What is ski mountaineering racing?

Ski mountaineering (or randonnée racing) is a winter sport that combines athletic skiing and mountaineering skills over medium distances, incorporating technical ascents and descents. Ski mountaineering races introduced a new dimension to this beautiful sport in Europe in the 1980’s. The concept is extremely simple – racing over steep alpine terrain using ski touring gear, gaining and losing elevation (up to 3000 metres worth) past a series of checkpoints set along ridges and peaks.

Some parts of the course require skinning up snow slopes, some involve scrambling with the skis on packs, and some slopes reward polished downhill technique. Some technical courses may require boot packing or traversing fixed lines. The entire itinerary needs to be completed carrying full gear from a mass start on the valley floor in typically less than 3 hours. The winner is the one who crosses the finish line first. Thus, results are determined by time.

These are athletic challenges, rather than tests of local knowledge – routes are marked and the techniques to employ are specified at all points on the courses. The sport enjoys a great popularity all over the world with a rapidly growing community in North America. Athletes and citizens that participate in such events are skiers, snowboarders, telemark-skiers, backcountry enthusiasts or simply the ones who seek a fun challenge.

Ski mountaineering competitors are often popular athletic heroes in western European nations. They are widely admired, and arrive on race day heavily promoted by outdoor equipment interests and their home country’s mountain federations. By virtue of our club’s membership in the Union International d’Associations d’Alpinism (UIAA), the Alpine Club of Canada is this sport’s national governing body for Canada.

The ISMC organizes ski mountaineering races around the world in a World Cup Circuit. Here in Canada, the SMCC organizes an annual competition calendar and tracks athlete’s performance over the season to determine a National Champion and choose a Canadian National Ski Mountaineering Team.

In the latter part of the 1990s, the International Ski Mountaineering Council was established to oversee the European and Youth competition calendars, organize an international World Cup series, and lobby for the sport’s inclusion in the Olympics.

The first official ISMC World Championships were held in Serre Chevalier, France, in January of 2002. On very short notice, the ACC organized (we canvassed regional backcountry ski pros for recommendations) a team of two men and registered Ptor Spriceneiks and Richard Haywood for the championship event. The two draftees served well, suffering selflessly as our impromptu national team. And, wonder of wonders, they didn’t finish last. Perhaps we DO have some national pool of talent for this kind of thing.

Unfortunately, decisions on sports to be included in the Olympic games must be made before a host city is announced. Although Ski Mountaineering Competition was denied a place in the Winter Olympics in 2006, the UIAA now has a strategy for approaching the candidate cities for the winter games in 2010 and the summer games in 2012.

Meanwhile, here at home, there is strong encouragement for Canada to make more than a short term, one-shot effort. The ISMC would like to see Canadians at all World Cup ski mountaineering events in seasons to come. The ISMC would also like to see competitions held in their format hosted in North America. We’d like to see that too.

But if such events are to happen, and Canada is to mount a consistent team, we have to build a proper athletic organization. So, if you are interested in coaching, competing, fundraising, organizing events, or just learning more about what’s happening with this wild sport, please get in touch with us.