The US Ski Mountaineering Association (USSMA website) recently announced a changing of the guard with Nick Francis and Chad Brackelsberg stepping down from their positions as President and Vice-President. Ram Mikulas of Summit County, Colorado and Matt Hickey from Colorado Springs (originally from Minnesota) will be taking over their roles effective immediately.
Nick and Chad will continue in a support role while the new duo finds their legs. We reached out to Mikulas Ram to get some more information on the new President and where he hopes to take the USSMA under his leadership.
Q: How long have you been ski touring and ski mountaineering racing?
I grew up recreational hiking, climbing, and kayaking. After a shoulder injury I begun mountain biking a lot, fell in love with it and got involved with racing. That let to road racing, trail running, and finally skimo. I started off skinning resorts with friends 6 years ago and jumped right into racing. I loved how dynamic ski mountaineering racing is and was quickly hooked!
Q: What do you do for work when you are not out skiing?
I worked in the corporate finance world in Denver, where I’m from, for many years. My wife and I had a weekend mountain getaway and played the weekend warrior game for a while, but made a change and moved up to Summit County 11 years ago. I work year round at Copper Mountain Resort as an eCommerce Manager. Awesome mountain, company, and people.
Q: What inspired you to go for the USSMA president position?
Whatever I’m involved in, I like to immerse myself and learn as much as possible and be involved below the surface. I quickly became passionate about the sport and wanted to find ways to introduce it to others and help it grow.
A few years back I worked with some other racers in Summit County, CO to help start the Summit Skimo Club. I’ve been acting as VP and have been leading a program we have to introduce new people to skimo and provide clinics for all abilities. I’ve had some great communication with Nick and others involved in the USSMA over the years. So, I suppose my passion for the sport and community has inspired me.
Q: What skills are you bringing that you believe will help you in leading the USSMA?
Organization, leadership, and communication which will be key moving forward.
Q: What are your primary goals to accomplish over the next few years?
The Vision of the USSMA is to expand the sport of Ski Mountaineering throughout the United States, with a current primary focus on developing the association into a fully functional national sports organization.
My goals will be to establish formal structure and process within the association and to become financially viable and appropriately resourced. With the recognition of the IOC and looking toward inclusion in future Olympics, I will strive for an enhanced focus on fundraising and developing athletes.
Q: Will the US develop a standing ‘National Team’ separate from its ‘World Championship Team’ similar to Canada and other countries?
This is a direction the USSMA would like to move toward as we focus on developing athletes. As for when and to what extent will need to be determined by available resources.
Q: The US has large participation numbers for skimo. Why do you think this is?
Awareness and access to uphill skiing is growing and resorts are beginning to embrace this new demographic. SIA (SnowSports Industries America) data reports strong growth in the backcountry / uphill sector. I think the bottom line is that the word is out and people are trying it, which leads to more people participating at a recreational and competitive levels.
Q: How can the USSMA encourage more US athletes to race on a world stage (World Cups and Grande Course events)?
As the USSMA builds resources and a National Team is developed more awareness, exposure, and support should be available to assist and encourage US athletes to race abroad.
Q: How does the PRO2022 program encourage athlete development?
Project 2022 is a concept to identify up and coming skimo athletes that the USSMA can help develop into future Olympians. PRO2022 Camps will be put on throughout the country in skimo hot spots to identify talent, coach the coaches, and build the foundation with the under 23 (U-23) age group.
Instruction is built around the ISMF Sprint Course (likely Olympic event) and designed to “shortcut” American skiers’ path to elite skimo technique. The first camp was held a week ago in Summit County, CO and was a big success with many U23 athletes and coaches. Plans are underway for setting up additional camps this season. More communication to come.
Q: Right now a focus is on ‘coaching the coaches’, what does this mean and how is it being accomplished?
The focus is to build a coaching and support structure to develop athletes. PRO2022 Camps in 2016/2017/2018 will include “coach the coaches” to train regional coaches on the US skimo coaching methodology.
Call for Comments & Suggestions
What questions would you pose to the new USSMA leadership? How do you think skimo racing could be progressed in North America?
More reading: Interview ISMF President
The above interview was second in our “presidents interview series” so if you would like to know more about direction of skimo on the world stage read Interview with ISMF President about Skimo & Olympics and Anti-doping Efforts with Armando Mariotta.
