Olympic ski mountaineering gears up for Italian debut in 2026

The International Olympic Committee will introduce several categories of competition for the new sport at the Games in Milano Cortina.

In 2026, for the first time, ski mountaineering will be an Olympic sport. At its July 20 session, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously approved the new sport. The International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) will govern its implementation.

When the Winter Games head to Italy, 48 athletes (24 women, 24 men) will compete in five new medal-winning events in Milano Cortina, where ski mountaineering is both popular and deeply rooted.

“I am sure that all of my colleagues and the entire ski mountaineering world are feeling an indescribable emotion right now,” said ISMF President Thomas Kähr, “and I can assure you that the ISMF will do everything possible to present a magnificent sport at the Olympic Winter Games in Milan Cortina 2026.

Here’s what to look for in the first iteration of Olympic “skimo”.

Ski mountaineer Alex Zagorski climbs the Avachinskiy volcano in an ISMF individual race; (photo / Alexander Piragis, Shutterstock)

Ski mountaineering basics and Olympic competition format

Ski mountaineering, or skimo, is adventurous and brutally physical in nature. Combining mountaineering and ski touring, it requires off-piste skiing, avalanche safety and sometimes climbing technique.

Olympic formats include the men’s and women’s individual and sprint categories, and a mixed relay. Each event seems to focus on the skiing aspects of the sport with an emphasis on speed.

But the basis of the sport is mountaineering; at its heart, it is a methodology for crossing mountain terrain.

At this point, it is difficult to say what role mountaineering will play in competition. Thus, some skimo supporters stress that too much emphasis on speed could destabilize the sport by widening the gap between amateurs and pros.

Prolific ski mountaineer and ultrarunner Kilian Jornet has expressed his own enthusiasm – and questions – on Facebook.

Balancing: role of ski mountaineering in European mountain culture in relation to international exposure

The IOC announcement gives enthusiasts like Jornet – at all levels of competence and / or notoriety – cause of both excitement and apprehension. But until we know more from the Committee, speculation about the effect of the 2026 Games on sport will have to suffice. However, it is clear that the IOC assessed the intrinsic role that skimo plays in Italian mountaineering when making its decision.

In a statement, the Committee acknowledged the popularity of the sport in Italy, as well as its historical and sporting roots in the Alpine region. He also noted that Italy is “one of the first nations in the world” in the skimo competition. If anything, to put it mildly: seven of the top 10 men and five of the top 10 women in ISMF World Rankings are Italian.

Milan Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics

As the Games in Milano Cortina approach in 2026, the world of ski mountaineering will be in turmoil.

“We are Olympic! We are writing an important page in the history of winter sports, ”said Kähr. “It has been a long and intense journey, but now the satisfaction is unthinkable and the Skimo community must be proud of this accomplishment.”

Mountain guide Michael Brackenhofer and Danielle Willhoeft rock climbing in British Columbia, Canada

Keep an eye out for ski mountaineering in the Olympic Games Milan-Cortina 2026.

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