Ski mountaineering to make debut at 2026 Olympic games in Italy
Ski mountaineering will make its way to the world’s biggest stage for the first time in 2026.
On Tuesday, July 20, the International Olympic Committee unanimously approved the addition of ski mountaineering to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
Ram Mikulas, president of the United States Ski Mountaineering Association based in Summit County, said the inclusion of the sport speaks loudly about its growth in popularity in recent years and could serve as a major catalyst to draw more individuals into the activity in the future.
“We’re just excited, and we’re thankful,” Mikulas said. “We’re thankful for everybody that’s put in a lot of work for this to become an Olympic sport, and we’re excited about the growth of the activity and the increased level of participation in the sport. It’s also another amazing avenue for athletes to pursue their Olympic dreams.”
There are several different race formats in ski mountaineering, including individual, vertical, teams, sprint and relay races. The 2026 games will feature five medal events: men’s sprint and individual, women’s sprint and individual, and one mixed-gender relay event. A total of 24 men and 24 women will be allowed to compete across all three disciplines.
The individual discipline is a mass-start race that follows an established trail, challenging skiers to race up and back down mountainous terrain while passing through a serious of checkpoints. The races typically last between 1 1/2 and two hours, according to the mountaineering association.
Sprint races, as their title suggests, take skiers through a fast-paced fixed course featuring an uphill ski section, a hiking section and a descent around race gates. These races typically take about three minutes to complete, according to the association. The relay race is based on the sprint format, with a team of three or four athletes taking turns completing the course.
The disciplines included in the 2026 Winter Olympics are the same as those recently included in the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland, an event Mikulas said undoubtedly helped to paint the sport in a new light.
“That was an amazing showcase to the world,” Mikulas said. “Really, it was the coming out of ski mountaineering to show the world as a sport how dynamic and exciting it is. The (International Olympic Committee) got to see it firsthand, along with Olympic organizing committees from around the world.”
Mikulas continued to say that ski mountaineering brings something entirely new to the ski events many are used to seeing at the Winter Olympics, and it could help to drive new athletes to the sport in the future.
“It’s not just a sprint race from a starting line to a finish,” Mikulas said. “You have to be an amazing endurance athlete. You have to be very detail oriented with transitions and taking care of your gear and equipment that’s going to carry you the distance. Then you have to be an amazing downhill skier on double black chutes and things like that. It’s super dynamic, and that’s what people really find interesting and unique about it. That’s what makes it exciting for people to participate in and to watch.”
While the United States is perhaps behind other European countries where ski mountaineering has been popular for some time, including the host country Italy, Mikulas said the Americans would have their eyes on the podium.
He said that his team has been working on some new high-performance training programs and trying to get more athletes into the Olympic pipeline, and they’re hoping to get American athletes competing more frequently in the World Cup circuit over the coming years to make sure they’re qualified and ready to take on the world’s best in 2026.
“The Italians have some of the top ski mountaineering athletes in the world and are always fighting for podium spots in the World Cup and World Championship races,” Mikulas said. “So Italy has a lot of excitement around bringing that sport, which is popular in their country, to the Olympic stage. … We are confident we’ll have a nice plan put together … in which we will be ready. We do believe we’ll be vying for podium spots.”
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The annual Steamboat Springs Winter Sports Club Ski & Sport Swap will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at the Howelsen Hill Lot.