Sprint races are not really my forte when it comes to skimo racing. However, they are incredibly spectator friendly (good for the sport) and allow mortal athletes to closely watch the top guys.
After a quick spin, but not quick enough, around the sprint track at the recent Alpiniski World Cup in the qualifying round, I made a point to post up at the transition areas to watch the race leaders and their technique. I shot four videos from the men’s semi-final rounds and the final. Because the race also served as European Championships, there was a strong field in attendance.
There are three transitions in the race: 1) skinning to boot-pack where skis get attached to the backpack, 2) boot-pack to skinning, and 3) skinning to skiing or skins off for the descend. In a sprint race, every fraction of a second counts at each transition so regular practice is an absolute must.
Skinning to Boot-pack
In this semi-final round we see two Swiss athletes (black suits) using a “kneeling technique” to transition into the boot-pack. Notice their fluid movements when the bindings are released and stepped out of. The skis are put on the pack and then the poles grabbed before standing up.
The slow-motion section shows the faster Swiss athlete using the kneeling technique.
In the third clip of this video, we see athletes putting their skis on their packs without kneeling. This technique appears to be slightly faster but the margin of error makes it essentially the same.
Transition times (in seconds) are listed with each clip for the athletes followed and times are from the moment the poles hit the ground to the moment they come off the ground:
#8 – 7.4s
#24 – 7.7s
#1 – 6.9s
#7 – 7.0s
#9 – 7.4s
#67 – 8.1s
Boot-pack to Skinning
Here we see the athletes putting their skis on at the end of the boot-pack. It’s not a very technical movement but notice how they stay bent over the entire time. They drop the skis, open the bindings, step in to each, and THEN stand up with the poles.
Times for the first two were as follows:
#5 – 6.5s
#2 – 7.3s
Skins off: Skinning to Skiing
The mythical double-skin rip is pretty standard fare on the World Cup.
The first clip shows Italy’s Robert Antonioli into the transition first, he went on to become the new European Champion. He actually makes the transition look pretty mellow.
The carefully watch the last guy into the transition (Swiss – #4 – Yannick Eccour), he is the fastest of the group and looks very smooth. After that you will realize that Antonioli made few errors – he didn’t get his heels clicked in at once and took few pulls to get the skins off – but Eccour is flawless.
For the double-rip, watch #69 (Austrian). The key is to lock the heels first with a little hop, then bend forward to reach both skin tips and rip simultaneously. Some subtle differences to the Italian style! Also, notice the Austria athlete clipping his clip-in style ski poles simultaneously while already fully parked in the transition. It takes him more time as the others, using traditional ski poles loops, take their poles off while still moving forward. And final interesting points is that five of them are using the same ski poles from Leki.
Their times were as follows:
#2 – 10.7s (Antonioli)
#1 – 12.1s
#5 – 14.6s
#7 – 13.4s
#69 – 13.8s
#4 – 8.5s
Study up the videos and practice your technique! A few tens of a second in a sprint and even an individual race can make a big difference!
For more skimo racing technique tips see our Manual For Ski Mountaineering Racing e-book.
This past weekend was the first big racing weekend of the season with events happening all over North America and several National Championships in Europe.
On Thursday, part of the huge Outdoor Retailer event in Salt Lake City (stay tuned for new gear news tomorrow), there was a skimo demo event held at Solitude Resort, Utah. Racers completed four laps for a total ascent of just over 700m. Tom Goth pulled away early and held on for the win. Marshall Thompson and Pete Swenson rounded out the podium. The women’s event looks to have been won by Janelle Smiley with Jax Koudele on the podium (though we are waiting for result confirmation!).
Western US racers will reconvene next at Sunlight Resort for the Heathen Challenge.
CanadaIn Canada, the Western contingent met at Castle Mountain Resort in Alberta for a double header. Saturday was the first ever sprint event held in Canada. Despite a relatively small turnout, the event was fast paced and featured a fun course. Racers had three rounds of sprinting and the Men’s event was won by Eric Carter (SkinTrack.com) with Travis Brown and Matt Reid rounding out the podium. With just three women racing, the ladies had a great chance to practice sprinting against each other. In the finals, Mel Bernier won handily with Kylee Ohler putting on a good fight to keep Bernier honest, with Michell Roberts completing the podium.
