Ski mountaineering is growing in popularity

MCCALL, Idaho (AP) – Ski touring is an integral part of Idaho’s winter recreation scene.

Ski mountaineering is a new sport trying to gain a foothold in the state. But essentially, it’s the same activity with different tools.

“It’s basically ski touring, just with more speed,” said Nick Francis, past president of the US Ski Mountaineering Association.

USSMA made its Idaho debut last Friday and Saturday at the Brundage Mountain Resort. The top performers in Friday’s vertical race (1,700 feet of climb over nearly 1.5 miles) and Saturday’s individual race (around 13 miles and 5,800 feet of vertical drop over five climbs and five descents) qualified to represent the United States at the world championships in Italy.

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Among the elite athletes, there were a handful of Idahoans eager to learn more about the sport.

“This is my first time, so I guess it was to get into ski mountaineering,” said Dessie Weigel, a 22-year-old student at Whitman College in Boise. “I had my heart rate in the red zone 5 minutes later, (I) felt like I was going to throw up about 8 minutes, then 10 minutes later I just tasted blood, and it got me.” pretty much sustained for 45 minutes. “

By hosting the Northwest Passage ski mountaineering race at Brundage, the USSMA hopes to find more adventurous athletes like Weigel. Ski mountaineering has grown from “a handful to several hundred” runners in Utah and Colorado over the past five years, Francis said. Most of the western states were represented in the Brundage races, and the Northeast also has a large pocket of runners.

“We’ve been trying to get into Idaho for a long time,” said Francis, who is based in Salt Lake City and also competes in the races. “There are a lot of runners in Utah, Montana and Wyoming, and a lot of us ski here, so it makes sense to have a race here. We’d love to see more runners from Idaho, and a big part of that is just running races here. It’s a lot easier to get involved in the sport when there is a local running scene.

McCall’s rookie runner Matt Ganz said, “This kind of ski culture has been around for as long as people have been skiing here.”

Ski mountaineering involves ascending and descending mountains, usually on groomed trails, with transitions in between to change equipment settings. For most uphill sections, riders tie skins to the bottom of their skis to provide better traction. They remove the skins for the downhill portions. For some steep sections, runners put their skis on their backs and hike in their boots.

The sport and its equipment developed from troop movements across the Alps during the World Wars, Francis said.

“We call them skins because historically they were animal skins,” he said. “It’s just a thick rubber membrane with fibers that are directional so that they slide forward and hook and hold as you step on and ride on it.”

The skis are short and narrow compared to what most people use for downhill or off-piste travel. The running minimums are 160 centimeters in length for men, 150 centimeters in length for women and 65 millimeters in width underfoot, so that’s what all elite runners use to keep weight down. Running with traditional touring skis would be like running with hiking boots, Francis said.

Brundage ski instructor Kori Richards typically skis 105 millimeters underfoot, which works best in powder. She raced on borrowed skinny skis on Saturday. She entered because several friends were visiting to compete, including Jackson’s Janelle Smiley, Wyo. – the winner of the women’s vertical and individual races.

“We went out the day before and did a few runs, and they’re hilarious,” Richards said of mountaineering skis. “They ski well on the snow groomers, but as soon as you get off-piste… you just have to forget all the technique of the ski instructor.

Richards, who moved to McCall from Jackson to participate in a master’s program at the University of Idaho, trained for the race by scouring the Brundage property before the ski lifts opened to the public.

Brundage has skiers in the parking lot every morning when there is enough snow to ski but not enough for the resort to open. Uphill skiers keep coming during the season, barking early in the morning before the lifts begin to operate.

“It seems like a really healthy sport,” said Richards. “You get the aerobic training, but then it’s gentle on your body going down where something like hiking isn’t. It’s funny. You exercise and then you get the reward of skiing.

McCall’s Ben Hipple portrays Brundage and Little Ski Hill several times a year.

“It’s really peaceful, and you can see a really beautiful sunrise,” he said. ” It’s more fun. You see a lot more landscapes. And the powder is better.

Weigel, who has competed in Nordic ski competitions and is a member of the Whitman Club cycling team, is ski touring in Oregon’s Wallowa Mountains. She developed an appreciation for the climb.

“When I first started ski touring I thought skinning was that miserable part you have to do to ski fun powder,” she said. “And the first time I did that, I was like ‘Wow, I love skinning.’ I smiled the whole time my first time off-piste skiing, and realized that I wanted to go back and do it again for both skinning and skiing.

John Gaston, a 29-year-old man from Aspen, Colo., Switched from downhill skiing to cross-country skiing about five years ago, just as the sport was starting to take off in Colorado. He was not a fan of cross-country skiing or endurance sports before that.

He was surprised at how quickly he got hooked. He won Friday’s vertical race in 23 minutes 32.92 seconds to win his third consecutive trip to the world championships.

“(Ski mountaineering) has been around in Europe for a long time, and the Americans are getting on with it,” he said. “It’s just a fun way to get out in the mountains in winter, another mode of transportation. And for those who might not be that patient – standing in elevator lines gets old after a while – it’s a pretty fun alternative.


The original story can be found on the Idaho Statesman website:


Information from: Idaho Statesman,