Ski Mountaineers Climb Into Sport's Olympic Debate

(ATR) Competitors at the epic Trofeo Mezzalama want the traditional form of the sport in the Winter Games.

(ATR) Ski mountaineering, or SKIMO, is moving closer to a place in the Olympic program. But competitors worry about what form of the sport would be contested at the Winter Games.

The alpine adventure sport debuts at the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games with three events. It is expected that should Milan-Cortina win its bid to host the 2026 Olympics, Italian organizers will propose SKIMO as an addition to the sports program.

Ski mountaineers who competed in Sunday’s grueling 43-kilometer Trofeo Mezzalama race in Italy say the sport would certainly benefit as part of the Olympic program. But they substantially prefer the longer, more traditional routes through demanding high alpine terrain like the Mezzalama. More practical for television coverage and spectators are the shorter, less spectacular sprint and vertical disciplines contested at lower elevations on controlled slopes.

"For the movement, for sure ski mountaineering in the Olympic Games is probably good for a lot of people to see our sport," said the Italian Matteo Eydallin, who was on a winning team at the Mezzalama for the fifth time in the last six races.

"My personal opinion, ski mountaineering is a sport that you must do off-piste, away from the slopes. It is not a sport to practice in the slopes," the Italian champion told Around the Rings.

"Sprint and vertical is not ski mountaineering."

French racer Lorna Bonnel, who won the women’s Mezzalama alongside two Italian teammates, joined the consensus about how to integrate SKIMO in the Olympic Games.

"It will help promote and develop the sport," Bonnel said, "A tour race like this is more difficult for the Olympic Games. If it is possible for the Olympics then great, if not it is sad."

"It should be possible to make a round course [to circle] three or four times, 15-20 minutes in a smaller area with nice skiing," suggested the Norwegian Lars-Erik Skjervheim, whose three-man team finished eighth in the Mezzalama.

Skjervhelm's idea is nothing like the test of endurance faced by ski mountaineers at the 22nd edition of the Trofeo Mezzalama.The race – which combines rigorous climbing, both on skis and off, and tricky ski descents – was contested among jagged, high alpine peaks in northwestern Italy’s Aosta Valley. The winning time was four hours and 45 minutes.

Wind gusts reaching 50-60 kilometers-per-hour and unstable snow conditions along mountain ridges forced organizers to re-route the course both before and during the race. Three 4,000-meter summits were avoided and competitors from 286 teams of three navigated a lower route. However, nearly 800 vertical meters were added to Le Grand Course, ensuring a highly demanding physical and mental challenge.

Spain’s Kilian Jornet Burgada, considered the world’s premier high altitude endurance racer with his numerous achievements including holding the record for the fastest ascent and descent of Mount Everest, the Matterhorn, Denali and Mont Blanc, finished third alongside two Austrian teammates.

"It’s cold and windy being in the mountains and you have to be humble," Jornet told ATR. "We are in big environment, so if you get off track you can be in an avalanche, in a crevasse or you can fall a few hundred meters."

Competitors from 18 countries participated in the Mezzalama, which began in the Italian ski resort of Cervinia, ascending up and across the Monte Rosa Massif before finishing in the village of Gressoney-La-Trinite.

The race has been held over three periods – 1933-1938, 1971-1978, and the modern era from 1997 until present. It is currently staged every two years.Outside of the Alps, the Mezzalama and the sport itself, still remain relatively unknown.

The Trofeo Mezzalama is organized independently of the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF), the sport’s primary governing body which is recognized by GAISF.

ISMF World Cup events have been staged in the Jilin province of China over the past two winters, but Beijing 2022 organizers did not put forward the sport for the upcoming Winter Games.

Chinese ski mountaineer Yu Bo Jin finished the Mezzalama 53rd racing alongside two Italian teammates.

"I’m a little bit sad because there is no chance for Beijing 2022," said the Chinese athlete. "I think the main reason because this sport is not that well developed in China and Asia, like in Alpine countries or the U.S. and Canada.

"I hope if the 2026 Winter Games will be in Milan-Cortina, Italy will have the strength to get this sport into the Games," he added.

China will send a national junior team to compete at Lausanne 2020.

Written and reported by Brian Pinelli in Cervinia, Italy

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