Sunday’s individual event featured two big climbs covering 1500m of vertical ascent. The race began with a very technical skin track to the very top of the resort where it followed a ridge that became more and more exposed to blasting winds as the race continued. The first descent of an in-bounds 700m chute was in good shape and made for a fast descent. The second climb began on groomed runs before turning out of the resort boundary and up a steep cat skiing road that made skinning very difficult. However, we were rewarded with an excellent descent down untouched cat ski terrain in nice powder to the finish line.
Peter Knight took off hard from the gun but was quickly stripped of the lead by Nick Elson, clearly on a mission for redemption after falling in a semi-final heat and missing the chance for a top spot in the sprint. Elson took off up the technical skinning section and showed his skinning abilities, holding his lead over Eric Carter and Knight for the remainder of the race. The women mixed in with the men and spread out a bit, but kept the same finish order as the previous day – Bernier, Ohler, Roberts.
» 2016 Castle Mountain complete race results (PDF)
Western Canadian racers will be heading next weekend south of the border to race the Whitefish Whiteout before returning to the southern Canadian Rockies for the new Lizard Skinner event in Fernie, BC.
Meanwhile, at Mont Tremblant, the quickly growing Skimo East series contingent met for their first race of the season. Athletes had two hours to complete as many laps as possible of the course. Each loop featured 500m vertical gain and two booters with the leaders completing three. George Visser was challenged by newcomer Joel Desgreniers with Patrick Lussier rounding out the podium. Lyne Bessette the only female to complete three laps with Carmen Labbe and Isabelle Marcotte finishing 2nd and 3rd with two laps each. The next Skimo East event will be at Berkshire East on Jan 23.
While much of Europe has been in a drought for snow, several countries held their national championship events. The usual suspects took the majority of the top places though a surprise did come with Emelie Forsberg beating Latetia Roux in the French Champs at Maribel.
- Switzerland: Martin Anthamatten & Jennifer Flichter
- Austria: Christian Hoffman & ?
- France: William Bon Mardion & Laetitia Roux
- Italy: Michelle Boscacci & Roberta Pedranzini
Racers are now making their way towards Andorra for the first World Cup of the season:
Around this time every year I spend some time on YouTube searching for the best videos and short films from the world’s skimo races. Since the skimo is still somewhat of a niche sport usually the best videos are also from the biggest races but there are also some gems to be found from the smaller events.
Atmosphere of Pierra Menta 2014 (FRA)
This very well done video by Montura, one of Pierra Menta’s sponsors, shows the amazing athmosphere of the race through characters of the race or just random locals.
The 2014 Pierra Menta was the 29th edition of the race and the winners after 4 stages were:
- Italian men Matteo Eydallin & Damiano Lenzi,
- Laetitia Roux (FRA) and Maude Mathys (SWI) for women,
- with Canada’s Melanie Bernier claiming fourth with Valentine Fabre (FRA).
- Full results are here.
3 stages of Tour du Rutor 2014 (ITA)
Tour du Rutor is an Italian skimo stage race that is held every second year. Next edition is promised for April 1-3, 2016.
The course goes through beautiful terrain and the event usually starts one week after Pierra Menta. Because of its later place on the skimo calendar, starts are usually on foot due to less snow low down in the valleys.
The winners of the 2014 Tour du Rutor 3 day stage race were:
- again, the Italian men Matteo Eydallin & Damiano Lenzi,
- again, Laetitia Roux (FRA) and Maude Mathys (SWI) for women,
- while Canada’s Melanie Bernier finished fifth but partnered with Marion Maneglia (FRA).
- For full results go here.
Stage 1 – 10min:
Stage 2 – 6min:
Stage 3 – 5min:
Wasatch Powder Keg 2014 (USA)
Currently, the biggest skimo race in North America spreads over 3 days – sprint on Friday, individual race on Saturday, and teams on Sunday – was labeled as the North American Championships this year and so most of the fastest racers from US and Canada came to measure up.
For a full report and race results visit our coverage of the 2014 Powder Keg.
Sprint race – 3min:
Individual race – 3min:
Grand Traverse 2014 (USA)
Despite the need for significant course changes, due to high avalanche danger in Colorado in March, the 2014 edition of the Grand Traverse still delivered the challenge everyone was training for.
The 2014 Grand Traverse was won by:
- a men’s team featuring Brian Smith and Bryan Wickenhauser,
- and by Stevie Kremer and Jari Kirkland.
