Thursday, 16 August 2012

What is Skimo?

This post describes times, elevation gain, and gear for an elite racer. When I started racing I  used my regular ski touring gear and had a lot of fun. There are categories at North American races with less elevation gain if you are interested in participating your first race. Skimo is for everyone!

"Skimo" is short for ski mountaineering. The sport is also called randonee racing, although this name is more commonly used in Europe than North America. It is a type of ski racing where competitors race both up and down hills. It is very popular in Europe, and is steadily gaining popularity in North America.


Millet Touring Comp 20
Elite competitors use lightweight skimo-specific race gear. Race boots weigh around 680g, bindings 120g, and skis 720g - about 1.5 kg of gear carried per foot. Like ski touring, racers wear their skis to go both up and down the hill. Climbing skins are put on the bottom of the skis for traction while climbing up the course. They work similar to a lint brush: the fibres lay flat as you glide and stand up and dig into when you kick.

During a skimo race, competitors must be self sufficient and they are required to carry certain gear, including an avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, some extra clothing, food, and water.

Types of Skimo Races

Races in North America are most often run at a ski resort to keep costs down and the number of volunteers needed to a minimum. The standard format for North American races is the individual race. An individual race starts with a mass start where competitors ski downhill, run, or (most often) skin uphill. On sections of the course too steep or too technical to climb with skins, competitors remove their skis, attach the skis to their backpack, and walk uphill. This is called boot packing. There are multiple up and down sections during the race that total an elevation gain between 700-2000 meters. The first person over the line wins the race. The video below is an example of an individual race held at Kicking Horse Mountain Resort in Golden, BC.

Another race format that is gaining popularity, particularly in Europe, is the sprint race. It is great for spectators because of its short and high speed nature. This format also works well for TV, an important factor in helping to get skimo into the Olympics. Sprint races contain all the same elements as the individual race compressed into 3 minutes and 80 meters of elevation gain.

In the vertical race, athletes are timed from the bottom of the race course to the top. It is simply a hill climb, with no descending or boot packing involved. A vertical race will have around 500-1000 meters in elevation gain. Top athletes will complete the course in 25-35 minutes.

Other race formats include the team race and the relay race.

Where can I try skimo?

Racing in Canada starts in December with the Vert 180, and the season runs until March, ending with the Ken Jones Classic.  Check back this fall for a full race calendar. Come out to a race this winter and have some fun with your friends!

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