Photo courtesy of Sonya Padden
What is Skimo? It’s short for ski mountaineering, and besides always including an uphill component, it can range from casual spring ski endeavors to rappelling down rock faces and skiing 50-degree couloirs. Ski mountaineering is a subgroup of skiing, but within this there is an even smaller group of ski-mountaineering racers.
This group can be identified by their bright spandex speed suits, skinny lightweight skis, and a shared enjoyment of force-feeding themselves Shot Bloks as they push their lungs and legs to maximum capacity. Well, actually, the last part isn’t exactly true, but these hardships are endured for the reward of getting to experience some of the more extreme and beautiful mountain terrain in a unique and personally challenging way.
The sport, although still a largely “outsider sport,” is growing in Colorado as a way of getting fit and exploring the spectrum of what snow sports have to offer. Besides ski mountaineering racing, which can be a mouthful, the sport also goes by Rando Racing or even as Dynafit, the company developing a large portion of the sport’s technology and who recently called it ski-running. As a participant in the sport, I would agree with the accuracy of this term.
There are a variety of courses with varying degrees of difficulty, all aimed at testing the limits of an athlete’s aerobic capacity, skiing in general, kick-turning, climbing, and mental capacity for perseverance. The course last weekend, which was part of a series of events for the US Ski Mountaineering Nationals in Crested Butte, featured 5,500 feet of climbing over 10 miles and included a combination of technical switchback skin tracks and steep boot packs full of sugary snow, which required an ascender and some crawling (a first for me). Connecting these stages were some steep windblown descents, all culminating with a final ascent up the Guide Ridge—the famous butte of Crested Butte.
However, as intense or intimidating as it may sound, the reality is much more simple. You take each section, step, or turn as it appears in front of you and end up achieving much more than you thought was possible. Even if you end up not completing the course, the fact that you were a participant in the sport, at least in my experience, is fulfilling in itself.
Besides allowing you to realize your capabilities, skimo racing and the training you do for it are great experiences for all other aspects of outdoor careers. It helps facilitate and maintain a great cardio foundation, sharpen skills like setting skin tracks, and kick turns. The different environmental conditions, which are often a major determinant for the difficulty of a course, allow you to gain a lot of experience, and eventually comfort, with a very wide variety of technical, physical, and mental challenges.
This exposures makes your personal ski endeavors much more pleasant and relaxing due to a new level of confidence, allowing you to focus not on the difficulty of skinning up, gear issues, or mental blocks that may arise, but on enjoying your surroundings, and the people you’re with—one of the greatest rewards of being active in the mountains.