“It was amazing,” he exclaimed. “The last one was super special. We got to the top of Williamson, which is the second highest one in the Sierra, and it’s super prominent. It was a beautiful day, and the ski down was one of the best ones of the project. It was 7,000 feet where 90% of it was really good corn skiing.”
Roger had various partners to ski with on his quest, however, six of the peaks he completed solo. Oftentimes, he would have to watch the weather incessantly to assure the conditions would line up for a summit bid. There were plenty of times he had to cancel his plans a few days ahead due to an unfavorable forecast. He could only ski on the weekends because he has a normal job, and a suitable partner wasn’t always available. This only added to the challenge.
“The hardest part of this project was the conditions,” he stated. “This could have taken another 5-10 years if I didn’t complete it this year. There are certain lines where the conditions only line up once every couple of years if you’re lucky.”
There were at least four times when he had to bail on his plans last minute due to the conditions not lining up. Two of the peaks he completed in February, but other than that, it was always during the spring season when the snowpack had filled in and the weather was more predictable.
Partly thanks to a record snow year, Romani was able to complete six of the peaks in 2023 alone.
In comparison to California, the state of Colorado has an astounding 54 peaks over 14,000 feet (58 if counting without the prominence technicality). Lou Dawson was the first to climb and ski all 54 peaks, which took him 13 years to accomplish. Chris Davenport skied them all in just a year. Josh Jesperson did it in less than five months on a split board.
However, the California 14ers present a different challenge than the Colorado 14ers, due to their larger average elevation from trailhead to summit, their steepness, and the fleeting ski conditions in the High Sierra.
“In the Sierra, you have to wait a long long time for good conditions,” he noted. “A lot of the lines are really steep, and they take a lot of snow to fill in and they’re kind of barely possible. In Colorado, I think a lot of them work out every year, with the exception of a few.”
“You can’t exactly hide that this stuff isn’t completely safe,” Romani admitted. On White Mountain, a storm came in while he was on the summit. It got extraordinarily dark and he decided to ski a route that he hadn’t looked at on the way up. The conditions ended up being over a foot of soft snow over a creek in thick willow trees that he had to chop through. It took him 11 hours to descend 3,000 feet. At 4 am he decided he had to sleep. He woke up shivering and knew he had to keep moving to get out.
Another time he was on the Clyde Couloir that runs between North Palisade and Starlight Peak. He had to rock climb and rappel over a section. As he was side-stepping down his buddy below yelled “Avalanche!” He looked up to see a wall of snow coming down. Fortunately, he was able to dig his ice axe in and duck his head. The wet loose avalanche poured over him and started pushing him down, but he was able to hold on.
SnowBrains bestows sincere congratulations on Roger. This is truly an accomplishment to be proud of. Roger isn’t quite sure what his next challenge will be.
“I want the next thing to happen organically,” he said. “There are some climbs I want to do and lines I want to ski, but nothing big and important like this was. I think it’s really important to do projects like this for yourself.”
Below is a list with details of all the peaks Roger accomplished in the project.
See the article in Snow Brains for more photos.