Start SkiMo Racing: 8 Tips You Need to Know

Early season turns on Mt Hood
Early season turns on Mt Hood


When you decide to take the plunge, invest in your success, and buy light gear, has got you covered. As the only dedicated skimo store around, they have the inventory and the advice to get you set up right.


In most parts of the country but my own, the snow is starting to fall, skis are coming out of the closet, and ski-season stoke is circulating. This year as you think about your skiing plans, maybe you’re considering signing up for your first skimo race, or maybe you raced once or twice last year, got hooked, and are thinking about taking your game to the next level.

There’s nothing to stop you. Skimo is a beginner friendly sport. Still, when I started racing, I reinvented the wheel over and over again. So this year, I’ve compiled eight tips to point you in the right direction if you’re just revving up your skimo engine for the first or second time.

1. When it comes to training, any skiing is better than no skiing.

Most skimo racers live within reach of the mountains. Any coach will agree that there is no substitute for sport-specific training, which means that to train for skimo racing, the best thing that you can do is to ski uphill as much as possible. While you can derive some aerobic benefit from cross-training on a bike or by running, the motor patterns are very different from skiing, so an hour spent skiing is probably worth two or more running or biking. Also, if you’re using skimo skis to race (read: really short, really skinny) then you need to learn to ski them in all sorts of conditions, which means touring on them as much as possible. Leave the B-dizzle-mega-fatties at home and make your skimo skis your go-to ski.

Sometimes you have to walk to go skiing. It's always worth it, one way or another.
Sometimes you have to walk to go skiing. It’s always worth it, one way or another.

2. Transitions are a skill. Learn to do them well.

I think that a lot of folks take transitions as a given– if you ski in the backcountry, then you know how to transition, right? Not really. The average backcountry transition is a junk show– something that I’ve written about before. A well-executed race transition begins with planning before reaching the transition, executes a specific pattern of efficient movements, and should take less than 45 seconds for downhill-to-uphill transitions, less than 20 seconds for up-to-down changes. If you spend 10 minutes learning this process, and then practice it every time that you make a transition, it will will win you minutes upon minutes in a race.

3. There’s no substitute for mohair.

I ski in the Pacific Northwest, where nylon is king among the backcountry community. Even so, I made the switch to mohair last year and the difference is amazing. Good technique can compensate for loss of traction in all but the most challenging conditions, and the glide is unparalleled. I would almost rather have mohair skins on big skis, than nylon skins on race skis. Once you get used to mohair, switching back to nylon feels like dragging around shag carpeting. It’s just not efficient. Buy yourself 2 pair of mohair skins and never look back.

mt st helens skimo
Skimo skis on Mt St Helens. Mohair can get you there.

4. Skinning technique is important.

Good skinning technique is another point that separates the racers from the rec division. Just as a car is wasted without good tires, so is your aerobic prowess worthless if you can’t stick your skins to the snow. Using mohair is challenging at first, and will punish poor technique. When you go out for a ski, pay attention to your skinning and be sure to make a habit of good technique. Drive your weight through your heels, stand up straight, use your poles for power, and don’t lift your feet off of the ground.

5. Gear weight matters.

This is not to say that you shouldn’t start racing with what you have. It’s more important to get wrapped up in the sport than it is to get tied up in the gear. As you get more serious about it and develop a taste for light and fast, transitioning to race gear will change everything. There’s a reason that the race/pro category racers are all using 160cm race skis with carbon boots. The difference between race and rec skis isn’t measured in ounces, but in pounds, and that adds up tremendously during a race. Lightweight gear is enabling, and a lot of it can be used for your recreational touring as well.

You can always have more gear, and bring less.

6. The skimo community is your friend.

Welcome! This is one hell of a stupid and wonderful sport, and the people attracted to it are that, stupid and wonderful (I kid). Find yourself a training partner and it will be a lot easier to talk yourself into doing uphill groomer laps at night. Join a local race series and meet people who share your stupid passion. Reach out to the tiny community and find the experts to answer your questions. This isn’t cycling: you won’t be ridiculed for being a beginner. You’ll be welcomed.

skimo mentors in training
They’re all idiots and they will all be your friend.

7. There’s no replacement for racing.

The best way to find weakness in a system is to stress it and watch how it breaks. Only by racing will you discover your athletic and technical weaknesses. During this last year alone I learned important lessons in skinning technique, pacing, eyewear management, fueling, recovery, and skiing technique that I would never have learned so quickly without racing. So start now. You won’t be last– there’s always someone on a splitboard.

Studies find that friends are twice as motivating as cool gear.

8. Set a season goal.

Motivate yourself by setting your sights on a big race or event. Don’t be afraid to travel to it– that just adds to the motivation and the excitement. Last year’s GoreTex Grand Traverse was a season-long training goal for Taylor and I, and it got us out to go skiing when the snow was low and the weather was bad. It felt great to work towards that goal all season and then knock it out at the end.

Finishing the grand traverse
Finishing feels great, but to experience it, you have to start.

9. Bonus!

Do you have more questions? Contact me and I’ll be happy to answer them! Welcome to the world of skimo.

Category: RacingSkiing


One comment

  1. thanks for the tips for newbs. stoked to race for the first time this season.

    also lol@’b-dizzle-mega-fatties’. sweet reference to the classic ‘truth about powder skis’ video.

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