…Probably many of you have noticed a lot of European ultrarunners are spending a lot of time on the skimo skis in the winter. Canada has an amazing potential for this sport, but it still seems to be very unknown. I would like to see this sport grow. I have been doing backcountry skiing over 20 years, but in last two years I have spent time focused on the racing aspect of the sport. I am still not kicking ass or anything, but I am trying my best. I can tell the winter skimo training is benefitting my summer ultraracing and making me stronger. Just like Ultrarunning around here, Skimo racing has an amazing community with interesting people. If you are looking for something fun and new in the wintertime, you will more likely grow into a stronger athlete, spending time in the winter on skimo skis.
Many of my friends have been asking me a lot of questions about skimo racing lately, so I sent some questions to my friend Kylee Toth Ohler, who is the current Canadian skimo champ.
I hope this write up will inspire you to try something new and step outside of your comfort zone.
▶️ first thing first what Skimo even means to you?
Kylee : Skimo is the short form for Ski Mountaineering. Our sport is called Ski Mountaineer racing or randonnee racing. It is an athletic sporting event in which you ascend and descend over a set course with the first to cross the finish line being the winner.
• how and when did you started with everything ?
K: I started Skimo 8 years ago after a good friend, Steve Sellars said he thought I would enjoy it. My first race was organized by Stano Faban 🇸🇰 in Fernie and it was one of the first times I was ever on Ski touring gear.
• I know you organize bunch events locally now days how did that started?
K: I organize the Vert180 race and co-organize the Calgary Skimo Club. My vision for both the event and the club is to see Ski Mountaineer racing in Canada grow as well as raise our performance level internationally. It started out of a love and enjoyment for the sport.
K: Yes😬 It was super heavy touring boots, Silveretta bindings, synthetic skins and fairly beefy skis. They were not ideal for Skimo but as a University student I was thankful I had gear to get me started.
• what’s considered nice skimo setup? What to pay attention when you shopping?
K: First thing to look for in a nice skimo setup is does it match your outfit!😉 Kidding! In general the lighter the better but make sure the skis are something you can descend on. Look for boots that have good flexion when you are ascending and fit properly no hot spots, tight spots etc. Look for short enough skis 150cm minimum for girls 160cm for men. Get the lightest setup you can afford but be realistic with your budget and what you want to use the setup for.
• when you come up with idea racing?
K: I came up with the idea of the Vert180 because I thought what would be the most punishing, mentally challenging event I could organize😅 No, seriously I like the Winsport venue being in a big city, Calgary and thought the terrain would be accessible for all abilities.
K: Consistancy! One of my favorite quotes that I’ve heard is,”a winter athlete is built in the summer.” Take a good rest between seasons but then put in the day in day out work. Also, don’t take racing and training to seriously its important to have a lot of fun!
• what usually people do wrong when they transition from backcountry skiing into skimo racing?
K: They have a mindset that light isn’t right. It is hard to convince people that they can still ski well on lighter skis with Dynafit bindings and not super beefy boots. People also tend to view backcountry skiing and skimo racing as the same thing and compare the two. Racing is an athletic event/sport while backcountry skiing is a recreational activity. Viewing them differently might help people wrap their minds around wearing spandex 👍😉.
K: They are actually very different. In a skimo race you usually run at anaerobic threshold for as long as you can and races run sub 3hrs an ultra running event requires a lot more pacing and staying in your aerobic zone. Both are really difficult but in very different ways. I was very happy to complete Iron legs and think mountain running is excellent cross training for skimo. I’m not sure how sport specific the distances in ultra running are to skimo racing but it’s hard to argue that it has good base and mileage building capabilities.
• I think skimo is absolutely amazing winter training for Ultra runners what you think about that ?
K: Yes I think that Skimo would be great for Ultra runners especially some of the Grande Course races in Europe which are usually much longer. Skimo would provide an ultra runner with easy low intensity mileage in their off season, while racing would give ultra athletes a chance to push their heart rates up. Skimo also requires a lot of leg strength and would help build that in runners. Plus, it could be good for a mental break and injury prevention cross training with some skiing.
K: For me the difference is the length. For Ultra you have to put in a lot of mileage for training. For skimo it is more diverse; mileage, intensity, intervals and strength.
• I noticed many ultra people started with skimo maybe after Kilian is bringing more attention to this sport? Why you think Canada is still kinda ” struggling ” even we have amazing conditions here and so amazing mountains?
K: I think a huge barrier to entry is the cost and availability of equipment as well as access to low risk training venues.
• would you consider skimo being expensive sport?
K: The initial start up investment is a bit steep but after that it is pretty inexpensive. Race entries are really affordable and training is free.
• do you see popularity of this sport growing since you started?
K: It hasn’t been a straightforward growth, we have had ebbs and flow of momentum but in general it is slowly and steadily growing. Definitely in our neighbor the United States it is growing quickly and significantly.
• what is your favorite spot to go on skis?
K: I have two kids so don’t get out backcountry as much as I did when I was younger. But, I’ve always loved the Field area it’s dark, gloomy and kind of strange but it also feels super wild, remote, intriguing and quiet which I enjoy.
• what’s your favorite race?
K: The Vert180 of course 😊. I actually really enjoy the more technical races with ridge runs and steeper descents, Castle Mountain puts on a great race as well as the Whitefish Whiteout in Montana.
K: So different!! Racing in Canada is grass roots, volunteer driven and not nearly as polished which actually has an appeal in itself. In Europe Skimo is a well established sport. It has professional athletes, teams, sponsor money and has been around for decades.
• thank you for your time! Wish you all the best in this season! And hopefully another ultras next year!?
Kylee : We will see 😬😉😊
So there you have it ! Now check the link below that’s the best way to jump into it…
East Canada 🇨🇦 and US🇺🇸 race schedule here: