Ski mountaineering to make Olympic winter debut at 2026 Games in Italy

Grace Staberg of Summit County rides in the quarterfinal of the ski mountaineering girls’ sprint at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games in January 2020 in Switzerland.
Photo from Olympic Information Services

FRISCO – Ski mountaineering will arrive on the world’s biggest stage for the first time in 2026.

On Tuesday, the International Olympic Committee unanimously approved the addition of ski mountaineering to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.

Ram Mikulas, president of the Summit County-based United States Ski Mountaineering Association, said the inclusion of the sport spoke volumes about its growth in popularity in recent years and could serve as a major catalyst to attract more people to the sport. activity in the future.

“We’re just excited and we’re thankful,” Mikulas said. “We are grateful to everyone who put a lot of work into making this an Olympic sport, and we are excited about the growth in activity and the increased level of participation in the sport. It is also another great way for athletes to pursue their Olympic dreams.

There are several different race formats in ski mountaineering, including individual, vertical, team, sprint and relay races. The 2026 Games will feature five medal-winning events: men’s sprint and individual, women’s sprint and individual, and a mixed relay event. A total of 24 men and 24 women will be allowed to compete in the three disciplines.

Individual discipline is a mass start race that follows an established track, challenging skiers to ascend and descend mountainous terrain while passing through a series of checkpoints. The races generally last between 1h30 and two hours, according to the mountaineering association.

Sprint races, as the title suggests, take skiers through a fixed, fast-paced course that includes an uphill ski section, a hiking section, and a downhill around the gates of the race. These runs typically take around three minutes, according to the association. The relay race is based on the sprint format, with a team of three or four athletes taking turns completing the course.

The disciplines included in the 2026 Winter Olympics are the same as those recently included in the 2020 Youth Winter Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, an event, according to Mikulas, undoubtedly helped paint sport in a new light.

“It was an incredible showcase for the world,” Mikulas said. “Really, it was the emergence of ski mountaineering that showed the world as a sport how dynamic and exciting it is. The (International Olympic Committee) got to see it firsthand, as well as the Olympic Organizing Committees around the world.

Mikulas went on to say that ski mountaineering brings something entirely new to the ski events that many are used to seeing at the Winter Olympics, and that it could help attract new athletes to the sport. in the future.

“It’s not just a sprint race from start line to finish,” said Mikulas. “You must be an incredible endurance athlete. You need to be very thorough with transitions and take care of your gear and gear that will allow you to go the distance. Then you have to be a great downhill skier on double black falls and things like that. It’s super dynamic, and that’s what people find really interesting and unique about it. This is what makes it exciting for people to participate and watch.

While the United States may be behind other European countries where ski mountaineering has been popular for some time, including host country Italy, Mikulas said Americans would have their eyes on the podium.

One athlete who will work hard to earn her place at the 2026 Games is Grace Staberg of Silverthorne. Staberg represented the United States in ski mountaineering at the Youth Winter Olympics last year, and although competing on the World Cup circuit remains her top priority at the moment, she said a possible trip to Italy to participate in the Olympics in a few years is an exciting experience. perspective to keep in mind.

“I think this is really exciting news,” Staberg said. “Obviously that means that personally I can add the Olympic dream to my list of goals. Even more than that, I’m really excited for what this means for our sport. And I think especially in the United States, it’s really going to help us grow and develop the sport, attract more people and make it more accessible.

Mikulas said her team are working on new high performance training programs and trying to attract more athletes to the Olympic pipeline, and that she hopes American athletes will compete more frequently on the Cup circuit. world over the next few years to make sure they are qualified and ready to take on the best in the world in 2026.

“The Italians are among the best ski mountaineering athletes in the world and always fight for the podiums in World Cup and World Championship races,” said Mikulas. “Italy is therefore very excited to bring this sport, which is popular in its country, to the Olympic stage. … We are convinced that we will have a beautiful plan drawn up… in which we will be ready. We think we are aiming for the podium.

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