[Eds. Note: Want to see Vasu Sojitra’s Denali expedition featured in Warren Miller’s latest film? On Monday we will be drawing tickets to see Winter Starts Now at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury on Dec. 2 and at Burlington’s Flynn Theater on Dec. 4. To enter, simply sign up for our e-newsletter.]
By Dan Egan
Six dudes, 1000 pounds of gear, 17 days, a 6,000-meter peak and 10 legs,” that’s how 2013 University of Vermont grad Vasu Sojitra described his descent of North America’s highest peak on June 20, 2021. If you do the math, that is two legs short of a normal expedition: two of its members, Sojitra and Peter McAfee were the first two amputees to ski from the summit of Denali in Alaska. Their feat will be featured in this fall’s Warren Miller Film, “Winter Starts Now.”
Sojitra, who lost his leg at nine months old, brushes off the feat. “I have a simple saying I like to repeat to myself during big climbs and adventure races: ‘I’ve done hard things and I have the capacity to do harder things’,” says Sojitra.
Mountain guide Don Nguyen was on Denali in June with clients at the same time Sojitra was skinning up. “As a guide my main instruction to clients is efficiency; don’t waste energy. But for a one-legged person like Vasu, I don’t even know what to tell him because he has had to develop his own pace and climbing system. He summited Denali faster than my able body climbers,” emphasized Nguyen.
Sojitra’s parents immigrated from India. Vasu was nine months old and they had only hours to act when doctors informed them that their second son had septicemia and would lose his life if they didn’t amputate.
Growing up in Connecticut, Sojitra tried to use a prosthetic leg, but found it slowed him down. “He came home one day and said he wasn’t going to use it anymore,” said his mother, Rama.
Sojitra started skiing at age 5, and taught himself to ski on trips to Vermont. Later, at University of Vermont, Sojitra gained notoriety for ripping the local mountains and backcountry with his college buddies, and joined the Outing Club. In 2014, fellow UVM grad and filmmaker Tyler Wilkinson-Ray showcased Sojitra skiing tree runs in northern Vermont and in the Chic Chocs in his short film, “Out on a Limb.”
Sojitra later moved to Bozeman, Mont., where he met famed mountaineer Conrad Anker in a climbing gym. Anker, who works for The North Face, signed him on as the brand’s first disabled athlete. “He has ignited the conversation at The North Face about inclusion, disabilities, and what can be done— important stuff,” stated Anker.
Sojitra has over 46,000 followers on Instagram and is using his platform to advocate for inclusion, diversity, the disabled, public land access, and native people.
“Consider me your friendly neighborhood disrupter, with a goal of bridging gaps between abled and disabled, communities of color, normalizing what human is, what public access is and where our public lands came from,” he says. “If we understand we are stewards of the land, that can elevate the conversation in a way that protects and saves our planet. It’s about inclusion for me especially in the outdoor recreational space,” he says.
When asked what he would say to a room of outdoor industry leaders, Sojitra’s answer is straightforward: “Help us by providing the resources for the underserviced communities of color and disabilities. And build relationships with these communities by hiring a diverse staff within the leadership of your companies.The research shows the more diverse the leadership the more profitable the organization becomes.” n