Afraid to jump into Jackson Hole’s famed Corbet’s Couloir? There is one other way to get in there-but don’t count on it being an easier option. If you were among the pro competitors at the US Ski Mountaineering National Championship, held at JHMR last Saturday, you’d be booting up the couloir, climbing the last exhausting pitch on a ladder, stepping off onto the vertical snow wall at the top, and hauling youself up the last few feet via rope—with your skis on your back.
For competitors on the growing professional ski mountaineering (skimo) race circuit, Corbet’s is just another grueling section of the biggest ski mountaineering race in the US. It comes after climbing 6,000 feet, several interspersed ski descents, a trek up to the summit of Rendevous Peak, a 4,000-foot descent to the valley floor, and an ascent halfway up the mountain before the final descent. Competitors gain over 8,000 feet during the event. Still think it sounds like a better option than the traditional entrance to Corbets?
The winner of the men’s race, Reiner Thoni of the Canadian National team, managed to wrap the course up in just over 2.5 hours, with the rest of the lead pack not far behind. Of the course itself, 7th place finisher American ski mountaineer Chris Kroger, looking refreshed at the finish area, said the race was ‘long, cold, and fun,’ while other competitors used words like... ‘brutal.’ American Janelle Smiley took the women's race (see full results here).
Competitive ski mountaineering races, popular in Europe, are just starting to make a bigger splash here in North America. More and more skimo races are cropping up around the US and Canada, and with each of those filling up with ultracompetitive endurance athletes, the sport is apparently gathering steam. Recreational divisions, as well as those such as ‘heavy metal,’ where entrants race on traditional AT or telemark gear have proven to be growing in popularity as well.
Serious competitors, however, use small, specialized, extremely lightweight skis, bindings, and boots, put their climbing skins on and off without removing their skis from their feet, and can take skis on and off their pack without removing the pack. All this saves precious time and energy, in what one of the event organizers called the equivalent of a 1982 NORBA race. As in, they are pretty certain that this is a sport about to take off. Check out the upcoming race schedule here, and a video of what the sport is all about below.