Individual Race

The individual race is the most popular race format in the United States. An individual race typically has e a minimum of three ascents and descents for men and women, and 2 for juniors. The longest ascent should not account for more than 50% of the total elevation gain of the event. Race times vary depending on the event, but top racers should complete the event in 1.5-2 hours, with a minimum elevation gain of 1,300 meters (4,500 feet). The individual race should also contain at least one section on-foot (skis on pack).

Team Race

Similar to the Individual race, but of greater length and must be completed with a partner. Total elevation gain should be at least 2,100 meters (7,000 feet), and finish times should be 3-3.5 hours for the top team.

In the team event, a team (composed of two racers) must at all times race together, and must finish together. During ascents, team members must not be separated by more than 30 seconds, and during descents no more than 10 seconds. Team members must leave all checkpoints and transitions together, and must finish within 5 seconds of each other. Formats may vary, see specific race information for event details.

Sprint Race

The sprint race is a short-format event consisting of a skin section, a booting section, and a clearly marked gate descent.

As the title implies, this is a very fast race, and is based on completing the total course in approximately 3 minutes for the fastest racers. The total ascent and descent is about 100m, with athletes starting and finishing in almost the same point. The first round is an individual qualification with athletes starting one after the other every 20 seconds, after the qualifying round athletes face each other in heats of 6.

Although the ascent is usually on well packed snow, the descent is supposed to be fun and can be off-piste, with gates and with small jumps.

Sprint races typically have qualifying phases, quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final round. Races have a maximum of six athletes per heat.

Relay Race

The relay takes place in a team of 3 or 4 competitors, but with members of the team carrying out the ‘circuit’ one after the other, with each athlete racing once. Again, this is quite a fast event, with each circuit lasting about 15 minutes, including 2 ascents and descents, and a short section with the skis on the rucksack.

The total height gain is about 150 to 180m.

Vertical Race

The vertical race is a single ascent completed entirely on skis using skins, no boot packing or downhill skiing is involved. Vertical gain should be 500-700 meters (1,600-2,300 feet) for men and women, and 400-500 meters (1,300-1,600 feet) for juniors.

It is a race to the top and should not exceed a height gain of more than 700m.

Race Division Categories

While categories and divisions will vary by event and location, many races in the United States will feature race entries for:

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.


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

Have questions about ski mountaineering equipment, please contact Cripple Creek Backcountry and or feel free to reach out to the USA Skimo directly.