Skimo, the sport of “uphill skiing,” is going to be part of the 2026 Olympics. Ski mountaineering can be best described as the performance-oriented version of backcountry touring. This emerging sport was founded in Europe and is a popular winter sport in France, Italy and Switzerland. Here in the United States, competition typically consists of three main disciplines: the individual, vert, and sprint.
Individual is the most well-known and diverse discipline. It consists of multiple accents, booters and descents before finishing with a well-deserved raffle and drink ticket. The individual is the longest discipline at roughly five to 12 miles and can take anywhere from one to four hours to complete.
Due to length, physical endurance and grit are much needed as racers move through wind-scoured slopes, freezing temperatures and deep powder.
Vert, or vertical as it stands for, consists of only the ascent. Racers take off at the sound of the gun and make their way up anywhere from 1,600 to 2,300 vertical feet in a single effort. The clock stops once the racer reaches the top. Usually, a vert race takes around 20 minutes, depending on the course and the athlete’s speed.
The final popular discipline in the U.S. is the sprint. The sprint takes no more than 5 minutes but has two ascents, a booter and a descent. The race begins by going through a series of diamond-shaped kick turns (switchbacks) before transitioning to put their skis on their pack. From there, they have a booter and begin skinning again. They will then transition and ski through a series of gates to the finish.
Typically, if the racer finishes in the top three of their wave, they qualify for the next heat. Due to its short duration, this race requires precise equipment management, bursts of speed, downhill ability and pacing.
The sprint race is also the easiest race to view as a spectator, as you can see the entire race course on one hillside.
Although not common in the U.S., the mixed relay is a popular discipline in Europe. It has the same setup as the sprint, but during the relay, male and female athletes work together to race multiple heats in a row.
During the 2026 Olympics, only the sprint and mixed relay will make a debut.
The World of Youth Skimo
Skimo has a close-knit community with a competitive atmosphere while still emphasizing fun. Here in Summit County, there are two major youth teams, Sliverfork and Park City. The Park City Skimo team consists of around 40 high school athletes with varying abilities. In the evenings, they train mainly at the Utah Olympic Park and Park City Mountain Resort.
The development team introduces and sets a baseline for equipment management, endurance and mental stamina. An athlete can then develop into the Race team, which is focused on performance and workouts.
All teams are helping to grow a youth base here in the U.S. for future Olympic athletes. One very possible future Olympic athlete is Griffin Briley. As a current member of the PC Skimo team, he has taken home medals from World Cup races all over Europe. Briley stated, “I like the skimo community because everybody is just there to share their passion for the mountains, it’s really inclusive, fun to be a part of, mostly everybody knows each other really well, and as it’s growing. I can tell people are really intrigued by it.”
A day out in the mountains with like-minded people will keep racers and recreationists alike wanting more. The disciplines of skimo, and the driven community behind it, are becoming an ever-growing part of the mountain communities and the 2026 Olympics.