Vertbag vs. Slick Mikh: Inside Whistler's crazy ski battle
Meet the people behind the aliases who are vying to outdo every other hardcore B.C. ski bum in the valley
For a glorious few months, Slick Mikh was king of the mountain, top of the public leader board that tracks the vertical distance covered by skiers and snowboarders at B.C.'s Whistler Blackcomb by reading a chip in their pass every time they head up a lift.
On a typical day, the snowboarder known as Slick Mikh puts up an impressive 14,000 metres by riding down the longest runs he can find.
Peak to Creek is his favourite.
"I usually snowboard from the time the lifts open until the lifts close," he told CBC News.
"I try to catch as many chairs as possible and I very rarely stop for any breaks or lunch.
"I usually just take some snacks with me in my backpack."
Who is Slick Mikh?
Slick Mikh is not the name his parents chose, rather the winter alias of one Mikhail "Misha" Berman, a 28-year-old who last year decided to quit his high stress high tech job in Seattle, move to Whistler, rent a ski-in ski-out condo and dedicate himself heart and soul to snowboarding.
"Living my dream" as he puts it.
Berman never set out to beat every other Whistler ski bum. First place was just a happy consequence of his minor life crisis and personal resolve to never miss a day.
But he admits it was pretty cool seeing his name — well, fake name — on top.
That was before Vertbag got it going.
Vertbag gained local legend status last year, setting an unofficial world record for most vertical metres skied in one season — 2,061,139 — a stout improvement on the Guinness World Record mark of 1,836,649 set by Whistler's Pierre Marc Jette in 2015.
The insane magnitude of Vertbag's accomplishment was the talk of the town. So was the speculation over his identity.
Was he a former ski racer, people wondered?
Did he have special access to lifts?
Just how was he able to post up to 25,000 vertical metres each day, every day?
The mystery drove Whistler writer Caitlin Shea to distraction. After weeks spent "desperately seeking Vertbag" she finally outed him in the local newspaper, revealing the biggest shocker of all — Vertbag's real name was Renee Lamoureux.
He was a she.
Another world record?
Fast forward to this year. Lamoureux wasn't a major factor in the standings early on, as she was slowed by a Hawaiian vacation and hurt knee.
But once the knee started feeling better, Vertbag's march up the standings was unstoppable.
At one point it seemed the championship might come down to a two-person battle — Vertbag versus Slick Mikh. But Berman hasn't been able to keep pace, and Lamoureux is now in a league of her own, out front by almost 200,000 metres and on pace to break her own unofficial world record.
"I was not expecting to be on the top of the leaderboard again this season, but I'll take it," said Lamoureux, who was hard to contact for this story.
"I think all the hype last year made a lot more people keen to pad their stats, set personal goals and watch themselves climb the leaderboard. If I could be at the top again at the end of this year, I would honestly feel more satisfied than last year."
Misha meets Renee
Because she mainly skis Blackcomb and he mainly rides Whistler, Lamoureux and Berman don't often cross paths.
Funnily enough, the one time they did meet was the day she took over first place for good.
"I said congratulations, you passed me," said Berman. "It was cool to meet and talk."
"We shared some laughs," said Lamoureux. "He's a nice guy."
Berman's admits he's now resigned to the silver medal.
"I'm not going to lap groomers to get first place," he said. "She pretty much just goes non-stop on three or four lifts. I tried one day to lap [the] Garbanzo chair over and over again — it's a short speed run. I ended up getting over 20,000 metres but it was a mentally exhausting."
And sadly for Berman, real life is starting to creep back into the picture.
"Stupidly, I'm paying double rent because I didn't want to let go of my apartment in Seattle. Watching the bank account get lower and lower is haunting me a little," he said, sounding a little forlorn.
So Berman is now looking for work in Seattle again, which means he may leave Whistler early if the right job offer comes along.
"At first, I really wanted to be number one," he said. "I'm OK with number two."
"I'm just wanted to spend a whole season here and not live with regrets."