Last sunday, December 5th, my birthday no less, the Mont Blanc Ski Challenge made a very successful debut with over 200 participants! Not only was it the first race of the French ski mo race calendar, it was in our own backyard, Chamonix, and also was open to everyone! Ouvert a tous! This is kind of a first for French races and something I was really pleased to see! Sometimes in France and Italy one does not get the feeling that these races are open to everyone, just the real racer types, but in order for the sport to grow, the races must be open to all. In fact, when I got into the sport while living in Switzerland, it was just this type of race, with a fun and friendly ambiance, that inspired me to do more!
The Swiss are no doubt passionate about their skiing and the ski mountaineering race scene in Switzerland is a perfect example of being open to all. They are also the deepest National Ski Mountaineering team with a heavy focus on young athlete, also very important as we prepare for the sport to be an Olympic sport in 2018. At the Swiss races, there are always 2 divisions: Course A (more elite/ experienced athletes) and Course B (fun pop! and open to all levels) This is how the sport needs to grow world wide, to allow others to try it, and more importantly enjoy it.
Here is a little video (in french) of the race…from the local TV that will give you more of an idea what it is all about….I wish we did go that fast!
Weekend clinics on ski mountaineering is another way to help the sport grow. A friend and colleague, Mona Merrill of Brekenridge Collorado is doing just that in her home town and helping the sport grow for women. Here is an article written by my teammate/ great pal Lyndsay Meyer of Brava Bella– a site in its own right to promote women in sport! Like many endurance sports, the percentage of women in the sport is much lower than men but every year more and more come out to join the fun! Our local ski mountaineering club here in Chamonix, hosts a race in early January called the Relais des Chamois– Also open to everyone and youth and women are half price. These are just some small things we can do to help and encourage the sport to grow further.
In the USA, the sport of ski mountaineering is not ingrained in the roots of history like it is here in Europe. Sure, telemarking took off, but rando skiing is just getting going, as mountain biking was 20 years ago. It is an exciting time for the sport and wonderful to see all ages getting out! In our race last weekend, a fellow Chamoniard, did the race in his 82 years of age! Wow! I may have said I was feeling a little older when I woke up on the 5th, my birthday (18 years + 20!) but I really have no excuse for aching joints against this amazing man who just started the sport as well. Even the major of Chamonix did the race. That is just another example of how sporty this town is but also how important quality of life is here. My own dad, has become passionate about the sport and skins regularly up the slopes of Sugarloaf/ USA and also has joined me on the famous Haute Route. Our own club president, in his 70’s, still an avid racer and was right up there on sunday with the best of them. On the other spectrum my 6 year old son is already begging for skins for his skis for his upcoming birthday!
So there you have it!!!! Season kickoff with popcorn and all! This weekend I am heading to the French Individual National Championships . It will be a good early training race for the first world cup on January 8th, also in France. Here is the International Ski Mountaineering Website where you can find more information on the sport.
here is another video of the race: