The Brighton Citizen Series: Witness the Appeal of SkiMo Racing
SkiMo racing is an alpine sport spun off from ski mountaineering, the skiing discipline responsible for discovering and placing the first turns on much of the terrain we ski today. Originally, mountaineering focused on summiting tall peaks, but skiing was growing in popularity, and the addition of skis made the descent all the more worth the lung-busting climb. Ultralight materials made skis lighter than ever, and new alpine touring bindings, adjustable poles, and lightweight outerwear designs made ski mountaineers faster and more efficient—the ideal recipe for racing.
What Goes Up
SkiMo racing is a race to the top, just so you can race to the bottom. Typically, it’s a sport of endurance athletes; ultrarunners, cyclists, mountain guides, and dedicated backcountry skiers—anyone who prefers to push their absolute limit of exertion. Europe embraced ski mountaineering early (even once as a demonstration sport in the Olympics) but SkiMo racing has only recently gained momentum in the States. California, Utah, and Colorado host races in the West, and Vermont and New Hampshire have seen a growing interest in the East. The International Ski Mountaineering Federation oversees races throughout Europe, and in the US, the United States Ski Mountaineering Association serves as the governing body (to the extent that one can govern ski mountaineering). As serious as all this might sound, one of the appealing aspects of ski mountaineering in Utah is the club-like appeal and persevering grassroots-style racing scene. It’s still about fun, and it hasn’t yet given way to the punishing requirements of high-performance sport.
Under the Brighton Lights
The glow of high-powered halogens cut through the darkness and light up Snake Creek at Brighton Ski Resort. Chair after chair spins away, up the mountain and into the darkness. Night skiing is in full swing on the east side, but on the west side a small group of skiers have begun to climb into the darkness, using ultralight ski touring gear. High fives are exchanged, familiar voices call to each other, jokes are shared as breathing turns heavy during the skiers’ quick climb from the base area to a small plateau that serves as the start for the fifth event in the Brighton Citizen SkiMo Race Series.
Pumpkin Pie Started It All
Informal at its roots, the Brighton Citizen Series began with a few friends, a ton of vert, and the urge to earn a new sort of ski-related bragging rights. As Citizens Series creator Andy Dorais explains it, it was Jared Enway who first showed him the light of ultralight gear and Chad Rathelsberg who directed him to Brighton Ski Resort. The first year it was a couple of friends racing up Snowbird. The second year saw 18 people racing over Twin Lakes Pass, up to Patsy Marley, and back to Snowbird. Things grew from there, and all the while Andy and his friends were traveling to events around the country, soaking up the SkiMo culture and racing outside of Utah.
Zero-barrier entry was the goal of the Brighton Citizen Series. The races were designed to introduce anyone and everyone to SkiMo racing in a safe, fun environment, no matter what their ability or experience level. As series co-founder Andy Dorais explains it, “A typical course involves multiple laps, so the slowest people are next to the fastest people. It’s great to see partnerships grow, people find new touring buddies. Ultimately, it’s all about keeping things fun and getting stronger to go farther and faster in the backcountry.”
Word spread quickly through the Wasatch speed-touring crowd, and after the first few Tuesday night races at Brighton, more and more people gathered for the laidback races under the lights. Andy set every course and brought pies to every race for the first two years, and by the third year it was clear that things had to get more organized. He collaborated with Brighton Patrol, and the organization of the race was split between eight volunteers—one for each race. Suddenly, the races took off: more people showed up in spandex, and the Wasatch speed-touring crowd appeared in full force.
“There’s a core group of probably 20 or 30 people who come every week (and sometimes race elsewhere), and then there are probably 40 or 50 other people who show up on and off throughout the season,” says Andy, “Voile stepped up to offer gear after the first season. Companies like Scarpa and Ski Trab have been supporters, and the entire industry stepped up in a big way to offer giveaway and raffle prizes, too.”
By the fourth year, a non-profit was formed, and donations to the organization covered insurance for the race series. “Brighton Patrol has been incredibly accommodating. We’re able to hike uphill to train, which is a huge benefit when avy danger is high in the backcountry. We race, and afterwards we end up at Molly Greens to swap stories and give away prizes,” Andy continued, “It’s remarkable how fast people have gotten in a short period of time. Seeing everybody have a good time on light gear is awesome. Expect a fun, energetic crowd and race as fast or as slow as you want. New people show up [to] every race.”
The Brighton Citizen Series Races are held at Brighton Ski Resort. Check utahskimo.org for this year’s race recaps. The races are open to anyone.