Two-time World Cup champion Nina Silitch hopes to expand ski mountaineering in Park City

Right now, Nina Silitch, head coach of the Park City ski mountaineering team, says the sport is still under the radar in the United States, but she’s hoping to change that.

When she moved from Chamonix, France to Park City almost three years ago, the two-time ski mountaineering World Cup champion set out to expand the sport in the United States.

“I created a team in Chamonix with Club De Sport, which is the umbrella (of France) of their sports programs,” said Silitch. “By the time we left, (the club) had grown to 80 members of all different nationalities. When I came back to the United States, it was really my vision to help the sport grow in the United States and take it to the next level, and although it is growing exponentially, it doesn’t still does not have the same roots (as in Europe). ”

This lack of presence in American culture means that most people still don’t know what ski mountaineering (called SkiMo for short) is. Silitch compares the sport to trail running, but on skis with elements of mountaineering. Runners put on skins and boots on a designated course on the mountainside (or several), sometimes cutting fixed lines to climb lanes or ridges. They then descend on skis.

While it looks like an avalanche waiting, Silitch says the races usually take place in areas that ski patrols can monitor and control. All the races of his club take place within the limits of the ski resorts.

Silitch was introduced to the sport while working as a teacher in Chamonix – a hotspot for mountain sports perched at the foot of Mont Blanc. In the early 2000s, her husband was a ski mountaineering guide. When she and her husband planned to ski the Haute Route (a recreational ski touring line from Chamonix to Zermatt, Switzerland) together, he recommended trying an alpine touring setup instead of his traditional telemark skis. to save energy.

She enjoyed the hike, and with her alpine setup, she started participating in only uphill SkiMo races at local ski resorts, which usually ended with a landmark like going down a ski lift.

“That’s how I started – you know, ringing cowbells, fondue at the top,” she said, describing the race scene. “There was a weekly series.

From there, her passion grew, but it wasn’t until 10 months after having her first child that she got into serious competition. His career as a SkiMo pilot takes off.

“It was the first top-down off-road race, and I started to really like it and it made me stop teaching for a little while, raise my kids and focus. on the World Cup for 5 years, ”she said.

In 2012, she won gold at the Ski Mountaineering World Cup. , then repeated the feat in 2013.

To this day, Silitch is still the only North American to have won two gold medals.

“I feel like it’s because I lived there and worked there,” she said.

To be good at the sport, said Silitch, you need a solid training foundation, a foundation in endurance sports, as well as downhill skiing skills to handle all types of terrain and familiarity with climbing. .

“Then like a triathlete you have to be really quick in your transitions,” she said.

But for the Park City ski mountaineering team, Silitch said, athletes don’t need to put it all on the table right away.

“What I’m looking for from my juniors is that they don’t have to be good, they just have to have the desire to try the sport and push themselves through,” she said.

Brighton and Solitude ski resorts alternate races every other Tuesday evening. Silitch is hoping to eventually add Utah Olympic Park to the rotation and Park City Mountain Resort in his attempt to grow the sport.

For those interested in SkiMo, Silitch is hosting a Wire Mountain hike on Saturday November 4th. Contact Silitch or RSVP for the hike by emailing him at [email protected]