Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club adds ski mountaineering program

Becky Kuhl climbs during the Cody’s Challenge 2017 at the Steamboat Resort.
Steamboat Pilot File

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS – Combining two great locals loves, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club adds ski mountaineering to its list of programs.

Registrations opened this week for the sport of climbing the mountain carrying or carrying skis and then rolling down.

“It’s getting popular and for me it really fits the Steamboat outdoor community,” said SSWSC Freestyle Ski Head Coach Tony Lodico. “It’s a very Steamboat-y sport.”

Ski mountaineering, short for skimo, combines ski touring and freestyle skiing, and interested athletes can either improve their skills or compete. Training sessions will include cross-country skiing, off-piste skiing, improving technical skills and off-piste safety education.

The program is offered to skiers aged 15 to 21 and runs from October to April.

Skiers interested in skimo are more demanding, because they not only have to descend the mountain safely, but also climb. With this, interested skiers need a helmet and skis as well as a beacon, probe and shovel.

The SSWSC will be holding a Ski Mountaineering Information Session on September 18 at the Fireplace Room at Howelsen Hill Lodge.

The program will devote time to avalanche safety and rescue as well as backcountry route finding.

“Potentially, one of our athletes might have a little more knowledge when he’s with his parents – he might have more knowledge than his parents,” Lodico said. “Either way, we can inject more security into the sport, that would be really good. A big part of our plan is to spend time in Howelsen and on the traditional cross-country ski trails. We don’t plan for extreme mountaineering.

The program will end with participation in Cody’s Challenge at the Steamboat Resort. Last winter, the challenge welcomed 190 runners for its 11th year. Proceeds from the event support the Cody St. John Memorial Scholarship Fund, which awards scholarships to professional ski patrollers for continuing medical education.

The Steamboat Resort has an uphill policy restricting access to certain trails at specific times. Those looking to climb the mountain on their own must obtain an armband in exchange for a signed Climb Access Policy Form.

“They have been incredible partners in sports so far,” Charlie MacAurther said of the station. “We have one of the best rising policies in the state, in the country. … We are incredibly lucky with the resort’s politics and the freedom we have to explore the mountain almost without limits.

MacArthur is part of a local skimo group, gathered on Facebook via the Steamboat Ski Ascent Series page.

The group has been around for about eight years and started out by running last minute local races. Over the years, the group has become more formal and organized, hosting four or five short, pre-planned races per year, mostly taking place in the evenings.

Other than local competitions and the Cody’s Challenge, Steamboat doesn’t offer much for competitive skimo athletes. Other places around Colorado are ahead of the curve. Summit Skimo even helps competitors at the Youth Olympic Games, where skimo has just been added as a sport.

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“Steamboat is a little late, but that doesn’t mean the recreational side is in any way,” MacArthur said. “Almost everyone you meet, the people here, are now settled, whether they ride twice a year or every day. Almost everyone has tried it at some point and has some level of passion for it. He grew up a lot in Steamboat.

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