- Full results are here.
Sella Ronda Ski Marathon 2014 (ITA)
This is not a very technical race and thus superbly well attended – 1200 racers this year. It is held during the evening hours and navigates around the beautiful Gruppo di Sella massive in Italian Dolomites. Usually goes down late in March.
Winners for the 2014 edition of this 40+ km race were:
- Italian’s Pietro Lanfranchi paired with Tadei Pivk for men,
- and for women it was the most accomplished pair in skimo history, the Italians Roberta Pedrazini with Francesca Martinelli
- Full results here.
Ski Mountaineering World Cup Circuit 2014
Starting in 2013, the International Ski Mountaineering Federation really stepped up their game with producing high quality videos and galleries from each of the Wold Cup events.
Here is the video gallery archive page for even more skimo porn 😉
This weekend marked the second to last World Cup race of the season at Les Diablerets in Switzerland, dominated by Spaniard Kilian Jornet and Latetia Roux of France. The weekend started with an individual race covering 1850 vertical meters for the men and 1650m for the women. Kilian (ESP) broke away early in the race, chased by Damiano Lenzi (ITA) and William Bon Mardion (FRA). Unfortunately, while attempting to pass Bon Mardion, the Italian crashed with a tree and was unable to regain 2nd position. Roux (FRA) finished the women’s race solo with Maude Mathys (SUI) and Emily Forsberg (SWE) chasing minutes behind.
The final vertical event of the World Cup season took place on Sunday and again Jornet and Roux took the top of the podium. The race climbed 560 vertical meters and was completed in 22min 51sec by Jornet with Roux only requiring an additional 3min. Damiano Lenzi (as well as Roux) solidified his World Cup win in the vertical specialty with a 5th place finish.
This weekend’s results put Jornet in the leaders position of the overall World Cup but he could still be surpassed in the event of a poor race in the World Cup finals in Tromso, Norway. Jornet had this to say about his weekend:
TODAY’S RACE WAS HARD FOUGHT AND DIFFERENCES WERE MINIMAL. MY ASSESSMENT OF THE WEEKEND IS VERY GOOD AND I ALSO MANAGED TO PUT MYSELF IN TOP POSITION OF THE WORLD CUP RANKINGS. NONETHELESS, THE SCORE DIFFERENCE IS NOT VERY HIGH SO I’LL HAVE TO GIVE EVERYTHING OF MYSELF IN THE FINAL ROUND, WHICH WILL DECIDE THE CHAMPIONSHIP.
-Kilian Jornet to Atomic.com
Again this weekend, no North Americans competed in World Cup events. The final World Cup is scheduled for April in Tromso. Stay tuned!
In the West, all eyes were on the Audi Power of Four race in Aspen, Colorado. Racers in teams of two competed on a 26 mile course, covering 12,000 feet of elevation gain (3000m) in 5hrs 20min for the fastest pair. The race featured a 6:30am start time and 3 to 10 inches of fresh snow on course for the leaders to break through. High winds and low visibility made for difficult conditions to deal with but most of the teams persevered.
Locals John Gaston and Max Taam teamed up to take on the rest of the competitors and Gaston had the following to say about their preparations going into race day:
We knew the wet weather and new snow would definitely play a big factor, and that the race would be effectively neutralized until Highland Bowl. With that in mind, our main goal was to be the first team into Congo trail. A lot of time can be gained or lost there, and there’s absolutely nowhere to pass if someone’s holding you up in front. Then it was just a matter of keeping it pinned up Midnight and really focusing on not blowing up. And of course not breaking any equipment!
Gaston also had the following to say about the course itself:
The course is great. The Highland Bowl/Congo trail descents, as well as the finale down Ajax, are some of the best skiing of any race on the calendar, and really require strong ability. It’s a lot easier to make up two minutes on a descent than two minutes on a climb when they’re that long. The climbs are certainly not the most interesting out there, with a lot of groomers and cat tracks. This is something the Aspen SkiCo is working on every year though and is getter better at. It’s just logistically really tough to route 26 miles of skin tracks. Hopefully in the future the volunteer staff can grow and they’ll be able to work on this.
Gaston and Taam relied on their ability to work as a team, watching over one another’s fuelling and hydration throughout the race.
