As a way to keep my winter fitness level high and my mind engaged with the natural beauty of the outdoors, I’ve recently discovered the fun and adventure of ski mountaineering. For anyone new to “skimo” let me explain.

According to Wikipedia, skimo is a skiing discipline that involves climbing mountains either on skis or carrying them, depending on the steepness of the ascent, and then descending on skis. Looking around at our surrounding landscape, Steamboat is the perfect destination to jump into the sport. Best of all, our mountain resort is a fantastic place to train.

My practice routine as of late has involved climbing my way to the Thunderhead building (top of the gondola) and then schussing my way down before the lifts officially open. This requires that I start my hike up the hill around 7am, watching the sun rise as I escalate the peak. My gear includes an A.T. (all-terrain) binding that releases at the heal, allowing me to walk comfortably while attached to my sticks. That and a pair of proper skins and I’m on my way. I begin by strapping on my skis at the bottom of Stampede and starting my journey from there.

My “go-to” route lately has been to skin up Vogue and Sitz to the top of the Christie Peak Express lift. From there is a straight shot up Heavenly Daze, which is a challenging climb but rewarding at the top. The terrain along this route is rolling, with a handful of steeper ascents that will test your balance and stamina. To get the most enjoyment from the experience I’d recommend having skis with a minimum 95mm waist width (wider is better on powder days) and some quality skins. Once you make your way to the top you can choose to navigate down a number of paths. Concentration and Ted’s Ridge are probably the least traveled runs to choose. But if you’re in the mood for some breezy GS turns, ripping down Heavenly Daze is a solid option as well.

If you go, make sure you follow the proper protocol. There are a few things you’ll need to get in order before you can just begin climbing your way up. First and foremost, make sure you stop into the Information Center located in the heart of Gondola Square. You’ll need to complete a liability waiver and talk with an ambassador about the rules and restrictions. Uphill skiing a privilege that’s not offered at many resorts so we’re thankful our mountain allows the sport with only a handful of restrictions. From there, you’ll be issued your official armband lined with bright orange and reflective material. Wear it with pride and get hiking!

When you elect to skimo in Steamboat, just know that you’ve now entered an elite class of skiers that “earn their turns” with pride. Though your heart rate might spike and your lungs feel like expanding out of your chest, skinning your way to the top will keep you fit and energized for the rest of the day. Enjoy!

Dave Wittlinger, Alpine skier

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