Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club adds ski mountaineering program
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Combining two great loves of the locals, the Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club is adding ski mountaineering to its list of programs.
Registration opens Monday, Aug. 12, for the sport that entails hiking up the mountain while wearing or carrying skis, and then, skiing down.
“It’s becoming popular, and for me, it fits with Steamboat’s outdoor community really well,” SSWSC freeskiing head coach Tony Lodico said. “It’s a very Steamboat-y kind of sport.”
Ski mountaineering, abbreviated skimo, combines backcountry skiing and freeskiing, and interested athletes can either improve their skills or compete. Training sessions will include ski touring, off-piste skiing, technical skill improvement and backcountry safety education. The program is available to skiers ages 15 to 21 and runs from October to April.
There’s more required of skiers interested in skimo, as they not only have to safely navigate down the mountain but also up. With that, interested skiers need a helmet and skis as well as a beacon, probe and shovel.
The SSWSC will hold an informational session on ski mountaineering on Sept. 18 at the Fireplace Room at Howelsen Hill Lodge.
The program will spend some time going over avalanche safety and rescue as well as route finding in the backcountry.
“Potentially, one of our athletes could have a little more knowledge when they’re out with their parents — they may have more knowledge than their parents,” Lodico said. “Any way we can pump more safety into the sport, that would be really good. A lot of our plan is to spend time at Howelsen and traditional cross-country trails. We’re not planning any extreme mountaineering.”
The program will conclude by participating in Cody’s Challenge at Steamboat Resort. This winter, the challenge hosted 190 racers in its 11th year. Proceeds from the event support the Cody St. John Memorial Scholarship Fund, which awards scholarships to professional ski patrollers for continuing medical education.
The Steamboat Resort has an uphill policy limiting access to certain trails at specific times. Those looking to go up the mountain on their own power need to obtain an arm band in exchange for a signed uphill access policy form.
“They have been incredible partners to the sports so far,” Charlie MacAurther said of the resort. “We have one of the best uphill policies in the state, in the country. … We’re incredibly fortunate with the policy the resort provides and the freedom we have to explore the mountain almost without limitations.”
MacArthur is part of a local skimo group, congregated on Facebook through the Steamboat Ski Ascent Series page.
The group has been around for about eight years and started by putting on last-minute local races. Over the years, the group has become more formal and organized, hosting four or five short, pre-planned races per year, primarily taking place in the evening.
Aside from the local competitions and Cody’s Challenge, Steamboat doesn’t offer much for competitive skimo athletes. Other places around Colorado are ahead of the curve. Summit Skimo is even helping competitors into the Youth Olympic Games, where skimo was just added as a sport.
“Steamboat is behind the ball a bit, but that’s not to say that the recreational side is in any way,” MacArthur said. “Almost anybody you encounter, locals here, have a set up now whether they go up twice a year or every day. Almost everybody’s tried it at some point and has some level of passion for it. It’s grown quite a bit in Steamboat.”
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