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UP IS THE NEW DOWN - Catie Friend, PlanetSKI
Monday May 8, 2017 - Email this article to a friend

What is ski mountaineering and maybe this little known winter sport is about to make it to the big time? PlanetSKI's skimo geek, Catie Friend, reports.

It's really quite simple: instead of pointing downhill, you stick some synthetic fur skins to your skis, point them up and go.

Call it what you will - ski mountaineering, ski touring, randonée or skinning - the sport been around since the days when wooden skis and sealskin were used.

Ski touringSki touring in its early days














Ski touringSki touring














It has become extremely popular in the last ten years, with enough equipment and shiny things to make any kit enthusiast weak at the knees.

Catie FriendYours truly (dog not included)




















First and foremost, it is the best way to get out of resort and see the mountains in their unspoilt, glorious majesty.

It is also a great way to discover hidden powder stashes and to keep fit.  

Val d'Anniviers, SwitzerlandAlpine wilderness
















Additionally, it allows for spectacular days out with friends and gives you bragging rights that you did it all without the aid of a helicopter, though a guide is a good idea for the uninitiated or the unsure.

That's the casual, fun end of the sport.

At the serious end, you will find some of the fittest professional athletes on the planet.

They are all tiny - defying gravity at speed is easier when you weigh very little - but their lung capacity is huge. 

They train like pros, they follow a World Cup circuit, have biannual World Championships and put in performances that have to be seen to be believed.

There are three main disciplines.

The individual race most closely resembles the sport's moniker.

It is a combination of skiing and mountaineering.

Routes are typically off-piste, can be technical, often require crampons for on-foot sections and one needs to be able to ski solidly, if not stylishly, to get off some fairly hairy summits.

A typical individual race for the senior men is around 18km long and takes in approximately 1600m of vertical ascent.  

It takes the pros just over an hour and a half to do this.

The vertical race is as it sounds.

You start at the bottom, you point uphill and you go as fast as you can until you finish at the top.

The battles that can ensue between the top athletes are incredibly exciting and mostly end with them all collapsing over the finish line, snot, spit and sweat dripping off them.

Renowned as a suffer-fest, this is around 30-40 minutes of maxed out effort.

Catie FriendDown but not out

















Finally the sprint race.

Also requiring up and down, the expected time taken by sprint racers to finish is approximately three and half minutes.

The killer here is that depending on how good you are, you may have to do this leg-and-lung-busting exercise several times - from qualification rounds through to semis, quarters and finals.

Catie FriendExhausted!
















These are the races on the World Cup circuit and at the European and World Championships (where they also add team versions).

Organised locally, mostly in Europe, these are governed by the ISMF (International Ski Mountaineering Federation).

There are also the ultra marathons of the skimo world many organised by La Grande Course.

One of their most famous races is the Patrouilles des Glaciers (PdG), which starts in Zermatt, ends in Verbier and is held every two years.

Based on the individual race concept, but done in teams of two or three people, these races are also open to amateurs.

For some, like me, they represent the challenge of a lifetime.

For the pros, they mean fun and the freedom to really show what they can do over longer distances with trusted teammates.

In 2016, ski mountaineering was officially recognised by the IOC.

There is a lot still to be done before it makes it to the Winter Olympics, but it is a huge boost for the sport.

Muveran finishHeading to the finish



















Season 2017-18 sees the next edition of the PdG and if you are in a ski resort you will undoubtedly see crazy people sweating uphill, wearing very little lycra, ski boots that look like tall slippers on skis that closely resemble matchsticks.

Remember what I said about weight making a difference?

If you are interested, there are skimo races every weekend all across the Alps.

There are entry-level distances, where just the basic required equipment is needed.

If you're like me, however, and you get hooked, don't expect to finish the season without at least one shiny-kit buying session!

If you fancy giving it a go in the UK, then contact Skimo Scotland.

The PlanetSKI editor James Cove is a fan of walking uphill - nothing like the above but he donned skins, if not lycra, in Zinal/Grimentz in Val d'Anniviers in Switzerland back in January with the mountain guide Nick Parks - see here for his day of touring - and was last seen walking uphill when he visited Andorra back in March.

Val d'Anniviers, SwitzerlandVal d'Anniviers, Switzerland
















Heading upAndorra, Pyrenees
















Catie has taken part in a number of Ski Mountaineering races including 2015 Intégrale du Rogneux, 2015 Patrouille des Aiguilles Rouge, 2016 Tartine's Race, 2016 Patrouille de la Maya (2nd place team, short course) and 2016 Trophée des Muverans.

She also commentates on the sport and other snowsport events and competitions: 

2017 ISMF World Cup Weekend, Val d'Aran, Spain

2017 ISMF World Cup weekend, Cambre d'Aze, France (French and English)

2017 ISMF World Cup weekend, Font Blanca, Andorra

2016 Verbier High 5 by Carlsberg, Verbier, Switzerland (French and English)

2015 Verbier High 5 by Carlsberg, Verbier, Switzerand

2015 ISMF World Championships, all races, Verbier, Switzerland

2015 British Army Ski Race, Verbier, Switzerland

2014 W Hotel/Morand Cocktail Competiton, Verbier, Switzerland

2014 Verbier High 5 by Carlsberg, Verbier, Switzerland

2014 ISMF World Cup Vertical Race, Verbier, Switzerland

See here for the main PlanetSKI news page with all the latest stories from the mountains.

For the Spirit of the Mountains - PlanetSKI: No1 for ski news

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