ski mountaineering
Ski Mountaineering, Team Race. 3rd CISM World Winter Games; (photo/Alexander Safonov, CISM 2017)

Olympic Ski Mountaineering Set for 2026 Italian Debut

The International Olympic Committee will introduce several competition categories for the new sport at the Milano Cortina games.

In 2026, for the first time, ski mountaineering will be an Olympic sport. In its session on July 20, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) unanimously approved the new sport. The International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) will govern its implementation.

When the winter games head to Italy, 48 athletes (24 women, 24 men) will compete in five new medal events in Milano Cortina, where ski mountaineering is both popular and deeply ingrained.

“I am sure that all my colleagues and the entire world of ski mountaineering are feeling an indescribable emotion in this moment,” ISMF President Thomas Kähr said, “and I can assure that the ISMF will do its utmost to present a magnificent sport at the Olympic Winter Games Milano Cortina 2026.”

Here’s what to look for in the first iteration of Olympic “skimo.”

ski mountaineering zagorski alex
Ski mountaineer Zagorski Alex climbs on Avachinskiy Volcano during an ISMF individual race; (photo/Alexander Piragis, Shutterstock)

Ski Mountaineering Basics and Olympic Competition Format

Ski mountaineering, or skimo, is adventurous and brutally physical by nature. Fusing alpine climbing and ski touring, it requires off-piste skiing, avalanche safety and, at times, technical climbing ability.

Olympic formats include men’s and women’s individual and sprint categories, and one mixed-gender relay. Each event does appear to focus on the skiing aspects of the sport with an emphasis on speed.

But the sport’s foundation is mountaineering; at its heart, it’s a methodology for traversing mountain terrain.

At this point, it’s hard to tell what role mountaineering will play in competition. Thus, some skimo advocates point out that overemphasizing speed could destabilize the sport by widening the gap between amateurs and pros.

Prolific ski mountaineer and ultrarunner Kilian Jornet expressed his own enthusiasm — and questions — on Facebook.

Balancing: Ski Mountaineering’s Role in European Mountain Culture vs. International Exposure

The IOC’s announcement gives enthusiasts like Jornet — at all levels of skill and/or fame — cause for both excitement and apprehension. But until we know more from the Committee, conjecture over the 2026 Games’ effect on the sport will have to suffice. However, it is clear that the IOC evaluated the intrinsic role skimo plays within Italian mountaineering while making its decision.

In a statement, the Committee recognized the sport’s popularity in Italy, as well as its historical and sporting roots across the Alpine region. It also noted that Italy is “one of the world’s leading nations” in skimo competition. If anything, that’s an understatement: seven out of the top 10 men and five out of the top 10 women in ISMF’s worldwide rankings are Italian.

Milano Cortina Winter Olympics 2026

Leading up to the Milano Cortina Games in 2026, the ski mountaineering world will be buzzing.

“We are Olympic! We are writing an important page in the history of winter sports,” Kähr said. “It has been a long and intense path, but now the satisfaction is unthinkable and the skimo community must be proud of this achievement.”

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Mountain guide Michael Brackenhofer and Danielle Willhoeft climbing in British Columbia, Canada

Keep tabs on ski mountaineering in the 2026 Milano Cortina Olympics.

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Sam Anderson
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Sam has roamed the American continent to follow adventures, explore natural wonders, and find good stories. After going to college to be a writer, he got distracted (or saved) by rock climbing and spent most of the next decade on the road, supporting himself with trade work. He's had addresses in the Adirondack Mountains, Las Vegas, and somehow Kansas, but his heart belongs in the Texas hill country.