The athletes at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics have dazzled us with extreme skiing over the past week, but Hilaree O’Neill has her own definition of the term.
O’Neill started skiing at age three at Stevens Pass in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Shortly after graduating from Colorado College, she moved to Chamonix, France, to explore the world of ski mountaineering and climbing. She is an expedition leader for National Geographic, and will come to Kleinhans Music Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20 to share her most harrowing adventure yet.
As the recipient of a National Geographic Explorers grant, O’Neill led a team of alpinists, photographers, and filmmakers to attempt the first ascent of an unexplored mountain, Hkakabo Razi, in northern Myanmar in 2014. The film about their adventure and well-publicized feuding, Down to Nothing, won the Best Cinematography Award at the Telluride Mountainfilm festival in 2015. Western New Yorkers dreaming of adventure will get to hear the story in her own words, accompanied by clips from the film and photographs taken during the expedition.
O’Neill got her start in ski mountaineering in 1999, skiing the Bubble Fun Couloir on Wyoming’s Buck Mountain, a technical run that drops into a 61-foot cliff. It was the first female descent, and it caught the attention of The North Face. Less than a month later, The North Face sent her on her first expedition to India’s Deo Tibba, in the Himalayas. Two years later, the company signed O’Neill as one of their professional athletes.
She is the first woman to climb Everest and its neighboring peak Lhotse – in a single 24-hour period. She took part in the first ski descent of all five of the “Holy Peaks” of the Mongolian Altai range, as a member of the Mongolian Altai Women’s Expedition. O’Neill attempted another Himalayan giant, Makalu, which was named by Outside as one of the “most badass adventures of 2015.” In 2017, she was named one of the 25 most adventurous women of the last 25 years by Men’s Journal.
Between expeditions, O’Neill spends her time on the domestic adventure of raising her two sons. In addition, her writing has been published in National Geographic Adventure, National Geographic’s “The Call of Everest,” the Ski Journal, Outside Magazine Online, the Outdoor Journal and several other publications.
Tickets for Hilaree O’Neill’s National Geographic Live presentation are $35 general admission and $15 for students. A VIP package is available for $75 and includes reserved seating and a meet-and-greet reception with O’Neill at 5:30 p.m. For tickets, call (716) 885-5000 or visit kleinhansbuffalo.org. Tickets are also available at the door.
National Geographic LIVE: Point of no return
Tuesday, February 20
Kleinhans Music Hall, 7:00 pm
Named “one of the most adventurous women in the world of sports,” North Face athlete Hilaree O’Neill tells the story of her harrowing ascent to the summit of Hkakabo Razi, an unexplored mountain in Myanmar. Her presentation will be accompanied by stunning photographs, plus clips from the documentary film about the climb, Down to Nothing. When the National Geographic team set out on this expedition in the fall of 2014, they didn’t realize was that their greatest obstacle wouldn’t be dwindling rations, grueling jungle hikes, or life-threatening hypothermia. It was the force of conflicting personalities. O’Neill recounts the tough decisions she had to make to keep the team together in this spellbinding presentation.