The International Olympic Committee (IOC) confirmed today, July 20, that ski mountaineering will be added to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Cortina, Italy. InsideTheGames.biz reported the news from the main press center in Tokyo, where the IOC met ahead of the Summer Games. The news comes after the premiere of skimo at the 2020 Youth Winter Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, and was officially proposed by the IOC Executive Board in June. To celebrate the news, we’re reposting a story written by the hinterland Adam Howard from 2014, when the IOC granted provisional recognition to the International Ski Mountaineering Federation, a first step towards the inclusion of skimo as an Olympic event. —The publishers
At its April conclave in Belek, Turkey, the Executive Board of the International Olympic Committee granted provisional recognition to the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) for the possible inclusion of skimo as an Olympic event: from the Games of 2022, we couldn’t see just more Spandex and snot but incredibly stripped down AT bindings, backpacks that weigh less than a bra, flossing harnesses, and high mountain suffering.
Skimo (formerly known as rando-racing) is huge in Europe where there are hundreds of races per year (see a calendar of all races in the world, here). But in North America, skimo is still at the limits of what is already a niche sport. And really, should North American backcountry skiers not care?
Well, think about mountain biking in the late 1980s: it was seven years after the National Off-Road Bicycling Association (NORBA) hosted the first national championships in America that the International Cycling Union recognized the sport. and organized the first world championships. The bikes ? No rear OR front shocks. No clipless pedals. Clumsy thumb operated friction shifters. The racing bikes weighed 30 pounds. This was in 1990, the same year the IOC granted recognition to mountain bike races, which would eventually culminate in the 1996 Atlanta Games.
The co-designer of this Olympic course was Mountain Bike Hall of Fame member Dave Wiens, whose most recent claim to fame was to beat Lance Armstrong in the Colorado Leadville 100. Wiens now runs the Mountain Sports program at Western State Colorado University, which itself consists of freeskiing and mountain biking. running among other more traditional winter sports such as downhill and cross-country skiing. (Recently, several of his athletes have started skiing.)
Niche or not, when a sport makes it to the Olympics, things change. According to Wiens, there were explosive upgrades to equipment as it approached Atlanta. “The prospect of Olympic races really gave the technology a boost,” he says of the early years. Manufacturers saw early on the potential value of showcasing their products and athletes on the bigger stage, and how that presence could impact bottom lines. “It takes a few years of racing and then this technology spills over to everyone. Light and sustainable is the name of the game in XC mountain bike racing and endurance racing. It is also the name of the game in skimo. Runners can test the durability of products as they use their equipment the most and the hardest, and they also have the most knowledge about the sport.
“The runner needs the lightest of the lightest boots to ski well,” he continues. “The consumer needs a fairly light shoe that skis well. Most of the riders who run the Growler here (in Gunnison, Colorado), don’t run on an 18-pound World Cup racing bike because of the price, but they do run on a 21-pound bike. [Manufacturers] took that 18-pound tech and put it in a more affordable package.
Without going into the history of off-piste skiing, let’s first recognize that if light has always been important, it has been eclipsed until very recently in favor of a high-performance consumer product that appeals to traditional alpine skiers. .
Only a few years ago, the backcountry movement turned to bigger, more powerful resort-inspired boots, boots the general public would understand. Black Diamond and K2 both launched offerings squarely in the middle of the sidecountry market with their Factor and Pinnacle models, which matched well with Marker’s giant Duke binding. Still, this is the skimo-inspired Dynafit TLT series of boots with its own simple and easy fashion change that includes some of the world’s best-selling recreational AT boots. And Dynafit’s competitors are taking note.
I was at the Scarpa factory in Asolo, Italy, a few days after the IOC meeting in Turkey. The announcement prompted me to ask how much Scarpa’s involvement in skimo racing influences a boot we’ll see in the US, say, that would actually appeal to anyone outside of the Spandex set. It was soft ground: I was thinking in particular of the new F1 Evo which will be available this winter and in which I had skied for a day on the Vail Pass in January. The boot features what could be a game-changing walk / ski mechanism: rather than flipping the mode switch with your hand, the boot automatically switches to ski mode when you put on your Dynafit or other technical binding. And, intuitively, when you step outside, you return to walk mode. It has a Boa closure system on the instep that can be adjusted for the day with little to no futzing, which as I have found allows for a full day without bending over. to adjust the boot.
“The inspiration for one of the key features of the new F1 Evo comes straight from the racing world,” said Massimo Pellizzer, Scarpa’s winter product manager, of the walk / ski function. “Over the past few years our R&D team has attended many races and explored every action of the riders. When switching from ski mode to walk mode, and vice versa, all runners had to bend to close the rear buckle installed on the cuff and this knee bend several times [would] give cramps. [So, to] developing a product for racing always gives us inspiration for the recreational product.
And sport will continue to change thanks to this technology. As with mountain biking, the efficiency gains will change the goals. This machine has caused an explosion of attempts at speed on some of the most classic lines in the world. The other end of this spectrum can be seen at Tuckerman Ravine in New Hampshire. Connoisseurs walk the approach of several kilometers not in hiking boots (with their alpine shoes in their bindings on their bags) but in ski Dynafit, Scarpa and La Sportiva boots. Then they do half a dozen Headwall laps on their carbon skis.
For Bryan Wickenhauser, former member of the US national skimo team, the racing-inspired gear that is now selling so well simply reflects a growing trend in the sport: to go further, faster. Or, shorter and really faster. And when you can do quick vertical sessions, away from the crowds, you can do things like have a job and a family while experiencing the mountains and getting and staying fit.
“As skiers realize they want to push their game up a bit in the mountains, they realize that this top-of-the-line racing gear can actually take a good beating and ski pretty well up and down,” says Wickenhauser. “They can start to achieve those goals that are further and further away from the trailhead. It opens up the whole sport.