“Skimo” – the word is now part of the ultrarunning lexicon. Killian has always done it, many ultra runners have taken it up, Mike Foote and Rob Krar are on their National Teams, it’s the coolest new thing … so what the heck is skimo anyway?
Here is the best answer possible: some of the top people in the sport will tell you all about it, in their own words – – –
WHAT IS SKIMO?
Anton Krupicka: “Skimo” is simply shorthand for “ski mountaineering”, but the shorthand is typically reserved for the competitive races. “Ski mountaineering” is climbing and skiing technical mountains, which is something that has been around for many generations and is not new. However, uphill skinning at resorts is something that is becoming more popular as a form of winter exercise and I don’t think requires any labels. Call it whatever you want; if you enjoy it, do it.
Mike Foote: What most folks love and crave is a big day of backcountry touring. The skills and fitness you gain from skimo racing develop your ability to be efficient and strong on big days in the mountains. Skimo racing is just the essence of ski mountaineering distilled down into a controlled course.
Jason Borro: Racing is great training for the real thing, which is ski mountaineering. It demands efficiency that can mean the difference between success or failure in the wild.
WHY DO IT?
Max Taam: Skimo has always been the perfect sport in my mind. It combines endurance, technical skills, and downhill ski racing in an incredible mountain setting.
Mike Foote: Ski Mountaineering is simply the most fun and natural way to move through complex terrain in the mountains during the winter. It utilizes a wide variety of skill sets, pushes you incredibly hard aerobically, and has a level of adrenaline that is hard to find in trail running.
Nikki Kimball: Because it is crazy fun! And because skiing gives my body and brain a break from the repetitive stress of running, while simultaneously allowing me to work on strength, power, cardiovascular fitness, and even the mental skills need in ultrarunning.
Stano Faban: It’s just like trail running except you are much more free! Ski mountaineering/touring is an amazing way to cover lots of terrain, push yourself, and meet great people in general. I don’t remember when was last time I called any of my skimo sessions a workout.
Eric Bunce: There are so many different aspects to the sport, so much technicality, so on race day its not who has the most horsepower but who is the best all around athlete. Plus its a way to get out and explore the mountains.
Grant Guise: I moved from New Zealand to Tahoe to ski patrol, and started hearing these stories about Skimo, this weird sport that was big in Europe and involved a lot of lycra …
Anton Krupicka: I participate in Skimo for three reasons: 1) Skiing is the winter version of mountain running; 2) Cross training – I can do big volume without overuse injuries; 3) I love mountain endurance competitions, no matter the sport.
Clare Gallagher: There’s no way I could run year round; training and racing become exhausting. By doing skimo in the winter, I give my legs a break from running, strengthen my butt, back, and arms, and get so cold I wish it were summer again. Oh, and it’s pretty fun. And the people are hilarious hardcore hooligans that give trail runners a run for their money in terms of the weirdness-factor. The lycra…
HOW IS SKIMO DIFFERENT THAN A TOUGH RUN?
Mike Foote: Skimo is more demanding and intense. Not only are the races much higher intensity and shorter in duration, the very nature of skimo lends itself to hard aerobic efforts – you might spend an hour climbing a slope and just five minutes skiing back down. If you love climbing, skimo is the sport for you.
Grant Guise: For me, the ideal run and the ideal ski adventure are very similar: in the backcountry, exploring, moving fast, and ideally with a summit.
Anton: The base aesthetic is the same – moving in a mountain landscape. Beyond that, they’re obviously very different. For skimo, expensive, technical equipment is required. Basic technique is required. To be competitive, a lot of specific technical skill is required (i.e., transitions, technical skinning, and skiing steep, variable terrain on skittery, lightweight gear).
Nikki: During transitions, the athlete quickly and completely changes the function of her equipment. Whether going from uphill skinning to downhill skiing, boot-packing to skiing, or descending to climbing, the athlete must be absolutely focused on the several required tasks in transition. I find any sport which makes ultrarunning seem easy to be of great value!
HOW HAS THE SPORT CHANGED?
Eric: the sport has really progressed in the US both in numbers and in level of performance. You no longer can buy your speed; you have to train in all aspects of the sport.
Stano: The gear was already light 10 years ago, and now it’s more accessible and durable so more people can pick up the sport. One new trend is lots of trail runners are getting into skimo; I think they have seen the light at the end of the tunnel
Nikki: The sport has grown in the decade I’ve been doing it, mirroring ultrarunning. The overall effect is positive (more people enjoying healthy activity, better equipment, easily accessed learning opportunities), but I feel some growing pains. The gear has improved so that one is at a disadvantage when not racing on relatively current and expensive gear. The growth of skimo catalyzed amazing improvements in gear function, but expect your bank account to be a bit lighter. Of course, simply enjoying ski mountaineering, or not being concerned with race results, can release an athlete of her perceived need for the most expensive gear.
