Skimo in Washington state is getting a dose of adrenaline this season, thanks to the efforts of ultra athletes Richard Kresser and Maudie Jordan. 2019 is the inaugural year of their Snowgoat SkiMo Series.
“Skimo” is shorthand for ski mountaineering, a race format that emphasizes climbing on skis. Usually held at ski areas, these races follow a course over challenging uphill and downhill terrain while passing through a series of checkpoints.
Skimo participants use specialized lightweight backcountry ski gear: skis, boots, bindings, and climbing “skins.” Skins are adhesive-backed pieces of fabric that attach to the bottoms of skis and provide grip that enables the skier to hike uphill while wearing the skis. When the skier reaches the top of a climb the skins are removed so the skier can slide downhill. In addition to the special gear, racers use techniques that enable them to efficiently move uphill, transition between uphill and downhill sections, and ski.
The sport has its roots in German military training in the 1920s and was originally called “military patrol.” Military patrol was included in the 1924 Winter Olympics, and has since evolved into biathlon. Although currently quite popular in Europe, this kind of event also has a history in Washington state that dates back to 1930. That year the Mountaineers inaugurated the Patrol Race, the first of its kind in North America. The Patrol Race was discontinued during World War II, and it faded from memory. It was resurrected on February 25, 2006, when Lowell Skoog led a group of fourteen across the route as a kind of experiment. The Patrol Race is once again an annual event that has been run by the Mountaineers since 2014.
More recently, Vertfest began in 2008 as a small randonee race with 50 participants at the Alpental ski area.
Official skimo events are currently sanctioned by the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) and here in the US by the United States Ski Mountaineering Association (USSMA).
Because of the climbing component of skimo races, they have a well-deserved reputation for being challenging. One author says “the events are are more like running an ultramarathon uphill in the dead of winter in your underwear.”
The 2019 Snowgoat Skimo Series includes 12-year old Vertfest, four-year old Loup Loup Rando Race, a new race at Crystal Mountain, and a race at Stevens Pass is in negotiation. The courses include challenging climbs with breathtaking descents. The venues are some of the most stunning ski locales in the Cascades.
Richard says skimo is a great winter cross-training alternative for trail runners and cyclists.
“Part of what I love about skimo is the great cross training opportunity it provides me during the winter. As a runner, climber, and biker, I naturally want a fun way to still get out into the mountains in the winter and stay in shape. Skimo is perfect as I am still motivated to get out, have fun, and train when I normally would be lazy and eat Christmas candy. When I return to my other passions in the spring, I find myself much more energized with the break from that sport.”
Given the disparity between men and women’s participation in all forms of skiing (women comprise between 27-40% of skiers depending on how you slice up the various sub-sports), I asked Maudie about skimo’s appeal to women. Her response: “Do women like skiing? Do women like mountaineering? Do women like pushing their limits? Then why not skimo? It’s not a question about gender, it’s all about adventure!”
Richard and Maudie intend to structure the new series so that it emphasizes community and fun. With the community focus, they expect the appeal to be similar to the festive atmosphere at trail runs, mountain bike, and cyclocross events.
2018-2019 Calendar (Dates subject to change)
Loup Loup Rando Race: February 2nd, 2019, Loup Loup Ski Area
Vertfest: February 17th, 2019, Alpental, Summit at Snoqualmie
Crystal Mountain Skimo Race: March 31st, 2019. Crystal Mountain Resort
Stevens Pass Skimo Race: TBD, 2019, Stevens Pass Ski Area
To stay in the loop and get connected with the skimo community, register for their newsletter and be one of the founding racers.