Ski Mountaineering (SkiMo) is a fringe sport that’s becoming increasingly less fringe, especially in Europe, and was announced as a new sport for the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. But it’s not just for intense skiers, it’s also growing in popularity among endurance athletes looking for new ways to cross-train in the winter.
Instead of spending hours indoors on the treadmill or trainer, SkiMo offers a low impact all-around workout in a beautiful setting. "The winter and spring time is the perfect time to take your mind and body slightly off the swim/bike/run routine, working on other very important aspects of physical & mental health that are still very much conducive to good triathlon performance," said Davide Giardini, a former pro triathlete and manager of Boulder SkiMo Club.
The sport itself comes with many monikers. Uphilling (or resort uphilling) refers to skinning up runs at a ski resort and skiing back down. Ski touring is when you head to the backcountry to more varied terrain with more ups and downs and even flat sections. Some refer to the sport as a whole as skinning, whether you are in the backcountry or at a resort. As a racer, Giardini refers to the sport as Skialp. But all version cover some of the same basic ground that we’ll cover here: going both up and down mountains on skis.
Why is SkiMo a great choice for triathletes?
After a full season of pounding the pavement while running, SkiMo offers a low impact workout that not only strengthens muscles, but is especially great for the cardiovascular system. Athletes often compare a few hours of SkiMo to a hard training ride or run. "Skialp is full-body, weight-bearing, and against gravity--all of which build incredible muscle strength and bone density, which you can only dream of with traditional triathlon training,” Giardini said.
For a former pro triathlete, who previously loved and grew up skiing in the Dolomites in Italy, SkiMo was a no brainer for Giardini. What attracted him after he retired from triathlon? "The love for endurance sports I had developed now later in life, the need to get some turns in and a workout in a time efficient way due to other life commitments," he said.
Typically done at higher altitudes, the uphill provides a full body workout that helps builds red blood cells along with lung capacity, along with core strength--all things that will pay off later.
“The optimal uphill forward movement, which activates the core unlike anything else I've done, helps tremendously in all three sports of triathlon," Giardini added. The uphill work also targets some of the same traps and lat muscles that swimming does, and the concentric muscle contractions mimic cycling. "Skialp on the up is my secret swim weapon," revealed Giardini--though he also swears by it for improving cycling performance, especially climbing.
And then the downhills help the body to practice dealing with the onset of lactic acid. It is also great strength training for the legs. "Downhill skiing is often the most overlooked benefit, yet I believe one of the most important," Giardini said. "Not only does downhill skiing involves mostly eccentric muscle contraction (muscle lengthens as it contracts), which is the same contraction that happens when your foot hits the ground when running, but working a whole lot of little muscle stabilizers that don't get used when running. This will help you remain injury free in season. It also spikes the heart rate anaerobically."
That’s just the benefits from training. If you get into racing--where athletes use skins to climb uphill on skis, then have to transition quickly to downhill, and sometimes back and forth--then the fast, smooth, efficient transition practice will also come in handy.
How to get started Ski Mountaineering
The best place to get started with SkiMo is to head to a ski resort that allows uphill traffic. There are many benefits to starting at a resort rather than the backcountry--especially if you’ve never done this before. Conditions are more controlled with groomed runs that are both nice for the uphill and downhill. Avalanche mitigation also means that conditions will be safer for when you are just getting started.
Uphill traffic may be restricted to before the lifts open or after the lifts shutdown for the day, depending on the location. This is something resorts started enforcing a few years ago when there were safety concerns with uphill and downhill traffic colliding, especially on the most popular runs. Many resorts have specific runs that are open to uphill traffic, and you may also need a ski pass or lift ticket. Check this page from USA SkiMo for the uphill policy at your resort.
SkiMo: What you need to get started
Triathletes will love the gear needed for SkiMo, as it is lightweight and fast much like triathlon equipment. Just as you may want to go as lightweight as possible for a full day in the saddle, you want to go lightweight for a session of going up and down the mountain. Begin by keeping it simple with a lightweight ski touring set-up and the additional equipment listed below.
Thankfully, there is no need to go out and buy all the gear before you decide if SkiMo fits into your winter training. Search for ski rental shops near the resorts that support uphill traffic, and you can test out the right skis for your ability and the conditions.
When renting your touring set-up, you will want to be sure to get the proper bindings that support going uphill and downhill. Alpine touring (AT) bindings allow your heel to move freely when you’re hiking uphill, but lockdown for descending. Alpine touring boots will be lightweight and flexible. Many compare them to wearing hiking boots.
Additional equipment you will want to make sure you get are poles and skins. Poles should be adjustable to make sure you can shorten them for the descent. The main objective of skins is to give you traction as you climb up the mountain--hence the term “skinning.” Skins need to be wide enough to cover the skis while long enough to give you traction across the full ski. If you’ve never tried it before, be sure to practice or ask for help being shown how skins fit onto your rented touring skis.
Many athletes begin by wearing cold weather bike gear: thermal base layer, pants, and a jacket. With the sweat building uphill and the cruise-y downhill, you will want to make sure to regulate your body temperature. Winter cycling gloves will also give you the dexterity you need to hold poles. A neck gaiter will also offer sun and wind protection.
For safety, you’ll want a lightweight helmet. Many beginners use their bike helmet for those first sessions, but you can also use a ski helmet. And sunglasses or ski goggles are recommended to help in sunny and snowy conditions.
Because this is a combo of aerobic work uphill and downhill skiing, you’ll want to carry a lightweight backpack with a hydration bladder for water, snacks, and extra clothes. A backpack also allows you to easily carry skins for when you take them off before the downhill.
As you advance your participation in the sport, heading to the backcountry will likely be your next step. In this case, you will need to be prepared for changing conditions by bringing avalanche gear. Before you head out, it is recommended you take an avalanche safety class. At the minimum, a beacon, shovel, and probe should be on your person if you head out into the backcountry.
SkiMo is a whole different type of endurance sport than triathlon. It takes time to build strength, speed, and efficiency on the uphill as well as the downhill. Just like with triathlon training, you will become more efficient and your form will continue to improve the more you do it. "I was hooked after the first time back on an uphill setup,” Giardini said. "Skialp is the best outlet I've found so far that combines so many elements I love: endurance, skills, downhill ski fun, outdoors, mountains, solitude, grit, gear tech, and much more."
For more on SkiMo, check out the resources on our sister publication SKI.