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Greetings from Chamonix, Mont-Blanc the heart of theAlps, the roots of ski alpinism or ski mountaineering. I live here with my husband, Michael Silitch, of High-Alpine Mountain Guides and my 2 boys, Birken (8) and Anders(6). I am honored to be blogging for Fasterskier and excited to share a little about my world as a World Cup ski mountaineering racer, a mom and our adventures here in the Alps.

I fell in love with ski mountaineering racing a few years ago. It combines all the things I love in a sport: the endurance of the ascent, the thrill of the decent and the technical aspect of a climb. I have drawn on my alpine racing days at Carrabassett Valley Academy in Sugarloaf, Maine, as well as my nordic racing days at Holderness and Dartmouth under the coaching of Phil Peck, Cami Thompson and Ruff Patterson.

I hope that my blog will give you a glimpse of the international ski mountaineering race scene here in Europe and also inspire you to give it a try as the sport continues to grow exponentially in the USA. To follow the racing scene in the US check out the United States Ski Mountaineering Association

Ski Mountaineering is on the docket for the Winter Olympics in 2018 and in order for this to happen we need to help the sport grow even further in the US and bring on younger athletes to the sport. Join the fun, help spread the word and help us be there in 2018! – Nina Silitch


What is Ski Mountaineering Racing or Ski-Alpinisme?

Ski Mountaineering is heart-pounding mix of long climbs (skiing with climbing skins under foot) often in the high alpine and hairball descents through glaciers, windy tree lined trails and the like. It combines alpine precision as you fly down the mountain (often litearlly down a mountain) and cross country fitness and technique as you race upwards.

Most World Cup races last 1-2 hours, except the marathon length events (like the famous Swiss Patrouille des Glaciers) which last any where from 6-10 hours in the World Cup category. Some WC races are multi day stage races, the longest is the Pierra Menta in the Beaufort (think cheese) region of the French Alps. In this 4 day every day you cover between 14-31 km each day and climb 1731 – 2785 m. With the total for the four days in 2009 being 9574 meters of climbing in 87 km. This race is the Tour de France (or Tour de Ski) of ski mo racing with huge crowds lining the most famous climbs cheering, yelling, and ringing cow bells. Climbing is mostly with skins stuck on the the bases of the skis to give you grip, and sometimes on foot with the skis on your back. Like in Biathlon or Triathlon, transitioning skills are important. The skins are short (for glide) and the elastic on the top allows you to pull them off quickly. The race pack is also specially designed to allow for attaching and detaching of skis and crampons without taking it off.

Nina got started in ski mountaineering racing when we lived and taught at an international high school in Switzerland. There were a series of night races in the area that turned out to be a load of fun. Night races are normally just uphill races from 600-900 meters, all with a fun atmosphere and a big pasta dinner in the mid mountain restaurant. Prizes and raffle follows. Nina did pretty well in a few of these races around Valais and Vaud, so we somehow rationalized buying the lightweight race gear and she went straight to the podium! Since that year 2006, Nina has been racing more and more each year and when the World Championships were nearby in Morgins, Switzerland, she contacted the US ski mountaineering team to see about representing them. Of course she was welcomed and hasn’t looked back since.

The Gear:

Ski mountaineering racing equipment is pretty cool and if you are a gear geek, you’ll love the technology and the ultra light weight in the sport of ski mo. The challenge is to make gear that is absolutely as light as possible for the climbs, but that also can ski downhill quickly and efficiently. So imagine combing a Fischer RSC classic carbon race ski with a GS ski. The same goes for the boots. This is what you get: Nina’s skis are World Cup specific, ultra light weight touring ski with metal edges for the descent. the dimensions are 92-64-78 r=23, at 157cm and with metal edges they weigh 765 g each, just a few grams heavier than a nordic classic race ski. The bindings are ultra light Italian versions of the Dynafit “tour tech” system where there are fittings on the side of the toe of the boots and the back heels.  The boots are the most unique piece of equipment, with the shell entirely made from carbon fiber. They are ultra light ski touring boots. That is to say they have a lugged sole for walking and a releasable latch for ankle flexibility in walking and skinning-not unlike a walk mode lever in a modern alpine ski boot. At 450g/boot, they are just heaver that a world cup skate boot. But boy do they ski down hill. The carbon fiber shell and cuff give incredable precision edge to edge making this boot a Ferrari on the downhills. Poles are nordic ski poles. Despite the metal edged skis and many mass starts, Nina has used the Swix CT 2’s with great success. It is slightly stronger than the CT1 without too much added weight. The CT1 is perfect for uphill races. her poles are also equipped with biathlon straps for quicker transitions and larger 97L baskets for the loose high alpine snow. Skins are also important. They are narrow at 59 cm and short (10-20 cm behind the heel) and 100% mohair. You wax them with hi fouro for extra speed and equip them with an elastic on the tip for quick transitions.

The Technique:

Nordic technique really helps in this discipline as there are often long kick and glide stretches. As well, there can be long skating stretches. Proper nordic balance and climbing technique is crucial as you skin up steep sections of the track trying to keep from slipping. Upright upper body with crouched lower body helps get those skins to grip on the steeps. Most races follow a track set by course setters just skiing it in–no machine grooming except when the course happens to skin up or descend a ski slope. Some races run up through a ski area but then go out of bounds, often up a summit ridge and then down with a big descent requiring the best alpine technique.

Michael Silitch

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5 Responses to “Intro”

  1. Patrick Stinson Says:

    So awesome! I just got my dynafit world cup setup and tried it out on Snow King in Jackson, WY. It’s amazing how light the stuff is, and if you’ve been practicing hammering on your alpine skis you can still really haul ass on the dynafit racing skis. Looking forward to some hard climbing!

  2. ninasilitch Says:

    Glad to hear. Sounds like you got some nice skis. Did you get a light boot also (like the new Dynafit)? That makes a huge difference. are our choice. Doesn’t Snow King have a weekly uphill race series? Happy skinning.

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