ISMF Referee Course

Ski mountaineering (skimo) has been a large sport in Europe for many years and some of these races have been around for 100 years. I like to compare skimo races in Europe to 5K races in the US. It seems like every city has a 5K over the summer in the US, just like every mountain village in Europe has a skimo race. Even more amazing is that there are hundreds of racers and spectators at these races. With skimo racing so large in Europe, it is no surprise that they are so organized. They have national teams with coaches and monetary sponsorship so that the athletes can focus on training and racing. Because of this, there are a lot of very fast skimo racers in Europe.

The US is quite a bit behind in skimo racing. Our oldest official races are only 12-13 years old and typically have 100-160 racers (except for a couple team races that exist). The sport has seen rapid growth in the US and there are now 43 races listed on the US Ski Mountaineering Association (USSMA) calendar (not including many town races, bandit races, and citizen series). There are a lot of people in the US that are working to grow the sport through races. The race directors of these races have been an integral part of skimo. The work of a skimo race director is a labor of love with little (and more likely no) monetary return for the hundreds (and often thousands) of hours spent to put on a successful race. In addition to these race directors, the USSMA‚Äôs mission statement is “sanctioning and governing competitive ski mountaineering racing in the US and promoting and fostering recreational ski mountaineering through access, resources, education, and community.”

For many years, the USSMA has been a labor of love for Pete Swenson. In the past 6 months, a group of us (Pete, Bryan Wickenhauser, Chris Thompson, and Chad Brackelsberg) have started serious discussions of how we step up the work of the USSMA and continue to build skimo in the US. There have been several aspects to this including a new web site, social media push, setting up a points race series for the 2012-2013 race season, starting work on USSMA membership, setting up criteria to be a USSMA sanctioned race, and most importantly, starting to put together plans for International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) sanctioned races for 2013-2014 and a World Cup race (either 2013-2014 or 2014-2015). One of the first steps of getting ISMF sanctioned and World Cup races is to get certified ISMF Referees in North America. Pete started putting together plans for a referee course a few months ago and a date of December 6-9 was finalized. This date was planned to be in conjunction with the Irwin/La Sportiva SkiMo Race in Crested Butte. We would get hands on experience during the course by running the Irwin race as if it was an ISMF race. Unfortunately, mother nature didn’t behave and the Irwin race was postponed until April 13 (tentative date). The race postponement did not change our referee course plans.

The ISMF referee course is usually a 37 hour course taught over 4.5 days. We had just over 3 days so we had all signed up for long days. Each morning started with a few of us getting on to the resort for some skimo training followed by a long stretch of classroom and on-mountain training. During the class we covered everything from the pages and pages of ISMF rulesthat govern how a race is organized, racer rules, required gear, penalties, etc., to avalanche education, to risk management, to legal issues that need to be considered when putting on a race (aka – scare the crap out of a race director). The on-mountain component was around course flagging, course routing, how to set a proper course, and more. The course was wrapped up with an on-mountain physical endurance test, written test, and a 9 page written race report. We completed the course Sunday evening with our heads spinning with all the work we need to do for our own races as well as the work we need to continue to do to build skimo in the US.

We spent an immense number of hours Thursday through Sunday concentrating on all of the rules and regulations with specifics outlined above. The participants in this course were Pete, Bryan, Chris, and myself from the US and Kylee Ohler and Brent Harris from Canada. Our instructors were Jordi Canals Fontan from Barcelona and David Dornian from Calgary. By the end of the weekend the 6 of us were certified ISMF Referees (pending our final written report) for North America. Along with David, there are now 7 certified ISMF Referees in North America (and another 2 who are inactive). We look forward to utilizing our knowledge and move forward to create and maintain great skimo races in the US.

Stay tuned over the next few weeks for more details about sanctioned races and updates to the rules required to be followed for a USSMA sanctioned race for the 2012-2013 race year. All of these updates will be on the USSMA web site.


The new ISMF Referees: Brent, Kylee, Chad, Bryan, Pete, and Chris


ISMF Referee Course Instructors: David and Jordi


On mountain referee course work