Ski Mountaineering Tips for Newbies

For the fit trail runner, Nordic skier or alpine charger, the idea of Ski Mountaineering, also known as SkiMo Racing, may get the gears turning. For many mountain folks in the United States it’s a relatively new pursuit that combines many strenuous passions: uphill skiing, route finding, downhill skiing and even some mild rock climbing.

It is, however, a pretty technical sport. We spoke with Pete Swenson, Director of the US Ski Mountaineering Association, to get some tips to get you ready for your first SkiMo Race.

Dress light
“They tend to over dress,” Swenson said of first time racers. “You are going to wear what you’d wear on a similar day Nordic skiing but even less because you are going uphill and usually with very little wind chill.” Swenson said that most races have a required gear list that includes a buff, extra pair of gloves, wind-breaker and extra pair of wind pants – stuff that will likely spend most of the race in your pack and should be very light weight. Ideally, wear what you’d wear to go Nordic skiing or winter running.

Carry light
Remember, this is mostly an UPHILL race. “Don’t bring too much water. Water’s really heavy,” Swenson said. “A full bottle will get you through a two hour race. If it’s longer than that there are usually aid stations.”

Focus on bindings
The binding connection is the most important piece of the gear puzzle, Swenson said. Ideally, Tech binding such as those made by Dynafit and compatible boots will provide the range of motion and light weight that helps racers excel. “That’s a huge help,” Swenson said.

Skin to win
Good skins — mohair strips that attaches to the bottom of skis to provide climbing traction – are critical to racing. “You really want 100 percent mohair skins, which provide good glide,” Swenson said. “Rent a racing setup with either mixed or 100 percent mohair skin.”

Light but capable skis
Swenson said it is best to keep the entire ski/boot/binding combination to under about 18 pounds as heavy alpine touring gear will make climbing tough. “A lot of people in their first race are like doing a 10 k run in hiking boots. If you have a tech binding and not too much in the pack, and dress appropriately, you’ll have a good experience. As you get into it, get lighter, more specific gear.”

Know mandatory gear
Most races require a helmet (a bike helmet will do) beacon, shovel, probe and backpack to attach skis to. Make sure to check with the race director if you have any questions about required gear. Some recreation level races have lesser gear requirements.

Make use of these tips and get ready for some lung burning good times as you enter your first SkiMo Race!