An Introduction to Ski Mountaineering

Lung-busting SKIMO events are the place where endurance meets backcountry skiing!

Ski mountaineering (also known by its deceivingly innocent nickname, SKIMO), might be the toughest, most fun, and least-known winter endurance event on the continent. And with good reason. The sport that got its start in the mountains of Europe only made the jump across the pond in 2002 with the impromptu Life-Link race series. But from that small local start, the sport grew rapidly to see the formation of national federations in Canada and the U.S.A., with teams travelling to World Cups and World Championships, and regional multi-event race and training calendars anywhere there is skiing.

SKIMO is a timed race format where participants employ alpine touring skis to race over a mountainous course as they pass through a series of checkpoints. Racers can expect elevation gains upwards of 1500 metres at an event. Participants carry a minimal pack, with everything they’ll need for the race, and usually a shovel, snow probe, and avalanche transceiver. The kit can include additional gear for traversing fixed lines or boot-packing unskiable terrain, which might comprise a small, supervised percentage of the course. The typical individual race lasts about 3 hours and winners are determined by elapsed time, much like running or cycling events in the summer. Think XC mountain biking meets adventure racing.

Is SKIMO beginner-friendly? Completely. Your chance of winning will depend on your sport-specific skills of course (downhill skiing, then transitioning to skinning uphill) and your baseline level of fitness, but there are competition categories for everyone and usually good prizing across the field – Female and Male, Citizen or Elite, and age groups from Junior to Masters. If you’re accustomed to skiing into the backcountry on winter weekends and can enjoy a 10K run with friends, you’re probably ready to try the short course at a race. No one is ever left behind and the routes are supervised via checkpoints and cleared for avalanche risk by snow safety authorities so you can concentrate on your personal performance. Perhaps, if 20 minutes on your gym’s treadmill results in a near asthma-attack, you’ll first want to check your gear and capabilities by volunteering or spectating at an event– the races are usually held in and around downhill ski hills for easy access to services, making them easy to find, or combine with a recreational weekend.

Canada’s SKIMO event scene is still pretty niche and found mostly in our more mountainous regions in the west and through our winter loving Quebec athletes in the east. Six races are planned for the National Cup calendar 2015/16 season, including Sprints, Vertical, and Individual races for overall Canadian ranking, at Canada Olympic Park, Calgary in early December, Castle Mountain near Pincher Creek AB in January, Whitewater near Nelson, BC, in February, and Lake Louise, AB, in March, with a couple more on the verge of being announced. World Championships are only held every second year, but the Team will be chosen and training come October. Visit  for an updated list of upcoming events and newbie tips.

By: Staff with input from David Dornian



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