Grace Staberg competes in the ski mountaineering women’s individual at the Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 on Jan. 10, 2020 in Lausanne, Switzerland.
LAUSANNE, Switzerland — It was a historic day at Villars Winter Park that saw the sport of ski mountaineering contested for the first time ever on an Olympic program.
For four Team USA athletes - George Beck, Samantha Paisley, Grace Staberg and Jeremiah Vaille - it meant the sport that they quietly train for in mountain towns of Colorado and Utah had made it to one of the biggest stages in the world.
“It’s an awe-inspiring experience,” said Staberg, who trains mostly in Breckenridge, Colorado. “It shows that our sport is moving up and all these new opportunities are coming. I hope this is what helps make it stick around for the Olympic Games.”
If the palpable energy today was any indication of its future on the Olympic Games program, things are looking hopeful for the American ski mountaineering community.
“Most people at the top of ski mountaineering are European, but in the U.S. it’s still very small,” Beck - a native of Aspen, Colorado - explained. “I think the publicity it gets here at the Youth Olympic Games will be very good for growing the sport.”
The sport of ski mountaineering, which is often referred to as “skimo,” is a winter sport that combines characteristics of cross-country skiing and alpine skiing, along with mountaineering techniques, in a race that tests one’s cardio and technical skill.
According to Beck, the transition from climbing uphill - either with skins on the skis or while carrying the skis on their rucksacks - to alpine skiing downhill is the most technical and important part of the race that can help you win or lose an event.
The Europeans reigned supreme on the course today, as Swiss athletes claimed the top two podium positions in both the men’s and women’s individual races, while the bronze medalists hailed from France and Austria. Team USA skimo athletes were able to hold their own and plan to take their lessons learned into their next races - and then back home to continue growing their sport.
With less than a year of international competition under her belt, U.S. top-finisher Staberg quickly set the tone for the historic day, staying within the top eight females after the first lap of competition. After two laps that combined for four climbs and four descents, Staberg crossed the finish line in third place with a time of 1:00:21.24. However, a penalty during one of the transitions added three minutes to her time, resulting in a seventh-place finish and a new time of 1:03:21.24. Paisley also competed in the women’s individual event, finishing 17th, while Beck and Vaille finished 12th and 20th the men’s individual event.
For Staberg, the energy from the day is what will stick with her and carry her through the next two competitions - the sprint race on Jan. 13 and the mixed relay on Jan. 14. But for today, Staberg hopes that the new-found stage at the Winter Youth Olympic Games will only help grow the participation and interest levels in the U.S.
“It’s way easier to get into ski mountaineering than you would ever think,” Staberg said. “Most people already have all of the skills to do it, they just have yet to do it. It’s a super fun sport.”