Scott Simmons and Marshall Thompson pulled into the finish ~13min after Gaston and Taam despite a binding issue, with Brian Smith and Bryan Wickenhauser just 5 min behind them.
» Results HERE
The East Coast contingent competed at Mt. Greylock. Jonathan Shefftz sent us this recap of the racing:
Mount Greylock, in the northwestern corner of Massachusetts, was the site of the first-ever 100-percent backcountry Eastern rando race featuring almost 6,200 feet of vertical for the full course, spread out over three ascents and challenging ski descents on March 2nd.
All three descents included the core of the historical Thunderbolt ski trail plus the Bucket Trail, but the first descent also included the aptly named “Chute” and a ski-friendly portion of the Appalachian Trail (i.e., coming off the summit). The final descent included a maze of trails back to the trailhead.
This was a separate event from the March 1 Thunderbolt race, a revival of the original 1930s “down mountain” race, although both were supported by the Thunderbolt Ski Runners club and Thunderbolt Ski Patrol. The March 1 race was essentially a time trial version (i.e., ascent and descent timed separately, as opposed to continuously) of the first lap of the March 2 rando race, so an excellent opportunity to warm up for the rando race and become familiar with the terrain. Plus although the focus for most participants is the descent, separate prizes are awarded for the fastest ascent and the King and Queen of the Mountain for fastest combined time.
For the March 1 “down mountain” race, your faithful correspondent was the defending King from 2011, and also the record holder since the 2012 and 2013 races were cancelled. However, I focused exclusively this year on serving as a member of the Thunderbolt Ski Patrol on race day, so Jerimy Arnold snatched the win.
For the March 2 rando race, Jerimy Arnold once again dominated, although Josh Flanagan surprisingly was fairly close behind. Surprisingly because Josh had competed the prior day in the Aspen Power of Four, then after logging 12,000 vertical in that race, drove to Denver, slept three or four hours on the plane, and drove two-and-a-half hours the next morning from Boston to Greylock just barely in time for the time. I filled out the podium for the Eastern Team Hagan.
Nina Silitch was, as always, the fastest woman, and also finished fifth overall despite missing the final turn in the aforementioned maze, resulting in a descent below the finish, and a final skin ascent.
» Results HERE: Results, Greylock 2014
The major upcoming race this weekend is the Wasatch Powder Keg at Brighton resort in Utah. One of the jewels on the USSMA calendar, the PowKeg features three days of racing, starting with a Friday night sprint race where racers complete a qualifying round and then the fastest racers continue on to head-to-head rounds. Saturday is a individual distance race followed by a technical teams race on Sunday where racers must compete with a partner and use a harness and equipment to cover technical terrain.
Race Director Chad Brackelsberg is predicting snow throughout this week, ending on Friday when a high pressure ridge should move through the region with the likelihood of sun throughout the day on Saturday and Sunday. It is still up for debate if the sprint race on Friday will be in heavy snowfall or clear weather. Brackelsberg provided the following links to obsess over:
I predict an extremely tough fight for the Saturday podium. I think it could be Tom G, Jason D, Reiner T, John G, Max T or anyone from several others. My top 3 in any order will be Reiner, Tom, and John, but I have no idea in what order.-Wasatch Powder Keg Race Director Chad Brackelsberg
This year I think both of us have been doing much more powder skiing than racing so the longer race might be better suited to us. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, the US guys are looking strong.
The altitude adds to the challenge but with most racing being below 12,000 feet I feel it’s still in a reasonable range from what I’m accustomed to. I live at 2000 feet but spend a lot of time skiing around 5000-9000 feet so from where I do most of my skiing it doesn’t feel like a huge adjustment. It seems some times ignorance is a bliss, maybe I will just eat a lot of brussel sprouts 😉-Reiner Thoni
I think it’s going to be a real battle either way, and weather/conditions/powder could play a big role. I see a big battle with a lot of players. Reiner and McNab, Tom, Jason, Marshall, Max. Everyone’s going real well right now.
I think the US have a good up of strong women. The ranking should be similar to the Jackson Hole Race earlier this year.
For the women, Nina Silitch is as always the favorite. Danielle Deguire is probably a bit faster skinning, although still relatively new to skiing, and of course unable to match Nina’s sprint-specialist transitions. Should be some interesting lead-changing among them, and with Nina fresh from her dozen years in Europe, some interesting French dialogue too!