After participating in her first skimo race last winter, adventure writer Morgan Tilton shares her gear recommendations for those looking to get into the sport
Last winter, I racked up thousands of vertical feet in preparation for the Gothic Mountain Tour, a 24-mile skimo race with 5,100 feet of ascent, which circumnavigates the high-altitude peaks of my backyard in Crested Butte, Colorado. In a myriad of conditions, from polar temperatures to side-cutting snow to sunshine, I tested a range of winter apparel and gear. This handful of designs rose to the top for uphill skiing, backcountry laps and skimo races.
Dynafit PDG (now the Mezzalama)Ski
Would I grab these skis for floaty snorkel turns in the backcountry? No. But these 790-gram race sticks were a life-saver for my hip flexors on uphill laps, a significant time-shaver, and could manage long and rough descents. I was impressed with the skis’ stability especially while edging steep or icy slopes and for hauling speed through packed or variable terrain. For 2020-2021, the PDG was replaced by the Mezzalama, a ski with equally minimal weight and the same materials: a Paulownia wood core plus fiberglass and carbon speed stringers for lightness and stability. What changed? The shape is redialed: The two available lengths are slightly longer. The waist is a tad tighter. And the sidecut is narrower. In turn, this skinny but stout ski is 10 grams less and meant to handle speed even better. It costs less, too.
Widely recognized as the speediest skins on the market, these thin pure-mohair strips glide fast thanks to a proprietary fiber-treatment that reduces friction. The fibers also feature glop-prevention and their grip grabbed steep faces super well. The glue was resilient and robust without leaving behind residue. Also, the straight silhouette and 59 millimeter-width was key for racing, so that the sticky underside didn’t eat snow. In my experience, it’s key to carry an emergency-use pair during a race, so get yourself two sets.
The TLT8 is a solid choice for skimo racing and backcountry tours or expeditions: It’s the answer for athletes seeking a single boot that can tackle all of their off-piste goals. This boot is among the lightest on the market – 1,020 grams per wingtip – yet it features a well-padded liner, which provides support and comfort on descents through powder, over hardpack and through choppy conditions.The fit is precise and streamlined. With gloves on, the upper buckle easily clicked back-and-forth between ski and walk mode. And the range of motion is nearly 60 degrees, which helped with tackling steep terrain. Though crampons weren’t required for my skimo race, this boot is compatible.
The Alpiner was my go-to active insulation jacket for frigid uphill sessions. This layer is super breathable yet warm and streamlined. I loved the stretchy wrist cuffs, which bar wind but easily slipped over my watch or gloves.
For moving fast, this highly-breathable, lightweight speed-touring pack out-soared my everyday backcountry pack. The pockets are strategically designed, so I stayed well-organized and efficient, which is important for safety as well as race time. Among the best features, there’s a stashable helmet-carry and safety box: a well-lined compartment in the bottom-third of the pack that’s made for crampons. That safety tool wasn’t necessary for my race, but I found that the pocket worked well for nutrition storage against my lower back.
Ultra-breathable, supple, soft and resistant against the elements: I can’t live without this ultralight softshell. This jacket was perfect for chilly, breezy uphill jaunts.
I perspire like a pack mule on climbs, so next-to-skin layers are crucial for wicking away droplets and staving off the chills. This bottom was comfortable, fairly soft and retained warmth even after a sweat-bomb.
This mitten happened to be the final piece of my kit that I purchased, and I’m never going back. The center of each palm has a malleable opening, so I could slide my hands out to dump heat on climbs. Then, I quickly returned my hands to their cocoon for protection against biting wind. With this design, I seldom needed to stash these mittens, which was a time-saver. Plus, if you have an emergency, this pair will help keep you from frostbite.
Like many ladies, my bigger cheeks get cold during winter workouts, especially with windchill. This chafe-free, non-wedgie, soft layer was a welcomed addition to outings on my skinny skis.
It’s easy to guffaw at ski runners in tight suits—until you try one. The Nilit Innergy fabric reflects body heat, meaning I never donned a jacket during the entire Gothic Mountain Tour. In fact, I didn’t once adjust my layers despite beginning the race in a freezing-wet blizzard, reaching the Top of the World in gusty weather, and then skating in sunshine. I experienced zero abrasion, thanks to the flat seams. And the internal skin pockets were secure and perfect for fast switch-outs. If you can embrace the flamboyance, the benefits are tenfold.