What is Skimo?

Ski mountaineering (abbreviated to skimo) racing is a human-powered endurance competition that involves climbing mountains on skis and/or by foot and in many race disciplines, passing through a series of transitions before descending on skis.

Skimo races are timed events that follow an established course through challenging winter alpine terrain. Individual mass start races are the most popular format in the United States, however the sport of skimo can consist of partnered Team events, Sprint circuit heats, team Relay circuit races and bottom-to-top Vertical races.

Skimo will test a participant’s fitness and endurance levels, the participant’s uphill travel and transition proficiency and the participant’s alpine skiing skills (and nerve) to get down the mountain and to the finish line.

Sanctioned skimo races in the United States abide by a series of rules, by discipline, as directed by the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF). The United States Ski Mountaineering Association (USA Skimo) is recognized by the ISMF as the national sport organization for the United States. The sport of skimo has been officially accepted for inclusion in the Milano Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics.

Skimo racing is a welcoming sport to all participants with recreational and competitive events held throughout the United States.

USA Skimo has enclosed the following guide to help you better understand the sport. At any time, please reach out to us for any questions about skimo.

Athlete Categories

Race/Pro/Elite/Open/Long Course – Featuring some of the fastest racers in the word, this race division will challenge even the most fit ski mountaineering athletes as they go head-to-head on the long course across one of the aforementioned race formats. To qualify for the points series and national team consideration, athletes must compete in this race category. – See the individual race regarding details and sanctioning qualifications.
Recreation/First Timers/Short Course – A great way to get into the sport. This race typically features less vertical gain/loss and distance and may not access all of the technical aspects of the long course. Ski/binding weight must be a minimum of 750 grams per ski/binding or 1,500 grams for the pair.
Heavy Metal Division – Included as a special division at select races, participants with traditional backcountry skis, boots and bindings rather than specialized skimo racing equipment. For example, a combined single ski/binding weight of 1,450 gram (51 ounces) is a typical weight cut-off.
USA Skimo encourages children to recreationally participate in skimo however please check with race directors and clinic organizers about specific age requirements and divisions.
While age categories can vary by race and the quality of registrants, USA Skimo-sanctioned races adhere to the following age divisions by male and female:

  • U14 – (Ages 14 and under. Birth year 2010 and after) Shortened race course.
  • U16 – (Ages 15-16. Birth year 2008-2009) Shortened race course.
  • U18 – (Ages 17-18. Birth year 2006-2007) Shortened race course.
  • U20 – (Ages 19-20. Birth year 2004-2005) Full distance race course.
  • Senior – (Ages 21-44. Birth year 1980-2003) Full distance race course.
  • Masters – (Ages 45-54. Birth year 1970-1979) Full distance race course.
  • Super Masters – (Ages 55+. Birth year 1969 or prior) Full distance race course.
  • Recreation – Reduced distance/vert category.

Types of Race Disciplines

No transitions and no downhill skiing, if you have the legs and the lungs it’s a simple race from the bottom of the mountain to the top. It is usually carried out on well packed snow with the whole race taking place with skins under the skis in a single, 1,300-2,300ft ascent.Learn More
Individual races are the most popular in the US. A course typically involves a mass start with numerous ascents and descents. Races usually last from an hour-and-a-half to two hours, with at least one ascent where athletes need to remove their skis and boot pack.
Teams races are the most traditional form of the sport, with all early races being based on team events. Teams are comprised of two or three athletes, of the same sex and same age category for USA Skimo/ISMF rankings. This is a spectacular event that takes the athletes to the mountain tops, and include at least 3 ascents and descents. Long distance races include even more.
Sprint races are heat-based mini individual races, combining the essential ski mountaineering features and techniques with an ascent on skins, part of the ascent on foot with skis on the rucksack and then a single descent from the top.

Every second matters to advance to the next round; completion of the course will take approximately 3 minutes for the fastest racers.

Relay races involve teams of three or four athletes, with each member of the team completing a short circuit one after the other. The relay is another fast event, each circuit lasts about 15 minutes and includes two ascents and descents.

Skimo Equipment & Gear

This equipment list is a general guideline and may vary by event, please refer to the specific race you are competing in for equipment requirements.

Race Category:
  • Skis – Minimum length: women = 150cm, men = 160cm. Minimum combined weight ski + binding: women = 700g, men = 750g (no split boards or snowshoes unless specified by race)
  • Bindings – Toe and heel piece must be same brand. Must have both lateral and forward release functions
  • Boots – Rubber sole must cover 100% of boot bottom. Minimum weight: women = 450g, men = 500g
  • Poles – Of maximum diameter 25mm, and with non-metallic baskets
  • Climbing Skins – At least 1 pair, must cover at least 50% of the surface area of the ski and 50% of the length of the ski
  • Helmet – Must meet skiing EN 1077, climbing UIAA 106 or climbing EN 12492. National Championships, must meet both a skiing and a climbing specifications
  • Beacon – Must transmit on 457 kHz, with three search antennas
  • Shovel – Must have separate blade and shaft with handle, i.e,. no snow claws. Minimum total length 50 cm
  • Probe – Must be a dedicated sectional probe, i.e., no probe poles. Minimum 240cm
  • Gloves – Must cover the entire hand up to the wrist – to be worn the duration of the race
  • Pack – Must have sufficient carrying capacity to hold all of the equipment required by the regulations, with two rear and/or lateral fastening straps for carrying skis
  • Hydration – bottle or bladder
  • Eye Protection – goggles, helmet shield or sunglasses
  • Upper Body Layer – windproof

