Imagine a sport that’s a lunatic’s mashup of ultra-marathon endurance running and expert-level downhill skiing.
Guess what? The sport already exists … and it’s called Skimo.
The word Skimo is short for Ski Mountaineering. It involves first skiing up mountain terrain and then descending the course on either telemark or alpine touring (AT) skis, and occasionally split-board snowboards. The uphill ascent is accomplished by covering the bottom of the ski with a skin, a removable covering made of nylon, mohair, or a nylon/mohair mix. The skin gives the skier enough traction to ski uphill, with a technique that somewhat mimics the movements of nordic or cross-country skiing. If the ascent is too steep, athletes must strap the skis to their backs and hike up more difficult terrain … in ski boots.
Once athletes have reached the summit of the course, they pull off the skins and ski down the terrain (possibly after they have caught their breath and given their legs a brief rest). Race courses usually involve at least two or three circuits before the finish line. It is not unusual for races to cover 7-10 miles of skiing terrain with 4,000-5,000 feet of that being vertical gain.
Like many of our winter sports, this import hails from the alpine circuit of Europe. Ski Mountaineering’s origins stem from European military exercises, especially during WWI, and the biathlon competitions that joined the lineup of the 1960 Albertville Olympics. From these humble beginnings, the sport has become wildly popular, and the trifecta pinnacle of European races are the Italian Mezzalama Trophy, the Swiss Patrouille des Glaciers, and the French Pierra Menta.
In the Rocky Mountain region, backcountry skiing, Skimo’s less competitive parent, began to gain popularity in the ‘80s as many ski enthusiasts grew disenchanted with the ski industry and the commercialization of big resorts. Backcountry skiing includes hiking up mountains with skis/skins and then skiing down. Riding trails off the beaten track allows skiers to explore new areas and feel the serenity of hitting fresh powder on untracked runs. At the same time, the uphill hike provides a great cardio workout.
Skimo racing was a natural progression from the backcountry adventure, especially as gear became lighter, more technical, and more affordable. Races and events are popping up all over the country under the governing body of the USSMA (United States Ski Mountaineering Association). The Rocky Mountain’s yearly race circuit is organized by COSMIC (Colorado Ski Mountaineering Cup), with 13 races schedule for the 2017-2018 ski season.
You might even be able to catch this latest alpine craze in an upcoming Olympics. The IOC ruled that Skimo racing will be included in the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne, Switzerland and ISMF (International Ski Mountaineering Federation) is lobbying for it to be an official event in the Winter Olympic Games in Beijing.
Since this is sport that isn’t always readily accessible, here’s a short video clip from USSMA that gives you a little glimpse into the world of Skimo.