February 17, 2023 | SPORTS | By Pierce Sullivan
Ski mountaineer racing, or Skimo, has recently exploded in popularity in the United States, with Colorado as the epicenter. Skimo involves racing both up and down a mountain on skis in a mass start format, with all racers on the course at the same time. Athletes attach pieces of a fabric-like material known as skins to the bottoms of their skis. These allow skis to slide uphill, but not down, enabling these athletes to run up the mountain on their skis.
Upon reaching the top, athletes remove these skins and then ski back down. Occasionally, when the uphill part of the course becomes exceptionally steep, athletes will remove their skis, strap them to their backpacks, and run uphill on foot.
Not only are Skimo courses physically exhausting, but they also necessitate travel in highly technical terrain. Athletes are required to carry avalanche beacons, shovels, and probes, as well as safety blankets and whistles. Some courses demand harnesses for roping up in high-exposure areas.
I spoke with George Beck ’25, who is currently on Team USA Skimo and has represented the United States at both the World Championships and the Youth Olympics.
Beck began our conversation by describing the three main events within Skimo: the Sprint, the Vertical, and the Individual races. The Sprint is a very short race, only about three minutes long, with a brief skin uphill, then a short boot-pack (putting on the skis and/or removing the skins), then a descent around gates back to the finish. The Vertical is slightly longer, but still just one ascent and descent. Lastly, the Individual Race, the longest of them all, is a multi-hour race that involves multiple ascents and descents.
The largest race series in the U.S. is the Rocky Mountain Skimo Series, with most of its races taking place in Colorado. One or two of these races per year are sanctioned USA Skimo events, referred to as the National Cup Series, which are the most prestigious races in the country.
With Skimo’s burgeoning popularity in the U.S., it was recently selected to be an Olympic Sport for the 2026 Milano Cortina Winter Olympics. Beck talked to me about the athlete’s perspective on this decision.
He prefaced his perspective with overwhelming support for bringing Skimo such a large platform, saying, “This is great for the growth of the sport, everyone watches the Olympics.”
However, he did have a few qualms with some of the specifics of the event.
The International Olympic Committee decided to only have a Sprint race in the 2026 Olympics, leaving out the Vertical and Individual races. Given how short the race is, Sprint is by far the easiest to watch and televise. However, it is seen as “more of an exhibition event,” in contrast to the Individual Race, which is considered by athletes to be the true test of the sport.
Beck was a part of the IOC’s test run for Skimo on an Olympic platform at the 2020 Youth Olympics, which included all three disciplines. He placed 12th in the world.
Skimo has sustained massive popularity overseas; not only with European skiers who hold celebrity status and win sponsorships from not only the largest outdoor and ski brands, but also with car companies such as Audi and Land Rover. The 2026 Olympic Games are being considered the jumpstart needed for the sport’s popularity to really take off in the States.
When Beck, who is from Aspen, Colo. got into the sport, it was just starting to take off. He started off in middle school, skinning up Aspen after school with his dad. He did this not for fitness or racing, but just so he could go skiing after school.
Beck soon realized he had quite a knack for skiing both uphill and down when he won a large Skimo Race, The Power of Two, in Aspen. From there he qualified for the World Championships in Switzerland the very next year, in which he placed 15th in the Vertical race for U18. It is also worth mentioning that Beck was the fastest U20 American skier at the age of 16. To celebrate after the win, Beck legally bought his first beer.
Coming off his success on the world stage, Beck has taken a hiatus from racing to focus on school. That being said, he does still win every race he enters.