Summit Skimo Club welcomes season with gear swap, intro session Nov. 16 | SummitDaily.com

Summit Skimo Club welcomes season with gear swap, intro session Nov. 16

Take it from Arthur Albin: Ski mountaineering doesn't have to be nearly as intense as it sounds.

"There are amazing athletes who do this sport, but you don't have to be elite," Albin said of ski mountaineering, aka skimo. "It can be intimidating at first — some guys run up the hill — but they are supportive of people who just want to try."

About three years ago, the recent transplant to Summit County heard about the Summit Skimo Club. The then-new group was founded by a small collection of high-level athletes for one reason: to introduce locals like Albin to an emerging sport.

Skimo has been popular in Europe for a decade or two, and it's just now starting to win converts in Colorado and across the U.S. The concept is simple enough: think of it as Nordic skiing with an emphasis on uphill travel and occasional bootpacking, including transitions from skinning to skiing and back again.

Albin had no idea what skimo looked like in practice, but he was willing to give it a try. Within a season, he was hooked.

"The first thing I took away was the realization that this is actually a sport," said Albin, a retiree from Michigan who turns 60 this winter and makes regular trips to backcountry huts in the winter. "A lot of locals think (with skimo), 'I can climb a mountain and enjoy the ski back down.' And that's great, but there are people out there pursuing this seriously at the next level, like they would for running or cycling or these other things. Like any other sport, it has its own culture and techniques and the rest."

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Welcome to skimo

Skimo is quietly gaining converts — events like the Breck Ascent Series, Arapahoe Basin Rando Challenge series and beloved Imperial Challenge have been around for years — and it's about to blow up in a big way. Shortly after the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, the International Olympic Committee officially recognized the sport's governing body, the International Ski Mountaineering Federation, which is the first major step to earning a spot at the Winter Olympics.

"There's talk and hope that in 2022 there will be the first ski mountaineering race at the Winter Olympics," said Ram Miklas, vice president for the Summit Skimo Club board of directors. "It's something that's been talked about for a long time, and what's cool about this is that the U.S. organization is starting a big push for youth programs."

Until then, Miklas and his fellow members of the Summit Skimo Club think it's time for fitness junkies, backcountry powder hounds and everyone in between to give the sport a try. They're even making it easy by kicking off the season with a gear swap and intro session at the Frisco Adventure Center Day Lodge today.

The swap begins at 6:30 p.m. with a brief "Skimo 101" presentation led by Miklas and other club members, including club president Jon Lowe, U.S. National Team member Teague Holmes and local coach Joe Howdyshell of Summit Endurance Academy.

"From time to time, those two (Holmes and Howdyshell) have been some of the best in the nation in skimo, and they're volunteering their time to this club," Albin said. "We have all of the elements of a strong skimo community here except for the following. The club just isn't that large right now."

Swap time

Skimo's biggest barrier is the same as any winter sport: cost. For Miklas and the club, that's where the ski swap comes in. It gives curious skimo converts a chance to check out the gear, get a demonstration and then buy directly from the previous owner. The swap includes personal gear, demo gear from local outfitters like Wilderness Sports and Mountain Sports Outlet, and the club's demo fleet. Individual sellers are welcome to bring anything — skimo, alpine touring and backcountry travel gear — to sell at the swap.

"Money is always a challenge with ski gear," Miklas said. "We just want to link up people who have the gear with people who are interested in getting started. It's about building that community of like-minded backcountry skiers and racers of all abilities."

For Albin, the community-building side of the club's mission has already worked. He's not sure if he'll get competitive with skimo racing, but he still enjoys the fitness perks of uphill travel. This year he hopes to participate in the introductory clinics hosted by the club in December. He might never beat Holmes or Howdyshell, but skimo has already helped him prepare better for backcountry hut trips: he felt more energetic and powerful on excursion last season — perfect for his March hut trip to Europe.

"This gave me a great appreciation of the wild," Albin said of skimo and backcountry travel. "In Colorado we're so blessed that you can spend the winter in the wilderness, with the hut system and the trail system and a community of people that enjoys being out there."

Summit Skimo Club gear swap

What: A kickoff party for the 2016-17 season and owner-led gear swap for ski mountaineering gear, including skis, boots, backpacks and more for alpine touring and uphill travel

When: Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 6:30 p.m.

Where: Frisco Adventure Center day lodge, 621 Recreation Way in Frisco

Cost: Free to attend

The ski swap is informal, with designated areas for individual gear owners to sell personal gear at their price. All proceeds go back to the gear owner. The evening begins with a brief intro to skimo and the Summit Skimo Club, followed by the swap. A cash bar is available. For more info about the club or swap, see summitskimo.com.

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2016-17 Summit Skimo calendar

Frisco skimo clinics

Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 6:30 p.m. — Frisco day lodge

Wednesday, Dec. 14, at 6:30 p.m. — Frisco day lodge

Summit Endurance Academy transition workshops

Monday, Nov. 21, at 6:30 p.m. — Breck Rec Center

Monday, Nov. 28, at 6:30 p.m. — Breck Rec Center

Monday, Dec. 5, at 6:30 p.m. — Breck Rec Center

Women’s clinics

Sunday, Dec. 4, at 7 a.m. — Arapahoe Basin, led by Christena Ward followed by breakfast at the A-frame

Sunday, Jan. 8, at 8 a.m. — Mount Ophir Race Course in Frisco, led by Christena Ward

Backcountry rallies

Sunday, Jan. 8, at 9 a.m. — Ophir Mountain backcountry

TBD — French Creek event

Frisco sprint race

Sunday, Feb. 12, — Location and time TBD