The year of ski mountaineering

Almost all the sports that one can practice individually, outdoors or in the natural environment have grown substantially since the pandemic derived from the Covid-19 virus was installed. Mountain sports, in particular, have not been strangers to this emergence and it may be the year of boom Definitive of ski mountaineering … and that only those who are very fond of mountaineering, and not all, know for sure what it means to ski in the mountains. The discipline is growing at such speed in Spain (as in the rest of the globe) that it has even changed its name: what began here as backcountry skiing led to mountain skiing or ski-mountaineering and international language has summarized it and universalized as skimo.

Whatever it is called, the specialty has more than a century of life and its origin is usually pointed out in the Nordic countries: to be able to move up slopes of snow, skins of animal origin were used, such as the seal, whose short hair attached the skid of the ski allowed to slide it upwards without slipping. This made it possible to advance through the snowy mantle without sinking and to significantly expand the radius of movement. At present, the skimo it is both a competitive sport and a way of relating to the winter mountains, an activity that combines downhill skiing with mountaineering. If ski lifts are used in ski resorts to overcome slopes and enjoy downhill skiing, mountain skiing lacks infrastructure to seek the sensations of mountaineering. With the closure of many resorts, not a few skiers have turned to ski mountaineering to avoid suffering a winter without slipping.

Pere Petit, head of Dynastar-Lange in Spain, recalls that there is a trend in Spain and Europe in the last six or eight years in which annual growth is 10-15% in mountain ski brands: “In this same period of time, there have been years that alpine skiing has not grown and even decreased. Mountain skiing is growing steadily and with the pandemic it has become much more accentuated: I have spoken with important players in this industry and they confess that this year the demand has grown a lot and the numbers have increased by 50% compared to last year, which already it was a good year. But it must be clear that these figures are very small when compared to those of alpine skiing, which obviously has a much larger mass of followers because mountain skiing requires good physical and technical form, knowledge of the mountain world and, in addition, it is a sport that children do not practice ”.

Mountain skiing does not grow only because of the impossibility of moving around or the closure of the stations. According to Pere Petit, alpine skiing (which is carried out in stations) has social connotations of tourism, travel, and historically it has been seen as an elitist sport and this has been lost among young people: going skiing no longer likes As much as when I was young, it is no longer aspirational. Young people are interested in other activities. Now more and more sport is practiced, more and more training is being used, technology is used and in this context mountain skiing is liked because it is more intense. It is also true that the world of outdoor It has grown and there is an increasing tendency to go to meet the natural environment. But it should be noted that many do not want to know the mountain, but to ski around the resort, beating each other and going down the slopes: they are users who come from the world of alpine skiing, and not from mountain culture. One day they climb 1,000 meters of unevenness and then go down the track. This also explains why it has grown so much: the traffic is much easier than going to a mountain and trying to go down on snow without stepping on, frost, crust or wind: many would not be able ”, he analyzes.

The skimo every time he has moved further away from his initial idea: skiing for crossings, joining mountain huts in multi-day outings. “It is no longer just a means of moving around the mountains in winter. Now this has evolved into two or three hour outings: park, get on and off and the one who is very strong does it twice. But they are no longer just mountain outings, going to spend the day in the mountains, several hours, eating what you have. Now it is prioritized to accumulate positive unevenness and have a comfortable descent. The volume of equipment rentals or the use of social networks such as Strava, where times are set and routes are shared, has also grown ”, explains Pere Petit.

Incidentally, some stations have been in tow offering closed circuits for the skimo, thus solving the need to organize traffic in the stations and also as a business opportunity. The truth is that there is an enormous need not to stay at home, to go out to meet nature or open spaces hand in hand with sport. In the summer, bicycle shops ran out of product to offer due to the flood of new customers and the same has happened, although in a less flagrant way, in the case of suppliers of material for mountain skiing. If the world of the bicycle has undergone a profound reinvention in the last decade, the world of ski mountaineering has suffered a similar fate: a large number of manufacturers, new materials, ultra-light equipment, equipment designed for the freeride, effective and attractive clothing and accessories … Not everyone remembers that Kilian Jornet is the best mountain skier that this country has given, also a world reference, and if one cannot speak of a ‘Kilian effect’ in the world of skimo As it has been known in mountain running, it is, according to Pere Petit “because it is not as easy as going for a run: you need more material, which is expensive, you need snow, it is a seasonal activity, there is than to move, you have to know the environment well… it is a more demanding modality in general ”.

Alvaro Ramos, high mountain guide, is delighted to observe the rise of mountain skiing: “every year more people start with a guide, and this year in particular, if it had not been for mobility restrictions, the volume of skiing would have been exaggerated. work that we would have had the guides. It is a technical activity, which requires knowing how to go up and down but also knowledge of snow, safety, mountaineering … hence our clients seek training. Many of those who practice the skimo only in the stations do they do it for fear of the unknown ”, he observes.

When American ski resorts closed at the start of the season, sales of ski equipment skimo skyrocketed in the country. According to the Snow Sports Association of the USA, sales of boards grew 80%, while accessories reached a 150% increase. The North American firm Black Diamond confirms the boom in its sales also in Spain, and the Swedish firm Haglofs does the same. If in summer there were huge growth in sales of camping, cycling or running equipment, it is the turn of mountain skiing. “The boom”, Says Pere Petit,“ it also occurs because it is a complementary activity for those who come from alpine skiing. There are some who have left the stations, true, but many already combine both disciplines ”.

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