Skimo: the eco-friendly “family” sport with big ambitions

LAUSANNE, Jan 10 – Ski mountaineering may be among the highest altitude winter sports but the latest addition to the Olympic Movement has a very down-to-earth vibe.

Run largely by volunteers, it is contested by passionate athletes who consider each other friends and pay for their own equipment.

“We are like one big family” said 17-year-old competitor Maria Costa Diez (ESP). “We all know each other. We all help each other out. We are all taking part in this because we love being in the mountains.”

“People in skimo are really down to earth,” said Samantha Paisley (USA), also 17. “I have competed in downhill racing and a lot of kids in that are super competitive and mean. Skimo is a breath of fresh air. It’s such a great, tight-knit environment.”

Samantha Paisley USA ski mountaineering Lausanne 2020 OIS
Samantha Paisley (USA) | Ben Queenboroughfor OISphotos.com

With limited funding, skimo races are organised by volunteers and the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) is largely run by enthusiastic amateurs. The big question, as with all new YOG events, is whether the discipline can make the step up to the Olympic Games.

“We would obviously love to have ski mountaineering at Milan-Cortina 2026 [Olympic Winter Games] especially as that’s a great area for skimo,” said Hermann Gruber (GER), who manages the German team and is also part of the strategy group for the ISMF. “But maybe our federation needs to change or merge with the International Ski Federation to do that.

“The thing about skimo is that everyone is doing this sport out of passion. We aren’t a senior Olympic sport yet. The federation doesn’t have any money. People take time off work to help run things.”

Some nations, like Germany, offer financial support through their National Olympic Committees. Other competitors have small sponsorships. Most have to buy their own equipment and pay to get to races.

Even the United States athletes are self-funding. “We can basically provide some uniforms and that’s it. Our athletes have had to pay to get here,” their team coach Joe Howdyshell (USA) said.

“Ski mountaineering is very grass-roots. We have zero government funding. Not only is the sport hard but the lifestyle is hard too. So you’ve got to love skimo to do it.”

Each team differs: the Islamic Republic of Iran has recently been able to support their racer Ali Kalhor. “We didn’t have any funding for skimo until last year but now it’s a little bit better,” he said. “Before that, you had to buy everything yourself. But it was worth it.”

Gruber believes that skimo has one major advantage in its ambition to expand: it is extremely eco-friendly.

“It’s the greenest sport ever and for many of our athletes it is completely CO2-free,” he said. “They live in the mountains and in the morning they just strap on their skis and head out the front door for the hills.”

OIS nm/pp/sg

By Olympic Information Service

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