WHAT ABOUT THE RACE SCENE?
Max: We have a lot of great races in the US now that provide challenging, authentic Skimo courses. My favorites include the Aspen Snowmass Power of Four, Taos, and the Powderkeg. Racing in Europe is still a must for any American racer at some point during their career. It’s a big eye opener regarding the level of racing and truly amazing courses. My favorites are the Tour du Rutor and the Pierra Menta.
Mike: Last year I made the US Ski Mountaineering Team and had the opportunity to race in Europe at the World Championships. The level of competition over in Euope is incredible and eye opening. Nations have developmental teams and take the sport quite seriously. There is such history and celebration of the sport over there, which is great to learn from.
Stano: I have been racing for over 15 years and have followed the sport for about 20, and attended three World Championships. But the most important thing to me is that it’s still one of the most pure sports out there. Sure there are rules and you need to be fit, but when you are racing up and down mountains on snow there is definitely some magic to it.
Grant: I was super keen to start a series of races here in New Zealand, and for a few years we had a small series of 4 races and then a couple of races a year, but it has died down now. I think skiing here is looked at as something that is social and not competitive.
Eric: I have been racing since 2005 when i jumped in a race in New Zealand while I was working down there. Then came back stateside and started racing the (Wasatch) Powderkeg and the Colorado races. Two years ago went to France and raced Pierra Menta – totally hooked!
Nikki: My first race was Bridger Bowl’s Skin to Win. I raced on hand-me-down skis, a pair I later handed off to a friend who nicknamed them “The Skis of Death” for their complete inability to turn. Prior to the race I watched available videos about the sport on YouTube: all two or three of them. I was still undefeated in trail ultra running and feeling a bit cocky: how tough could this be? It’s just a combination of two sports I’m pretty good at: running and skiing, right?
The gun went off at Bridger’s Le Mans start and I ran fast to my skis. Then I fumbled with my bindings while watching the entire pack start up the mountain. But I recovered from this and started passing skiers up the hill. Then I spent what felt like hours trying to get back into my bindings while out of breath and terribly embarrassed that everyone I had passed seemed to fly by me effortlessly. The race continued in this manner, with the exception of me catching fewer and fewer other athletes after each transition. I finished, exhausted, in last place by over half an hour. And strangely stoked to return.
Clare: I love skimo races because most of them are partner races. This is due to the remote nature of the sport and the need for a buddy in case of an avalanche or if other bad things were to happen. I began my skimo “career” partnering with my dad for a handful of COSMIC races. The 2016 Grand Traverse was our last race together. It’s a miracle we finished, let alone were still able to call each other family. The hurt and dynamics of these races are so complicated and make for the rawest, most tear-strewn, hypothermic, and concussed of experiences.
THANK YOU TO THE AUTHORS!!
Jason Borro– Salt Lake City, UT. Owner of the Skimo Company, the first retailer of skimo specific gear in North America.
Eric Bunce– Salt Lake City, UT. RD of the Wasatch Powderkeg, and a skier and skimo racer.
Stano Faban– Vancouver, BC. Publisher of Skintrack.com, a leading blog of all things backcountry skiing.
Clare Gallagher – Boulder, CO. Ultrarunner, ski mountaineer, winner of the 2016 Leadville Trail 100 and 2017 CCC race in France.
Mike Foote – Bozeman, MT. Ultrarunner, twice 2nd at Hardrock 100, 3rd at UTMB, and too many other big races to count.
Grant Guise – Waneka, New Zealand. Ultrarunner, ski mountaineer, 8th and 11th at Hardrock 100.
Nikki Kimball – Bozeman, MT. Longtime ultrarunner, skier, 3-time winner of WS100, 1st place UTMB, 1st place Marathon Des Sables, National Snowshoe Champion.
Anton Krupicka – Boulder, CO. Ultrarunner, ski mountaineer, climber, twice winner of Leadville Trail 100, 2nd place Western States 100 , Miwok 100km winner.
Max Taam – Aspen, CO. Dedicated ski mountaineer, winner and CR of 2017 Grand Traverse, Crested Butte, CO.
YOUR COMMENTS WELCOME! Ever tried Skimo? Are you going to?