Want to try a skimo—or, ski mountaineering—race? Whether you want to supercharge your winter fitness or dream of a bucket-list goal, like the Grand Traverse between Crested Butte and Aspen in Colorado, a skimo race certainly provides a challenge. But if you’re new to skimo, it can be intimidating. Do you need new gear? Or to learn techniques? How fit do you really need to be?

Here we break down the basics, so you can try this mega fun sport without fear.

Skimo racing is actually just skiing up and down as fast as you can. The term "skimo" can be intimidating, but if you can ski, you can skimo race. And if you run in the summer, it’s basically the same as a mountain trail run, but on skis.

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You can use the gear you already have. Sure, the top people have equipment that's featherlight—it’s incredible what designers and manufacturers have been able to do with ski and boot technology, and the new stuff makes the sport much more like running in terms of efficiency going uphill. But you can use any gear you have. And if it's a bit heavier, you can rest easy knowing that you’re getting more of a strength component from the race. Some races actually have a "heavy metal" division, but even if they don’t, you won’t be the only one with normal touring equipment.

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Skimo races are still a little underground. I know many skiers who ski most winter days who didn’t even know it existed. You might need to do a little research to find the races in your area. I would tell you about the series, but it’s more fun for you to find out. If you see someone wearing Lycra going crazy quick uphill with skinny skis, you can ask them.

Training helps. We all get stoked for skiing, but often ski our way into shape as the season progresses instead of training beforehand to hit the ground running. You’ll have much more fun and suffer much less in a skimo race if you prep your legs and lungs. As in any sport, the people at the top likely train all year for these events, so don’t be discouraged if you aren’t keeping up. But even if you don’t aim to compete for the top ranks, you can take a note from their book and enjoy yourself much more by building your fitness beforehand. Sustained running uphill and harder uphill intervals are both great for building skimo-specific endurance. So are strength exercises like box step-ups, split squats, and tuck holds.

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Practice transitions. Most races have at least one transition from skinning to skiing, skiing to skinning, and skinning to booting. If you mosey like you would on a touring day, you’ll lose a lot of unnecessary time. Watch videos and practice, practice, practice. This is the perfect thing to do before the snow hits when you just can’t wait to get on your sticks. Just make sure you don’t scratch the bases!

Remember: You can take the race as seriously or as un-seriously as you want. Have fun!

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