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The votes are in: Ski mountaineering will make its debut as an Olympic sport at the 2026 Winter Games in Milan and Cortina d’Ampezzo, Italy.
The alpine sport, which has athletes ski touring up and then descending down a mountain course as quickly as possible, will become the eighth sport in the Winter Olympics.
The 2026 Games will feature five SkiMo medal events, including men’s and women’s individual races, men’s and women’s sprint, and one mixed-gender relay race. Olympic SkiMo will include 48 total athletes—24 men and 24 women—without increasing the overall Olympic athlete quota of 2,900 athletes.
In the individual event, athletes begin from a mass start and race up an established skin track, passing through a series of checkpoints before reaching the summit of the course and transitioning to downhill mode. Then the racers must navigate down challenging terrain and contend with backcountry snow conditions. Keep in mind, they do this on lightweight touring skis featuring pin bindings, equipment that shaves weight for the uphill but does not perform the same as traditional downhill equipment on the descent.
In this event, athletes ascend between 4,300 to 6,200 vertical feet, depending on the category, and each event typically lasts around 1.5-2 hours in duration.
Watch: World Cup Ski Mountaineering Individual Race
The sprint race is a shorter and faster-paced event that consists of an uphill section, a booting section where athletes carry their skis and hike on foot to navigate more technical terrain, and a ski descent around race gates. These races ascend up to 262 vertical feet and typically last around three minutes.
Only recently has ski mountaineering gained a major foothold in the U.S. and in Canada, but the sport has a long history in Europe, and especially Italy. It’s no coincidence that Dynafit, one of the leading brands in the alpine touring and ski mountaineering space, is Italian.
“Ski mountaineering is a particularly popular sport in Italy, with deep historical and sporting roots across the alpine regions,” the IOC said in a statement.
The IOC received proof of concept of ski mountaineering as an Olympic sport when it was successfully included in the 2020 Winter Youth Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland. Three Italians scooped up individual medals at those events, with Switzerland claiming Olympic Gold in the mixed-gender relay. While the U.S. entered four total athletes in SkiMo at the Lausanne Youth Games, it did not medal.
But with five years of training until the Milan-Cortina Games, Ram Mikulas, president of the U.S. Mountaineering Association, is hopeful that Americans will have a shot at the podium in Italy.
“We are currently working on high performance development plans, expanded national team opportunities, funding, as well as recruitment and widening of the athlete pipeline,” Mikulas said.
Part of that plan involves getting more U.S. athletes to participate in SkiMo World Cup races in the coming years.
“We’re very optimistic about the future and hope to turn more people on to the sport of ski mountaineering,” Mikulas continued. “With all the momentum we have going, I believe U.S. athletes will be directly competing for podium spots at the Milano Cortina 2026 Winter Olympics.”
Whether U.S. athletes storm the 2026 podium or not, it will be fun to watch the world’s best SkiMo athletes clad in head-to-toe spandex race up and down the scenic Italian Alps on skinny skis.