By Phil McLachlan
The Lizard Skinner Ski Mountaineering race took flight on Saturday, sending racers climbing up Mt. Fernie and flying down the other side in a race against time.
28 people took on the Lizard Skinner challenge this year, 19 of which were elite racers and national team competitors. Those participating followed a 15.2 km route up the mountain, starting at the Falling Star slope at the Fernie Alpine Resort. Next, a descent down big bang and timber trail leads you to the base of Summer Road, which is the up track that takes you to another descent down Diamond Back to the finish area. The first section is repeated by those in the elite category, to make the race longer and more challenging. A total gain and loss in elevation was around 1600 metres.
Brent Harris has been involved with SMCC for over ten years, and serves as a certified International Ski-mountaineering Federation referee at events such as these.
“The feedback from the athletes was great,” said Harris. “They enjoyed it, they had great weather, good course, fast, and good snow up top above the freeze line.”
Peter Knight proved to be the fastest male elite as well as the top overall, completing the course in a time of 1:46:57. The fastest female elite was Kylee Ohler, who finished the track in 2:06:00. Marcus Zamzow took first place in the recreational division, finishing with a time of 1:50:38.
This is the second year for ski-mountaineering on the mountain, a sport that is growing in popularity. Differing from cross-country skiing, ski-mountaineering follows a race format of hiking and downhill racing; it is truly a combination of many sports. The rules dictate there must be at least two boot-packs (hiking sections with skis on your back) in the race.
Throughout the ski-mountaineering season there are half a dozen races across western
Canada, and many of the elite racers follow this circuit competing and gaining points. Canada has a national men’s and women’s ski-mountaineering team, and they are off to the world championships in Italy next month to compete on behalf of Canada. Many of the elite athletes that are on these two teams competed in the Lizard Skinner race.
“I think it’s great that Fernie and the community embraces ski-mountaineering racing, because really and truly, the Elk Valley has a long history of ski-touring,” said Harris. “This is just racing on skis and adding a bit of a mountaineering component to it… It’s a fit.”
This sport of ski-mountaineering has been around for a very long time, and originated in Europe. In Canada, the United States, Japan and Korea, its popularity is slowly growing.
Many racers that participated in the event are national competitors and therefore travel to the events, but there were also a few Fernieites that took on the challenge as well.
“(With) this race, definitely there’s a lot of people who are serious about it,” said event coordinator and professional ski photographer, Mark Gallup. “But we really want to focus on getting more recreation going, and have more fun with it… We don’t want people to be scared of it. We just want people to come out and have fun.”
The Lizard Skinner is just one of many events put on by Ski Mountaineering Competition Canada. Many sponsors helped support the event, including the donation of prizes by MEC, BUFF, and other winter sporting groups. Award ceremonies and post-race celebrations were hosted at the Cirque Restaurant located at the Fernie Alpine Resort.