Recreation Category:
  • Touring skis, telemark or split boards (no snowshoes unless specified by race)
  • Touring Bindings
  • Poles
  • Climbing Skins
  • Helmet
  • Gloves
  • Hydration – bottle or bladder
  • Eye Protection – goggles, helmet shield or sunglasses
  • Upper Body Layer – windproof
At just about any skimo race around the US you’ll see a wide variety of alpine touring, telemark and skimo racing equipment at the starting line, in fact at some races, you’ll see split boards and snowshoes. While it is important to read the race director’s requirement guides regarding equipment prior to registering, the point is that you don’t need spandex skin suits and specialized skimo equipment to get started.

Our recommendation is to either rent demo gear or start with the backcountry ski gear you currently own, and if available, enter the heavy metal or recreational division. As you get competitive with skimo, you’ll learn where you want to lighten your equipment, the preferred type and quality skins to use and how best to dress for your preferences.

When the time comes to investing in some specialized gear, we recommend speaking with a qualified skimo gear provider like Cripple Creek Backcountry, Skimo.co or your local backcountry ski shop about your preferences, expectations and budget. Our partner at SkinTrack.com has put together a brief overview regarding a gear guide to your first skimo race .

Skimo gear heads love to discuss performance vs. weight vs. budget. Prior to purchasing new or used equipment, we recommend speaking with a qualified skimo gear provider like Cripple Creek Backcountry, Skimo.co or your local backcountry ski shop. To get your blood pumping as your research equipment, our partner at SkinTrack.com has compiled a comparison of some of the lightest skimo skis, boots, bindings and packs available on the market.

Skintrack.com Skimo Gear Comparison

USA Skimo Members receive discounts at select retailers. If you have questions about ski mountaineering equipment, please contact Cripple Creek Backcountry and Skimo.co. If your questions pertain to required gear for a specific event, please contact the race director.

Articles About Getting Started In Skimo Racing

How To Improve

USA Skimo is assembling a skimo resource library to assist you in a variety of categories, including, at home, transition exercises. We encourage you to take a tour around our Skimo Resource Library. Please contact us to let us know what training resources you would like to see included in the library.
Skimo clinics are a great way to receive professional training in a group setting to sharpen your fundamentals and practice specialized techniques. USA Skimo, ski resorts, race directors, skimo clubs and coaches all tend to host skimo clinics and would love your attendance; when possible, USA Skimo adds Clinics to our list of events.
Professional coaching services are a wonderful way to receive personalized attention to achieve your goals. As a member of USA Skimo, you’ll receive discounted access to skimo coaching and training manuals. Please visit the USA Skimo Member Benefits page to view the available options.
Skimo Clubs are a great way to join others in your area to collectively improve and compete. USA Skimo has begun compiling a list of skimo clubs.
The goal of this program is to keep athletes interested in high performance skimo engaged, learning, building relationships and camaraderie, and continuing to progress as skimo racers.

The program structure has been developed by USA Skimo and will be run by athlete selected ‘Chairs’ who will coordinate and facilitate periodic meetings, presentations, and seminars to make the program what the members would like it to be. Example content: transition skills, race tactics, race rules & regulations, equipment reviews, nutrition, anti doping, etc. USA Skimo will assist and support the Chairs and be a resource as needed. Learn More.

Where To Train

Ski areas provide a fantastic opportunity to enhance your fitness levels while practicing your technique and form in a safe environment. Many ski resorts throughout the US offer uphill access on their terrain however access policies can vary by ski area. Please visit our Uphill Resort Guide for more information.
Backcountry touring is a wonderful way to escape the crowds and seek an untracked adventure. However, the backcountry is an uncontrolled environment and comes with risks. USA Skimo recommends completing a professional course prior to entering the backcountry. Please visit the Avalanche Education and Avalanche Center page for more information.
USA Skimo is assembling a skimo resource library to assist you in a variety of categories, including, at home, transition exercises. We encourage you to take a tour around our Skimo Resource Library. Please contact us to let us know what training resources you would like to see included in the library.

Ready To Race?

Find Local & National Races

A skimo race is an incredibly exciting and rewarding experience.

Recreational and competitive events are held throughout the United States. We hope you’ll visit our race and event schedule to find a skimo event of interest near you.

Skimo Race Calendar

Race Internationally

Ready to race against the best competition in the world?

USA Skimo provides resources and national team positions to support representation on the world’s stage. Additionally USA Skimo will be hosting the North American Championships and future World Cup events. Learn more about qualifying for the National Team.

International Race Schedule

Need More Inspiration?

Howard Head Sports Medicine presents, “Sisters of Skimo,” the journey of Sierra Anderson and her fellow female competitors in ski mountaineering racing, as they vie to qualify to compete at “the Olympics of Skimo,” the World Championships in Switzerland. Along the way, Sierra and her “sisters of skimo” will discover what it means when the competition lifestyle goes beyond just who stands on the podium, and becomes a journey about family and camaraderie in sport.

Have Questions? Please Contact USA Skimo