5 tips from professional Ski Mountaineers
Photo: Ram Mikulas

5 tips from professional Ski Mountaineers

Posted by: Ross Leonhart

Skimo to make Winter Olympics debut in 2026

Whether you’re skinning uphill for fun or hoping to make Team USA’s Skimo squad for the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy, here’s some tips from established athletes in the sport who will be competing at the Winter Mountain Games Preview in Vail Feb. 25-27.

First and foremost, people should know that it is FUN.

“In my opinion, it’s the best way to move around the mountains,” said Wren Pyle, a 20-year-old athlete out of Burlington, Vermont. “You’re climbing up quickly and efficiently, and then you can just rip around anywhere you want to go pretty much immediately. Running, even in the mountains if you want to go 3-4 miles in one direction, that could take 45 or 50 minutes, and on skis you could be down there in five minutes. So it’s just a really efficient way to move around the mountains quickly which makes it really fun to train.”

Secondly, the gear:

“I feel like for Skimo, gear is a big piece of it,” said Rea Kolbl, a 30-year-old athlete training full-time in the sport. “It’s really hard to go fast unless you’re on light gear. So if you’re trying to figure out if that’s a sport you’d like or not, I would recommend renting really good gear and then deciding if you like it or not.”

Kolbl said she spent two years racing on heavy gear, questioning her potential. However with gear sponsorships now, she’s been able to progress to the next level of competition.

“I think the gear is kind of prohibitive sometimes, or at least a big jump,” said Kate Zander, a 35-year-old athlete who grew up in Australia and now resides in Colorado with her family. “But if people just start with cross-country skiing or side-country off the ski resort that’s safe, then that’s all kind of the legs to this stool. … Just know they might as well put their feet in to see what it’s like and see if the sport is for them before they make the investment.”

While two of the three Skimo races at the Winter Mountain Games Preview are open to USA Skimo members only, the Skimo Vertical on Sunday, Feb. 27, is open to the public – a great opportunity to test out the sport.

“The ski companies have done a great job,” Pyle said of the advancement in technology and gear.

Cam Smith makes his way up during a skimo competition on a snowy day. The sport of ski mountaineering is set to make its Olympic debut in 2026.

Thirdly, consider competing in your hometown events.

“Cosmic Series has a lot of good entry level raising. The A-Basin Rise and Shine or the El Dora Night Hawks type stuff where it’s just super low key and no pressure is probably the best way to get into it,” said 22-year-old Jacob Dewey, of Western Colorado University in Gunnison.

In Eagle County, the Vail Recreation District offers winter Skimo races.

“I think resort skinning is a really great way to do it,” Pyle said. “I recommend to most people that starting off at the resorts is a pretty great way to get into it.”

Looking to take it up a notch? Our fourth tip gets into the nitty gritty of competition:

“Ski downhill, too. Skiing uphill is a big part of it, but you also have to come down,” Kolbl said. “It’s really hard to make up two minutes on the climb, and it’s so easy to lose them on the descent. So I would focus on all parts of the sport, not just pounding the climbing.”

Kolb said she’s noticed great gains by focusing on all aspects of Skimo racing.

“There’s a lot of things to be gained by doing transitions faster, doing things with skins and things like that,” she said.

For first-time competitors, Kolbl highly recommends bringing an extra pair of skings.

“They might fail, and if you don’t have skins that’s the end of the race for you,” she said.

Finally, do some research.

“It’s not as simple as just showing up without any gear,” Zander said about Skimo competitions.

All of the athletes are grateful for USA Skimo and the information the association is providing.

“Huge shoutout to anyone trying it,” Zander said. “If you have any questions, let us know. I think we’re all pretty approachable.”

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