Pascal Egli, one of Switzerland’s top Skyrunners, explains how he uses SkiMo for big winter days.
A mountain runner in love with skimo
For me, skimo is the pendant to winter mountain running! As a true mountain lover I don’t quit the mountains in winter and start running only on the road. Climbing mostly the same mountains as I do in summer, but with the beautiful feeling of sliding on skis and the fast, energy-saving downhill as a reward, this is when the real fun begins. Compared to running, skimo feels even more free because I do not have to follow trails – I often make my own skin track. If I want to train right from home, I can put on skis in front of the door and follow the local piste up before the sunrise, before going to work. It is excellent endurance training that lets me gain more vertical meters than I usually do on a summer run due to the easy and fast downhill. Logging 3-4000 vertical meters (and up to 6 summits!) on a sunny winter day is not unusual. Skimo helps my legs keep the strength needed for steep and technical Skyraces in summer, and allows small running injuries to heal over the winter while I continue training. I also compete in regional and sometimes international skimo races such as Mezzalama, because the atmosphere is unique and racing on skis is good mental training for me.
Light skimo gear combined with a good physical shape can open entirely different thinking and moving horizons. In the spring, I don’t need to worry about the weight of the skis, even if I have to carry them on my back for 1000 vertical meters to reach the snow line. With skimo gear I can climb a technical route which involves some rock or ice climbing then ski down the other side of the mountain. A rather hard and dangerous enterprise with ‘traditional’ heavy ski touring gear. I am not a material fetichist – I merely use mountain gear because I need it. My gear is often worn down and not always up-to-date as my friends can confirm. I go to the mountains for the experience not for the hype around new material, but still, I appreciate the value of lightweight skimo gear.
I often travel by train, especially in Switzerland. Light and simple skimo gear is exactly what I need for the way I live. Skis and boots in one hand, laptop in the other. Sometimes I prefer to approach the mountains with skis attached to the bike. A fun experience with friends and much more relaxed in ‘skimo mode’. This ‘skimo style’ has become normal to my friends and I and has led to epic adventures like a trip to the high Russian Caucasus mountains last May spent with Chris Moser.
Skimo on Mount Elbrus (5640 m)
We went to the Russian Caucasus to race the ‘Red Fox Elbrus Race’, a run/hike to the top of Mount Elbrus (5640 m) starting at an elevation of 2300 m! Rushed for time, we arrived less than a week prior to the race, which made the acclimatization period too short. At least we were somewhat pre-acclimatized from the Alps. On the first day after our arrival at the village of Azau, we climbed as high as possible on the mountain. We skied down in a few minutes and went to rest. The next day we wanted to go higher, but due to the registration procedure and other delays, we didn’t leave the ‘Barrels’ camp at 3800 m.a.s.l. Until after noon. With our light skis and minimal gear (plus many warm jackets) we advanced quickly, and soon it became clear that we were going to ‘spontaneously’ reach our summit. By the pass at 5300 m we started to feel the effects of the thin air, and the strong cold wind added to our fatigue. On the icy steep slope leading up to the summit plateau we put on our light aluminum crampons, boot-packed the super light skis, and the final climb went smoothly in spite of the wind. At 4:15 p.m. we finally reached the summit, stuck by indescribable joy and a magnificent panorama of the Georgian and Russian Caucasus mountain chain. We ripped the skimo skins off, put the crampons back into the backpack and skied all the way down to the village, 3000 meters below. The fact that we reached the summit without even planning for it was one big surprise, and `thanks to the light material, we still had enough energy to enjoy the downhill! In the village we drank beers and ate a filling Russian dinner among other international competitors. A few days later I managed to finish 3rd in the Mount Elbrus Race, reaching the summit in 3h56min from the village (3300 vertical meters and 16 km).
By Pascal Egli (on Instagram: pascalegli)
Pascal is a mountain runner for the Swiss Team and a Dynafit athlete who holds the course records of several Skyraces. Besides being one of Switzerland’s top Skyrunners, he’s a PhD student in glacier hydrology, likes to travel, and speaks multiple languages.