Smithwick and Kuo Will Try to Ski Dhaulagiri

Dhaulagiri is not just one more ski line to carve. Luke Smithwick has been building up toward this 8,167m Himalaya giant for years.

“I am doing what I came in the world to do,” he wrote shortly before heading for Nepal to attempt an alpine-style ascent and a complete ski descent.

Smithwick admits that the Himalaya have long obsessed him. He has spent months here, working on development projects, guiding, and teaching in local communities. Most of all, he has tried to ski every face and slope where he saw a suitable line. He even spent the first COVID lockdown amid his beloved mountains: When Nepal closed in March 2019, he just stayed in an apartment in Pokhara.

Luke Smithwick, briefly back in the Tetons last week. Photo: Luke Smithwick


Smithwick is about halfway through his once-in-a-lifetime project of skiing the best “500 Lines” in the Himalaya.

77 expeditions to the Himalaya

“Over the past decade, I’ve made 77 expeditions to the Himalaya,” he said. So far, he has mostly focused on winter ski trips. In winter, he takes advantage of the snow in the lower altitudes, while in summer, he seeks optimal conditions between 5,000 and 7,000m. This will be his first attempt at an 8,000’er.

Smithwick has already mapped out his line down Dhaulagiri. “[It’s] a line I have looked at from the Annapurnas, from the Damodar, and from the unclimbed 6,000m peaks to the northwest in Mustang,” he said. “It has pulled me toward it for so long.”

Luke Smithwick skis high in the Karakorum last month. Photo: Luke Smithwick


Before skiing a mountain, one needs to reach its summit. For Dhaulagiri, Smithwick will partner with Iain Kuo for an alpine-style ascent (meaning, no support and no supplementary oxygen).

Iain Kuo in Alaska in June. Photo: Iain Kuo

Smithwick admits that conditions and weather are in the hands of the mountain gods, but he comes well-prepared. He has climbed and skied in the Karakorum for the past four months. And the Wyoming-based Kuo skied from the summit of Denali this past June.

Theirs would be the first complete ski descent of Dhaulagiri. So far, Fredrik Ericsson of Sweden made the best attempt back in 2007. Ericsson didn’t quite summit: He had to retreat from 7,900m because of dangerous snow conditions and a storm, but he skied down all the way back to Base Camp, 3,000m below.

Unfortunately, he was never able to try a second time: He died on K2 in 2010. Below, his Dhaulagiri expedition’s documentary. It includes some impressive footage for the time. There were no drones then.