Ski mountaineering is a discipline of winter sports that involves climbing mountains either while wearing skis or carrying them (depending on the steepness of the slope to be climbed), and then descending on skis.
The United States Ski Mountaineering Association (USA Skimo) sanctions and governs competitive ski mountaineering racing in the USA and promotes and fosters recreational ski mountaineering through access, resources, education and community. USA Skimo endeavors to enable United States athletes to achieve competitive excellence in the sport of ski mountaineering.
The highest governing body, the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) has worked for years to get ski mountaineering racing included in the Winter Olympic Games. In 2017, the sport was accepted for inclusion in the 2020 Youth Olympic Games in Switzerland. In 2021, it was announced that the sport would be included in the 2026 Winter Olympics, to be held in Milan Cortina.
USA Skimo is currently working with the US Olympic & Paralympic Committee to be certified as the National Governing Body for the sport of ski mountaineering racing in the U.S. USA Skimo will be expanding the depth of its organization by creating an Olympic development program to properly train, select and take a team to the Winter Olympic Games.
Sports Destination Management: Do you anticipate new growth in the sport once people see it in the 2026 Winter Games?
Ram Mikulas: Absolutely – that’s the thing we have been excited about. The Olympics will expose the sport of uphill skiing to hundreds of thousands of people and we’re hoping to get many new people trying it. It’s a lifelong sport.
SDM: Do you think that will help grow the sport at the competitive level?
Mikulas: I think it’s going to be like bicycling or running; you have a lot of people who get into the sport recreationally, and then you have a subset of those who have the competitive mentality.
SDM: Are there any obstacles to the sport’s growth?
Mikulas: Right now, it’s a little challenging for many people to get into for two reasons: equipment and access. To do this, you need skis, poles and boots, and that can be expensive. The good news is that more and more manufacturers are making the equipment so that the cost comes down, and more people can get into the sport. Another challenge is access. It’s not easy to get into the sport if you live in a big city or if you’re not in a place where there’s a ski resort.
SDM: Is it hard to find places that allow uphill skiing?
Mikulas: Resorts are acknowledging this is an activity that people want to do. There are still some resorts that don’t have it, but overall, ski areas are finding that people want to get out and enjoy the mountain in different ways.
SDM: Obviously, you want to get youth involved because that will build the Olympic pipeline.
Mikulas: Something we’re seeing is that manufacturers are making youth equipment, and we’re seeing a lot of youth programs in places like Utah and Colorado. That’s great news for us.
SDM: Are there any clubs or teams in high schools or colleges?
Mikulas: Western Colorado University has a mountain sports program that includes skimo, and other universities are starting clubs. The town of Steamboat has a skimo club as well; these types of organizations are beginning to pop up, and we want to act as a resource for them. We’d like to help clubs get up and running quickly and we’d also like to provide the resources to help them network with one another.
SDM: How is the USA as a skimo power, compared to other countries?
Mikulas: It’s still a niche sport here. In Italy, by comparison, there is a tremendously big uphill community, and they have some of the top athletes and programs in the world. That’s why Italy was very interested in backing the opportunity for skimo to be in the Winter Games in Milan Cortina. Spain, Switzerland and France are also very strong. In the USA, we have some work to do to make those top finishes. That’s why we’re developing our high-performance programs.