Where does Colorado rank in the Ski Mountaineering world?
Photo: Brashear

Where does Colorado rank in the Ski Mountaineering world?

Posted by: Ross Leonhart

The world of ski mountaineering converges on Vail, Colorado, for the 2022 Winter Mountain Games Preview Feb. 25-27. We caught up with some of the athletes and asked them where Colorado ranks in the world of Skimo. A common thread is their appreciation for resorts allowing uphill traffic.

Here’s what some of the top Skimo athletes in the world had to say about Colorado:

“I think Colorado could be and should be an epicenter,” said Kate Zander, a ski mountaineering champion who grew up in Australia but now lives in Frisco, Colorado, with her family. “Living in the central mountains, at the moment we have really willing and generous uphill policies. I really think that’s what it takes. I think resort skiing is pretty important for training as well as hosting races. Huge props to Vail and Vail Resorts, and locally here Copper and A-Basin, because they could easily say no. So to have that option – I have five ski resorts within 30 minutes of my house to train at any day of the week – really sets us apart from other places where it’s figuratively an uphill battle to gain access to uphill skiing.”

“There’s something to be said about the epic adventure, but sometimes you just can’t have that before work,” Zander continues. “So knowing that you can go for an hour and a half in a controlled environment knowing you’re going to show up to work on time, it’s really priceless.”

Wren Pyle is a student at University of Vermont and has skied at resorts across the nation, including trips to Vail.

“It’s been great to really see the resorts that are embracing it, especially in Colorado and the more Western states,” Pyle said. “I think opening up uphill in the resorts could help to mitigate [the dangers of backcountry skiing].

Pyle is hoping that trend continues.

“I’m hopeful that we’ll see a larger embrace of in-bounds uphill skiing over the next four years, especially as an athlete. I want to train and the resorts, especially early season, are the only place to train,” she said. “Having that access during the day to be able to get up there is a huge deal for us.”

Racers follow a skin track up the mountain. The sport of ski mountaineering is gaining popularity in Colorado thanks to lenient uphill travel policies at ski resorts in the state. (Photo by USA Skimo)

Rea Kolbl, who is a professional adventure racer new to the sport of Skimo, is based out of Denver but travels the world.

“In the United States in general, the courses tend to be a bit easier skiing,” Kolbl said. “It’s often on-piste – there’s a few races that take you off-piste, but you can find a lot of races where you just ski downhill on groomers which is a really good place to start. Whereas in Europe, it seems like it’s a lot more off-piste, a lot faster and just more competition because the sport is so much more popular.”

“One thing that I feel Colorado is really awesome at is the ski resorts let you ski a lot off-piste, so you can do chairlift skiing and then you don’t ski groomers on the way down,” Kolbl said. “In Europe, that seems to be a little harder to find because most of resort skiing is on groomers. So that’s one thing I think Colorado really has going for it is incredible opportunities to learn how to downhill ski not on a groomer.”

Jacob Dewey, who raced with Western Colorado University in Gunnison, has a personal tie to Colorado.

“Colorado’s just the best because I grew up here and I got to know the mountains in both summer and winter,” he said. “I think Colorado’s special because of that.”

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