What is ski mountaineering? And what should we be watching out for at Lausanne 2020?

Find out all about 'skimo' the sport that debuts at the Winter Youth Olympic Games in January.

By Ken Browne ·


Ski mountaineering is a winter sport where competitors race through snow-covered mountains using both ski skills and mountaineering abilities to get to the finishing line first.

In 'Skimo', as it's often called, ski runners have to ski uphill and downhill, hike through the snow carrying their equipment, climb icey rock faces with crampons, all the while orienteering the quickest route to the finishing line - and all that at the mercy of the elements.

Racers are required to navigate courses ascending up to nearly 2,000m in elevation, race passed checkpoints, and the first to cross the finish line wins.

This high-octane, high-altitude test of skill and sheer will is one of the most exciting and demanding of all winter sports and you will be able to watch it at the Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games.

Famous names have taken up this on-trend extreme sport, like trail runner Killian Jornet, endurance athlete Rob Krar, Skyrunning world champ Emelie Forsberg and runner-up Stevie Kremer.

Where you can watch it

Olympic Channel will stream 300 hours of action from the 13 days of competition in Lausanne with a dedicated Winter YOG channel available on olympicchannel.com, YouTube and connected devices such as Amazon Fire, Apple TV, Android TV and Roku.

There will be an action-packed daily live show featuring news, highlights, trending stories and interviews in a fun and interactive format streamed on Facebook, Twitter and olympicchannel.com, plus a daily Olympic Channel Podcast featuring insightful interviews with personalities from across the Olympic world.

Fans can also follow Olympic Channel's coverage on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube to learn more about the event and interact with some of the athletes involved, and keep right up to date with schedules, results and medals tables on olympicchannel.com.

Where it all began

Originating in Europe, the sport has soared in popularity in North America and across the world with races taking place in Switzerland, France, North America, South America, Russia, Scandinavia, China, Korea and Japan, among many other places.

There are currently 32 member associations of the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF), which is the sport's administrative body.

In July 2017, the IOC announced that Ski Mountaineering would join the Youth Olympics program, making it eight exciting sports awaiting us in Switzerland in January 2020

Different Disciplines: Individual-Sprint-Relay

The Winter YOG Lausanne 2020 will feature individual, sprint and relay events.

Individual races are similar to a ski-running marathon, with athletes setting off in a mass start over a course with at least three ascents and descents climbing close to 2,000m.

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 climb on foot.

The sprint races are much shorter and faster than individual races, with a course that athletes can complete in about three minutes, and the ascent and descent is much less, around 100m in total.

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.

2017 ISMF Ski Mountaineering World Cup in Val d'Aran, Spain

The last races of the 2017 World Cup season were held in Val d'Aran, Spain....

How fit? Skimo fit

The rise in popularity of the sport can partly be attributed to the incredible workout and calorie-torching nature of this type of cross-country skiing.

Simply put, it's a really healthy sport!

With skimo you get both the aerobic workout to get to the top, then the skiing reward and speed on your way down: fun, exercise and that competitive thrill.

Ihe sport has a diverse attraction: bikers, swimmers and runners use ski mountaineering, or ski touring, as a way to stay in shape in winter, hikers use it as an opportunity to get into the mountains in the snowy months, and mountaineers to travel to climbs on extreme terrain.

Whatever the reason people start, they find it hard to stop, and many become addicted to ski mountaineering.

Geared up

A specialist sport needs specialist equipment, and there are a few pieces of kit that are essential to compete in Ski Mountaineering events.

'Skinny skis'

Light skis that don’t weigh the athlete down are top of the list.

The skis are short and narrow compared to what most people use for downhill, and are only 65mm wide, making them light and manageable for when the racer has to strap them to the backpack and climb or run.


Easy-to-wear-boots are another must, comfortable enough for ski running or walking, they are also fitted with quick-snap fasteners that adapt immediately to ascending or descending.


Athletes also put detachable “skins” on their skis, they are called skins because people used to fit skis with animal skins in the past, but now it's a rubber membrane with fibres that allow the skier to glide forward but stop you sliding backwards.

In the middle of a race you will see racers put on and take off these skins as they climb up or ski down the course.

All the other stuff

Depending on the race, competitors may also need ice axes, harnesses, ropes and crampons.