Frank Bowman

If you haven’t heard of SkiMo or ski mountaineering, you will. Strap on your skins, put your ski boots in uphill mode and get ready to head up and up and up.

Ski Mountaineering is increasing in popularity in and around Breckenridge, Colo. Photo by Frank Bowman.

Ski Mountaineering is increasing in popularity in and around Breckenridge, Colo. Photo by Frank Bowman.

Whether you want an alternative way to ramp up your fitness or want to expand your knowledge of the backcountry, Breckenridge is quickly becoming the epicenter for the growing sport of ski mountaineering.

So, what exactly is SkiMo?

Ski mountaineering can be separated into two categories: fitness skinning, and backcountry skiing. Fitness skinning takes place at your local ski area and has a general focus on uphill efficiency, whereas backcountry skiing takes place in the solitude of the mountains and has a focus on downhill performance. Here’s how to get started.

Fitness Skinning

Fitness skinning has become a staple in the realm of ski mountaineering, and people of all skill levels and fitness levels can take part. Breckenridge Ski Area has been extremely accommodating in allowing uphill access over the past several years, helping this sport to grow and flourish. This makes it easy for beginners to learn, and for experts to test their lungs and fitness. Using the ski resort as your personal gym and training ground has a lot of benefits including becoming more comfortable with your gear, and improving your fitness level. If you’re the competitive type, sign up for one of the many uphill races in the Breck Ascent Series put on by the Breckenridge Ski Resort and Recreation Department. Before you head out to the slopes, be sure to contact your local ski area regarding uphill policies and rules before heading out.

The rewards of ski mountaineering in Breck range from the solitude of hiking to epic powder turns.

The rewards of ski mountaineering in Breck range from the solitude of hiking to epic powder turns.

Backcountry Skiing

For those of you who are looking for a little more adventure than what can be found at the ski resort, backcountry skiing might be the perfect thing for you. If you’ve dreamed of skiing deep – really deep – powder or skiing off the summit of a mountain high above Breckenridge with not a soul in sight, check out backcountry skiing. These are just some of the rewards that backcountry skiing has to offer.

Like fitness skinning, backcountry skiing still tests your fitness level going uphill, but offers greater rewards on the way back down. Backcountry skiing requires a higher skill level due to ever-changing snow conditions and dangers involved with skiing outside of the ski areas including avalanches, and lack of medical professionals. The best way to get out into the backcountry is to go out with a knowledgeable friend (and for you to take an avalanche course), or to hire a guide who will educate you every step of the way.

So, where do you go backcountry skiing in Breckenridge? Just look around. Every mountain you see, every valley you look up is an option. The possibilities are endless. If you’re interested in getting into the backcountry with a professional, contact CBST Adventures at 970-668-8900.

Don’t have gear? Specialty stores like Mountain Outfitters offer a variety of different gear for you to rent, or purchase to get you started.

Before you go, it’s important to consider a few things for your safety and the safety of others, especially when you’re heading into the backcountry. Here are a few tips:

Know Before You Go

  • Know where you’re going. There are plenty of resources out there from books and magazine articles to blog posts. Make sure you familiarize yourself with the area. Know the terrain well enough to navigate it safely, and to pinpoint your location in case of an emergency. Lastly, always tell someone where you are going, and what time you expect to be back. This small amount of information could be the saving grace in an emergency situation.
  • Educate yourself. Breckenridge has lots of opportunities for you to get involved in classes and learning seminars involving avalanche safety, and backcountry first aid. Take advantage of some of these offerings to educate yourself to make your first experience in the backcountry as safe and enjoyable as possible. Also be sure to take advantage of our free local resources such as the Colorado Avalanche Information Center who generously provide us with the information we need on a daily basis to travel safely in the backcountry.
  • Train. Having a good base fitness level plays an important role in your safety when it comes to backcountry skiing. Practice going up and down the ski resort, get familiar with all of your gear, and dial in your water and nutrition levels in a controlled environment before heading out into the backcountry. The more you know about yourself, and your gear, the safer you will be while traveling around in the mountains.
  • Be Prepared. Be ready for anything. Pack your bag as if you were spending the night out in the middle of the winter. Make sure you have plenty of extra layers, gloves, hats, buffs, and an emergency medical kit in case anything were to happen while you are in the backcountry. Pack plenty of food and water, and don’t forget your headlamp. It may seem like you are bringing way too much, but that little bit of extra weight could end up saving you, or someone else’s life in case of an emergency. Be safe and pack smart.

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