Ski Mountaineering – the new Olympic Sport

Hans-Christer (H-C) Holmberg

Hans-Christer Holmberg is a Professor of Sports Science/Physiotherapy at Luleå Technical University, with affiliations to Karolinska Institutet and the University of British Columbia in Canada. H-C, which he’s often referred to as, is also the Head of R&D for the Swedish Olympic Committee. He’s published more than 200 scientific articles about both wide and narrow skis. H-C lives in Åre, Sweden and is a keen Ski Mountaineering (SkiMo) practitioner three to four times a week.

What is SkiMo?

Ski Mountaineering (SkiMo) is a rapidly growing competitive sport with a unique combination of physical endurance, spectacular scenery and exciting downhill skiing. The interest in SkiMo has increased considerably since the news that SkiMo will debut as an Olympic discipline in Milan-Cortina, 2026. I, in conjunction with some colleagues, recently published an article with the purpose to summarise the research that has been conducted on SkiMo to date. It’s called “Ski Mountaineering: Perspectives on a Novel Sport to Be Introduced at the 2026 Olympic Games” and can be found in the scientific journal “Frontiers in Sport and Active Living”. There is a link to the open-access version of the article below. Some of the content should be of interest also for those that enjoy ski touring without any competitive ambitions.

What stands out about SkiMo as a sport?

Elite SkiMo athletes are characterised partly by a high aerobic capacity (that is a high VO2 max threshold – a high max oxygen volume capacity expressed as ml/kg of body weight), and partly by a good sub-maximal work capacity (in other words, low energy expenditure during uphill travel). Since more than 80% of the competition time is typically taken up by uphill travel, body mass is also a factor for elite-level performance, both in terms of absolute fat weight and body mass fat percentage. In terms of equipment, you can find the key characteristics of SkiMo in the illustration below. Equipment weight, in conjunction with body weight, influences competitive performance. One kilogram of extra weight at the ankles has been estimated to correspond to a 2 to 3% increase in energy when going uphill. This, in conjunction with the stringent demands for stable and safe SkiMo-equipment, has accelerated the pace of development in terms of SkiMo gear.

Uphill performance has the biggest effect on results

The uphill phase in SkiMo involves both upper-, and lower-body musculature, and apart from the fact that the poles improve balance and coordination, other researchers have shown that they also contribute to lower energy consumption and perceived exertion. In the event Vertical Race, the vertical speed can be around 1400 metres per hour for the top athletes. This can be compared with around 400 metres per hour for guided, non-competitive ski touring. Vertical speed is related to both movement frequency (the main factor) and stride length. Stride length matters less in SkiMo than, for example, cross-country due to differences in the mechanical characteristics of the skis (geometry, stiffness, camber), the use of climbing skins (higher friction between ski and snow surface) and overall, a steeper slope angle. An active area of research right now within SkiMo is comparisons in terms of energy expenditure between walking straight, but steeper, or circumventing steeper bits. This relates to both tactics (route choices) and pacing (varying the intensity on different parts of the course). This kind of research is made easier by employing advanced GPS equipment.

Downhill affects the results to a lesser degree

The downhill phase, provided you remain upright, generally has a lesser effect on the result in SkiMo (as a lower percentage of the total competition time). Varying surfaces and conditions, with everything from snow and ice to terrain obstacles, demand sophisticated technical skills. Compared with Alpine skiing, SkiMo practitioners tend to use the deep tuck position to a lesser degree.

How do elite SkiMo athletes train?

Elite athletes in SkiMo tend to train between 700 to 900 hours per year, which corresponds to the volumes trained by the best athletes in other endurance disciplines. Endurance training is usually done at several intensities (1-3 sessions with a higher intensity per week), with a focus on uphill, and involving both legs and upper body. 45% of the annual training will be on snow (equalling around 300 000 vertical metres per year). The remaining endurance training is typically done as running, running with poles, various kinds of ski-walking or roller skis (ideally in the classic style), or to some degree, cycling (primarily in the Alpine nations). In general terms, SkiMo places lower demands on the upper body capacity, speed and strength compared with cross-country skiing. Upper body capacity is a small part of the total training volume, the contents of which tend to differ a bit between athletes.

Exciting future ahead

Development is pushed forward through increasingly sophisticated equipment, improved climbing skins for uphill travel, and technically advanced boots and bindings which allow both for effective uphill and demanding downhill. SkiMo, together with ski touring, are close to the original skiing ideal: to be able to travel on snow from one point to another in the wild, regardless of obstacles. The rising interest, and SkiMo’s inclusion in the Olympic programme 2026, will inevitably drive research and development forward, improve elite performance levels, enhance equipment and surface new analytic tools for training and competition. This will also benefit those that prefer ski touring without an overt competitive element.

Training tips

  • Two to three endurance sessions in hilly terrain with an elevated heart rate per week as running or roller skis with or without poles. Perform each session as 5×4 minutes intervals work to 3 minutes rest at 85 to 90% of your maximum heart rate
  • Two to five longer sessions per week at between 1.5 to 3 hours with poles in the shape of cross-country skiing, pole walking in hilly terrain or roller skis during the pre-season.
  • One to two strength sessions in the gym at 30 to 40 minutes per week, with two-three exercises for the whole body, and additional two-three exercises specifically for the core, and one specifically for the triceps.
  • Do a lot of skiing. If possible, train regularly on snow from November to May. A couple of weeks in the spring is ideal to develop capacity, improve technique and lay the foundations for the next season.
  • Practise downhill skiing in a variety of snow conditions and terrains.
  • Do a couple of technical sessions with frequent transitions between the uphill and downhill settings of your equipment. This can save time in a competition.


Important aspects of the equipment used in SkiMo competitions. Safety equipment and clothing designed to protect against cold conditions should be worn. Specific events may require extra equipment or clothing, depending on the aspects of the course or weather conditions. All equipment must be carried for the duration of the race and is liable for inspection at any time. (From the article “Ski Mountaineering: Perspectives on a Novel Sport to Be Introduced at the 2026 Olympic Games” in the scientific journal “Frontiers in Sport and Active Living”, 2021).

Link to article



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