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Kamiya Peterson shares ins and outs of ski mountaineering

Kamiya Peterson, a senior outdoor recreation design major at Westminster College, is an avid skier and snowboarder who has lived up Big Cottonwood Canyon all her life. Peterson coaches ski mountaineering, or skimo, which is a sport approved for the 2026 Olympic Games, according to the United States Ski Mountaineering Association

Kamiya Peterson, a senior outdoor recreation design major and ski mountaineer, captures the 2019 skimo Work Cup in Switzerland. “There are local races that are so lowkey and it’s just a great community to be a part of,” Peterson said. Photo courtesy of Kamiya Peterson.

Peterson said her passion for skimo comes from her love of skiing and being in the outdoors. For those who are unaware of skimo, Peterson said it is similar to backcountry touring except people are racing against each other. She said backcountry touring is skiing out of bounds, not in a resort, where one also has to hike up the peak they want to ski down. 

“Most people use skins while backcountry touring which attach to the bottom of your skis and allow you to hike uphill,” Peterson said.

Kamiya Peterson, a senior outdoor recreation design major and ski mountaineer,
displays her ski mountaineering boots and equipment outside her home Sept. 16. There are local races that are so lowkey and it’s just a great community to be a part of. Photo courtesy of Sophie Killilea.

Peterson’s younger brother, Rush Peterson is also involved in skimo and he competes as a junior on the Silver Fork Skimo Team. He competed in the Skimo World Cup in Switzerland, along with two other juniors from the Silver Fork skimo Team, according to Rush Peterson. 

“I love skimo because it let’s me go to exciting, [new and remote] places efficiently,” Rush Peterson said. 

The following interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: How were you introduced to skimo?

A: I was first introduced by my neighbor, who happens to be one of the racers on the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Team, and she got [all the neighborhood kids] started. At the time I was 16, my younger brother was 10 and there were a couple of other kids.  […] We got some gear from the local shop which we fit into so [our neighbor] took us up the run. It was a lot of fun and since then she was like, “let’s start a team” and here we are. 

Q: How would you describe skimo?

A: The simplest way I say it is backcountry skiing but racing, so you’re traveling the same but everything’s a lot lighter in order to get up the hill, and then race back down the hill. It’s in the backcountry, as well as in bounds at resorts. 

Q: What is your favorite aspect of skimo?

A: I think my favorite aspect is being out and being able to experience the wilderness around us in different ways. A lot of our practices and races take place at night or early in the evenings, so being able to watch the sunset over the mountains as we’re hiking up the hill is a really great experience. 

Q: How long have you been participating in skimo?

A: I started on the youth team when I was 16 up until I was 18 and then after that I’ve been assistant coaching, so this will be my second season. 

Rush Peterson, a ski mountaineer, rips  his skins off in the Wasatch mountain range March 2021.  Peterson competed in the skimo World Cup in Switzerland, along with two other juniors from the Silver Fork skimo Team in 2019. Photo courtesy of Kamiya Peterson.

Q: What got you into coaching?

A: I was only able to be on the team for two years just because by the time it was formed, I was already 18 so I wanted to still be a part of it — especially since it was growing. [Our team] started with four kids and now we have about 40. Since I still wanted to be involved, our original coach asked if I wanted to help out.

Q: What kind of races are there?

A: Within the skimo competition there are a few different races that the athletes can be a part of. One of them is the individual race, which is the long race and for our youth. It’s about four to six miles and for adults it can be 10 plus miles. It’s a very intense race. Another type of competition is the vertical race which is when the athletes are only getting timed to ski straight up the mountain so it’s just as fast and as quick in the best route you can take. 

Q: What are the dangers of skimo and what safety precautions are taken?

A: A large majority of our races do take place in resort bounds just because it gives the extra benefit and precaution of having the avalanche control and safety already [available] and partnering with the patrollers for that. However, that doesn’t mean all of the races happen in resort bounds. Here are a large number of volunteers for races that’ll go out and scope the course [beforehand.] 

[…] For the racers, it is imperative that they have avalanche safety knowledge. Every racer needs to carry backcountry gear on them whether we’re in resort bounds or not, and it’s expected they know how to use it. Some of these races can be six to 10 miles of individual racing by themselves and they can be on the course alone.

Q: Since skimo is expensive, what are some ways for people to try it at a low cost?

A: There is a local skimo shop, I believe it’s the only one in the valley, Skimo Co, and they do have rentals. I think you can get boots for $20 and skis for $10, so that’s an easy way to get started. However, any backcountry gear works as part of skimo since they kind of overlap in that sense, so even a split board would work. The only added piece is the racing which makes it a little spicy. 

Q: Who are the majority of people who skimo?

A: I would say it’s most popular for the mid 20s to early 30s age range for being a very competitive endurance sport, and there aren’t a lot of women who participate.

Q: What advice would you give to people trying to get into skimo?

A: The advice I would give people is just go do it. It’s really fun, you don’t have to worry about the gear, it can be as heavy as you can find and it’s still so much fun. There are local races that are so lowkey and it’s just a great community to be a part of. So if you’re at all interested, just find someone a part of it and they will take you under their wing and get you started for sure. 

Kamiya Peterson, a senior outdoor recreation design major and ski mountaineer, prepares her skimo gear outside her home Sept. 16. “Every racer needs to carry backcountry gear on them whether we’re in resort bounds or not, and it’s expected they know how to use it,” Peterson said. Photo courtesy of Sophie Killilea.

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