The Revelstoke contingent of the Canadian Ski Mountaineering team

Local ski mountaineers ready to race in Europe

When the Canadian Ski Mountaineering team arrives in Europe next week for the world championships, they’ll be returning to a continent where their sport is highly popular – unlike the scattered few that compete in Canada.

“It’s grassroots here. The sport is slowly building over the past five years,” said Andrew McNab. “In Europe, there’s races that have been going for 25 to 30 years and over 400 people attending a race and thousands spectating. Here we just get made fun of at ski hills more than we get supported.”

McNab, 26, is one of three Revelstokians who are members of the national team that will be competing in Claut, Italy from Feb. 18-25. The other two are Melanie Bernier, 29, and Julie Matteau, 33.

Ski mountaineering is a common pastime in Revelstoke and much of Western Canada but the racing scene is quite small, with only about 30 regulars showing up at competitions. While many people go out ski touring, few extend that into racing.

“It’s not in the mentality here,” said Matteau. “People go into the backcountry to enjoy it. They don’t see the competition component of it. They go into the backcountry to relax and enjoy powder.”

The difference in the cultures extends to the races themselves. Europe has an established World Cup circuit while there are only a few scattered races in Canada that are run by the Alpine Club of Canada. As well, in Europe races go out into the backcountry, while in Canada the races are usually confined to in-bounds areas of resorts.

Additionally, the European events have crews who set tracks for the competitors, while in Canada the racers have to break trail along the way – making for a much more challenging and less even competition.

“It’s not really racing if someone’s breaking trail,” said McNab.

Still, the sport is attracting a small but dedicated following in North America. One sign, Bernier said, is that about 50 racers showed up at the U.S. championships in Jackson Hole wearing spandex race suits – one sign of dedication to the sport.

Spandex is just one key piece of gear. Ski mountaineers also use ultra-lightweight equipment that maximizes efficiency on the way up while still allowing for good control going downhill.

The terrain they cover in the races can get quite technical – with steep boot-packs, ridge walks, narrow chutes and tight trees to manoeuvre through.

“You go through mountain ranges and every day you’re going to a different destination and you’re never in a ski resort,” said Bernier.

For Bernier and Matteau, this will be their third world championships. At their first one, in 2008, they said their goal was to simply finish the race.

“The first year we didn’t know what to expect,” said Bernier. “Our goal was to finish. I may be last but I will finish. I will survive.”

They ended up finishing 30th and 33rd respectively out of 44 women

At last year’s world championship, both improved dramatically, with Bernier winding up in 16th spot and Matteau in 21st (out of 41 racers). This year, Bernier is looking to crack the top 15 and, hopefully, the top 10, while Matteau has not set a personal goal.

McNab went to the world championships for the first time in 2010 and wound up in 100th place out of 116 competitors. This year he’s aiming to finish in the top half.

They, along with their teammates, are working on fostering the growth of the sport in Canada. The community is tight-knit and highly supportive of each other, they said. They don’t get any funding so, unless they’re sponsored, they have to finance the trip to Europe themselves, as well as buy the equipment they need.

The other members of the team going to Europe are Reiner Thoni, Steve Sellers, Stano Faban, Alex Wigley and James Minifie. Thoni is the top competitor in Canada and last year he finished 85th at the world championships. At the American Ski Mountaineering Championships in Jackson Hole, Wyoming last month, Thoni finished first, ahead of the favoured Peter Swanson of the U.S.

The world championships consists of a 100 metre vertical sprint to start things off on Feb. 19, followed by the team race the next day, the vertical race (uphill only) on Feb. 22, the individual race on Feb. 24 and relays on Feb. 25. You can track results at

Just Posted

Temporary Cold Weather Shelter in the works for Revelstoke

The Women’s Shelter Society, BC Housing and the city are working on making it happen

Black bear kills donkey in Revelstoke, put down by RCMP

Conservation Officer says once they attack livestock they are a danger to the public

Alberta woman dies in motorcycle accident in Revelstoke

RCMP say an SUV turned left in front of the motorcycle

High 30 for Revelstoke today

Roads and weather conditions

Balu Pass closed in Glacier National Park

The National Park is east of Revelstoke on Highway 1

VIDEO: Could we BE any more excited? ‘Friends’ fans go crazy for merch

Movie theatres will show select episodes to mark the NBC series’ 25th anniversary

Penticton man sentenced in non-fatal 2017 shooting

Elkena Michael Knauff sentenced to seven and a half months in jail

Bodies of two missing Surrey men found near Ashcroft

Ryan Provencher and Richard Scurr have been missing since July 17

Kamloops RCMP locate and arrest man who fled from police

The 22-year-old male was wanted in relation to a domestic violence investigation

Five hedgehogs quickly adopted after being left at BC SPCA

Lucky new owners picked up their pets from Maple Ridge branch on Aug. 20

COLUMN: Much to enjoy at Ryga Arts Festival

As I learn about George Ryga and his contributions, it is clear why this festival carries his name

Okanagan RCMP superintendent helps with arrest

Vernon Supt. Shawna Baher arrests man for theft; turns out to be suspect in assault and robbery

Kelowna man arrested after allegedly setting blaze near Fire Department

The man was allegedly seen lighting bushes on fire near the Kelowna Fire Department

Most Read