MASSANUTTEN — Ski mountaineering is a sport that requires agility, endurance and smoothness on the slopes, and it is coming to a mountain near you.
Today at 5 p.m., Massanutten Resort is hosting a ski mountaineering, or skimo, night race for the first time in the Valley.
Event organizer Scott Wootten said skimo is not an activity seen in this area of the U.S., but the sport has grown a culture in the past few years, which he hopes to bring to Virginia’s slopes.
“Since there’s no history of skimo racing in the mid-Atlantic region, I haven’t had the opportunity to participate, but I hope to make that opportunity for folks,” Wootten said. “There are a lot of folks here who are interested in mountain biking and cross skiing. We have a lot of mountain bikers who cross-pollinate into Nordic skiing ... and this is a cool blend between alpine skiing and Nordic skiing.”
Skimo-ing requires athletes to stick a binding skin on the bottom of skis, similar to fish scale skis for cross country skiing, which grants them the ability to run uphill. Then, racers have to transition to bootpacking by affixing skis onto a backpack to then finish the ascent and ultimately glide to the bottom.
The beginner class has one ascent and one descent that totals 2.5 miles, and the expert class will complete three ascents, three descents and one bootpack across a 4.5-mile course. Racers will make their way up Southern Comfort to the base of lift six, ascend Para Dice, transition at the top and ski down Diamond Jim. Expert-level skiers will then climb up Diamond Jim, descend Para Dice, climb Para Dice and ski down Diamond Jim to the finish at Southern Comfort. Bootpacking will occur up the headwall of Diamond Jim after the first ascent, which is the steepest part of the mountain.
Eight racers have registered for the event, half of whom are signed up for the expert alpine tour.
Scottie Pendleton is a member of the Shenandoah Valley Bicycle Coalition who is registered for the expert alpine touring. Pendleton has lived and skimo-ed along the West Coast and Europe, but he has yet to compete in the sport. For 15 years, Pendleton has enjoyed strapping on skimo skins to climb mountains, but he said he is excited to join Massanutten’s first run of racing a sport that he describes as both relaxing and invigorating.
“For a long time there were almost no skimo races in the United States; it was very much a European thing with maybe an occasional race in Colorado. This is the first time there’s been a skimo race near me. I’ve wanted to try it for a long time and I’m excited I finally get to,” Pendleton said. “It’s a great workout, but also it’s really peaceful and relaxing to ski up a steep slope covered in snow and at the end you get an excellent, fast way to get back downhill.”
Wootten said many developed skimo races are quite a sight to see, so viewers are welcome to come cheer on racers as they climb and finish along Southern Comfort.
“Big crowds of guys wearing spandex, running uphill in onesies is kind of interesting,” Wootten said. “And whoever finishes first has that local glory of being the fastest person on the hill.”
People from outside the state, mostly up North, also shared interest in Massanutten bringing in skimo races.
Larry Camp from the Cumberland Valley in Pennsylvania has dabbled in ski mountaineering in Montana, Vermont and West Virginia. Camp makes his way to Virginia each year for bike racing, but he said the opportunity to skimo race in Massanutten caught his eye.
“I’ve come down for the Shenandoah Mountain 100 bike race for the past 21 years, but I don’t usually come down to ski. However, this skimo event did have me considering it,” Camp said. “The idea appeals to me and to others, many who shun the local downhill resort experiences. I like racing in general for outdoor sports … for the camaraderie and shared suffering. Skimo sounds like even more suffering with bursts of downhill joy. … I hope it gets a good turnout and turns into a series or an idea that spreads North.”
Registration is closed for this race, but Wootten hopes to bring more skimo races to Massanutten in the future, depending on turnout and interest. Racers will meet at the base camp deck at 5 p.m. and launch at 5:30 p.m. at the base of lift four.