Major steps taken toward 2026 Olympics including ski mountaineering in Italy
FRISCO — The sport of ski mountaineering is on the precipice of officially becoming an Olympic sport.
The International Olympic Committee announced Friday, June 18, that the IOC’s executive board sent a formal proposal to the committee to vote on whether to formally add the sport to the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy. It is anticipated the vote will take place at the next IOC session on July 20 and 21 in Tokyo.
The IOC executive board’s decision coincides with the official proposal from the organizing committee for the 2026 Olympics to include the sport.
Summit County local Ram Mikulas, the president of the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association, said the development is a huge step toward Olympic inclusion for the sport. Mikulas added he’s confident the IOC will grant final approval at the July meeting.
“It seems the IOC executive board is in favor and, given that, I would anticipate that the rest of the IOC voting members would follow suit,” he said.
The executive board’s proposal consists of five new ski mountaineering medal events for the 2026 games. There would be men’s and women’s sprint and individual events, as well as a mixed-gender relay.
The five medal events are identical to the five medal events hosted at the 2020 Youth Winter Olympics in Lausanne, Switzerland. In its Friday statement, the IOC said the success of ski mountaineering in Lausanne is a main reason they are proposing it for Milan-Cortina.
Grace Staberg of Silverthorne represented the U.S. at the Lausanne Youth Olympics and, this past year, was the lone American competing on the World Cup circuit in Europe. Staberg, who would be 24 in time for the 2026 games, said the general consensus on the World Cup circuit this season was that it would only be a matter of time before the sport became Olympic.
“Even having the chance to compete for a chance on an Olympic team in a selections race would be a big honor,” Staberg said. “I definitely hope I would have that opportunity at some point in my athletic career.”
The proposed five medal events, like the 2020 Youth Winter Olympics, don’t include the vertical discipline, which is one of the three primary disciplines on the International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championship and World Cup circuit.
The proposal outlines a quota of 24 men and 24 women be able to compete across the disciplines at the 2026 Olympics. The proposal also specifically says the sport’s popularity and success in Italy is a leading reason for the proposed inclusion in the 2026 games — a notion Mikulas concurred with.
“Italy is one of the strongest nations in the sport,” Mikulas said. “It bodes well for them.”
The proposal added the sport’s growing amateur popularity globally as another contributing factor.
Here in the states, Mikulas said the United States’ ability to earn spots in the games will likely depend on the country’s performances at world and continental championships.
“For example, for the Youth Olympic games we qualified by doing well in the (International Ski Mountaineering Federation) World Championships and, in our case, the North American championships,” Mikulas said. “So by the U.S. doing well, we were able to earn four spots to the Youth Olympic Games — two boys and two girls. And then we determined a selection process and worked with the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee to approve that. For 2026, most likely, it would be similar.”
Mikulas said since Friday’s announcement, the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee has reached out to him and the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association to engage on a new level.
“Once the sport becomes an Olympic sport, it will enable us to get more resources, assistance and communication with the (United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee), which helps us grow as a national governing body,” Mikulas said.
Mikulas said that with Olympic inclusion, new steps for the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association would include developing an official anti-doping program and Safe Sport harassment and abuse policies, among other administrative and legal requirements.
Breckenridge local and U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association head coach Joe Howdyshell said 2026 Olympic sprint races would be a great in-person spectator discipline for the games, while the much longer individual race would provide picturesque views of the race — and Cortina region — to television viewers.
As for the United States’ progression in the sport, Howdyshell said the country can follow the trajectory of cross-country skiing by focusing on short-term success in the sprint discipline.
“You can work skills really well and be competitive in sprints typically a little sooner than you can for the individual race,” the coach said. “For the U.S., we’ve historically had some of our best results at the international level in sprints.”
In a titanic battle of 35-year-old local superstars, John Gaston outdueled Simi Hamilton on Saturday to win the fourth iteration of the Snowmass 50 mountain bike race.
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