One thing that has never really caught on in California is ski mountaineering races or rando races. Maybe because we prefer to climb uphill to ski untouched powder down rather than a groomed run. Maybe also due to fewer opportunities to skin ski resorts before they open which seems hugely popular in Colorado. Possibly we enjoy the views from the skin track. Or maybe once again we Sierra skiers prefer powder to groomers. Whatever the reason this sport is hugely popular in Europe and Colorado seems to have a burgeoning race series that travels around the state. Considering the active folks we all are and the amount of people interested in backcountry skiing one would think that adding in a touch of competition to that process would be wildly popular.
For those unfamiliar with rando racing, it’s essentially a cross country ski race that takes part on much much steeper terrain and the equipment is normally an ultra light alpine touring set up. Sometimes there will be categories for snowboards (split boards or snowshoes for the “up”) and also a telemark category. Racers skin uphill on a pre determined race course and as the terrain changes they remove their skins and then descend along the course until an uphill section is confronted then skin up again. Sometimes the course will have a section with a mandatory “boot pack” which the racers remove their skis and hike due to the terrain being too steep to skin.
In Europe the race courses can be within uncontrolled avalanche terrain and transceivers, shovel, probe, and helmets are mandatory equipment. In some cases a rope, harness, boot crampons, ice axe, and crevasse rescue kit are required. Here in the US the races are normally at a ski area in bounds however to keep it consistent participants are still required to wear transceivers and helmets, and carry a probe and shovel despite the area being in bounds.
Equipment used depends on the race rules. A traditional race will only have folks on alpine touring set ups. Skis will be 160cm (the shortest length allowed), skins are lightweight mohair for glide, bindings will normally be an ultralight Dynafit or similar tech style, boots will be the lightest stripped down AT boot you can find, and poles end up being cross country race poles for light weight and stiffness. So the on going theme here is lightweight. The governing bodies of the race scene do have limits however. Ski lengths have a minimum as mentioned and the rest of the gear needs to meet a minimum weight. Many racers modify their gear to lighten it up and end up taping weights to it to meet the minimums!
In the past Kirkwood has attempted to put on races within the United States Ski Mountaineering Association‘s race series however ended up being cancelled due to snow, either too much or too little. In the past Mammoth Mountain has had events on the east side.
Here’s a link to one I found recently that will be happening this winter, The Mammoth Chase (this link is just the Active.com page). As of now it seems the official web page isn’t up and running yet. Here it is in case it comes to fruition: East Side Ski Running.org and another one The Mammoth Chase.org. Looks to be a pretty cool event by the look of the course:
As mentioned most of these in the US are featured in-bounds at a ski resort for safety purposes however The Mammoth Chase looks to be entirely in the backcountry! Cool! Looks like it’s part of the USSMA’s series as well. If we hear any more of this we’ll keep you posted or keep tabs on the websites above.