Spandex and Skinny Skis

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It’s a starry Tuesday night. It’s wintry, it’s dark, and there’s an overwhelming sea of spandex and skinny skis forming at the base of Brighton Ski Resort’s Great Western Trail. As the countdown ends an amoeba of determined athletes—who are exceptionally fast and fit—morphs into a procession of headlamps storming full speed ahead up the mountainside. It’s fluid and graceful. Frontrunners emerge and are rapidly separated from the pack. It’s a struggle to decipher who’s who, let alone track intervals. Racers flash by, reach the transition point, peel off their skins without the pesky task of actually removing their ultralight anorexic skis, and proceed to fly down the slope faster than The Road Runner with a jet pack. And then do you know what happens? They do it all over again! And again after that! The hour passes in a blink and suddenly the race is over and it’s time to head to the closest pub, Molly Green’s, for the après awards, prizes, and libations.


Although randonee ski mountaineering races, commonly shortened to SkiMo, have been all the rage in the Swiss Alps for many years, it has only recently begun to gain steam in the Wasatch. In January 2012, Andy Dorais and Chad Bracklesberg founded the Wasatch Citizen SkiMo Series as a division of Utah Ski Mountaineering. At the time only a dozen-ish skiers were consistently showing up to the races, but by the end of last season the numbers had doubled and this season, just two years later, they have quadrupled to a prodigious 100.

The Wasatch Citizen SkiMo Series hosts bi-weekly races at Brighton Ski Resort on Tuesday nights from 7:00–9:00 p.m. Organizers mix up the format of each race alternating between completing as many laps as possible in an hour or a set course with a specific number of climbs and descents. Each lap consists of a 400–600’ vertical gain and both ways are sufficiently challenging.

Why are SkiMo races exploding in popularity? Elite ski randonee mountaineering competitor Jason Dorais speculates it has to do with the accessibility and affordability. “One of the big reasons the Citizen Series has grown is that the atmosphere at the races is great. It’s pretty low key and everyone there is supportive of one another. One barrier to racing is that a lot of people think it’s only for the fastest skiers. At the Citizen Series it doesn’t matter if you’re first or last, you’ll be hearing encouragement the whole time.”

Indeed word is spreading quickly among pro ski mountaineer racers and amateurs alike. So much so that the series has attracted a sexy list of sponsors, including: Backcountry.com, BCA, Black Diamond Equipment, Gear30, Gnarly Nutrition, Kate’s Bars, La Sportiva, Scarpa/Ski Trab, Skimo.co, The Sport Loft, Utah Avalanche Center, Voile, and Wasatch Powder Keg who donate prizes for the awards and raffle ranging from pies and Powderwhore movies to Arc’teryx apparel.

The Wasatch Citizen SkiMo Series has two divisions, 30% of whom are in Lycra (the racing division) and the other 70%, wearing sensible clothing, make up the recreation division. Helmets and headlamps are required to participate. And by headlamp, I mean the lightest, highest amount of lumens one could possibly strap to a helmet. Most of the sprinters usually finish 15 minutes in front of the rec division racers and are admittedly obsessed with the fastest and lightest gear, hence the racing suits that leave little to the imagination and their über-lightweight randonee set-ups (which seem pretty worthless for other types of skiing), weighing a mere 750 grams—that’s about 1.65 pounds for those of you, like me, who are still using the Imperial System. The rest succeed just fine with typical alpine touring gear.

Brackelsberg acknowledges that women are underrepresented in the group, but hopes more will join in the fun as the event catches on. Splitboarders also account for a very small portion of the group—understandably limited by transition logistics, but are nonetheless increasing their count as The Series grows.

Dorais adds, “The Citizen Series is training for how to move faster and more efficiently on skis and snowboards, and I think people value that. They are realizing that racing techniques and the right gear will allow them to go farther and ski more in the backcountry. This certainly is what drew me toward racing. After I showed up to my first race and saw how fast people could move, my mind was blown. I realized that if I could ski the light gear, aiming to be as efficient as the top racers, the mountains would greatly shrink and I’d be able to ski a lot more.”

Additional races hosted at Wolf Mountain have been added to the calendar during the off weeks at Brighton so rando-racing rock stars can get their fix every week if they so desire. The Wasatch Citizen Skimo Series will culminate with the annual Voile Wasatch Powder Keg Triple Crown and North American Championship Race at Brighton Ski Resort March 7–9, which is the largest SkiMo race in the United States.

The Wasatch Citizen SkiMo Series is a unique niche of endurance recreation that retains its cool factor because it has yet to be co-opted and is insofar still under the radar of the masses, but there may soon come a day when the local SkiMo crew will miss the early days when everyone who showed up could fit into Molly Green’s after the evening races.

Race Schedule

  • Wasatch Citizen Series Wolf Mountain Race #2
  • @ Wolf Mountain Resort
  • Tuesday, February 4, 2014 7:00 p.m.—9:00 p.m.
  • SkiMo Evening Race-Race #7
  • @ Brighton Ski Resort
  • Tuesday, February 11, 2014 7:00 p.m.—9:00 p.m.
  • SkiMo Evening Race-Race #8
  • @ Brighton Ski Resort
  • Tuesday, February 25, 2014 7:00 p.m.—9:00 p.m.
  • Wasatch Powder Keg Sprint Race
  • @ Brighton Ski Resort
  • Friday, March 7, 2014 4:30 p.m.—6:00 p.m.
  • Wasatch Powder Keg
  • @ Brighton Ski Resort
  • Saturday, March 8, 2014 7:30 a.m.—12:30 p.m.
  • Wasatch Powder Keg Technical Teams Race
  • @ Brighton Ski Resort
  • Sunday, March 9, 2014 7:30 a.m.—12:00 p.m.
  • Wasatch Citizen Series Wolf Mountain Race #3
  • @ Wolf Mountain Resort
  • Tuesday, March 18, 2014 7:00 p.m.—9:00 p.m.
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About Author

Melissa McGibbon is the Senior Editor of Outdoor Sports Guide Magazine. She is an award-winning journalist and is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers, the North American Travel Journalists Association, and the Adventure Travel Trade Association. She is usually in pursuit of adventure, travel, or some daring combination of the two. IG @missmliss // melissamcgibbon.com

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