Race Formats, Rules and Required Equipment

Race Formats

Individual Race

The individual race is the most common and popular race format in North America. An individual race typically has a minimum of three ascents and descents for men and women, and 2 for juniors. The longest ascent will generally account for less than 50% of the total elevation gain of the event.

Race times vary depending on the event, but top racers should complete the event in 1.5-2 hours, with a minimum elevation gain of 1,300 meters. The individual race should also contain at least one bootpacking section (on foot, skis on pack).

Individual races often include a recreational category with a shortened course and/or reduced technicality. Individual races may also include race categories for “skiduro” (cumulative descent time) and “heavy metal” (traditional ski touring equipment above a certain weight).

Teams Race

Similar to the Individual race, but of greater length and must be completed with a partner. Total elevation gain should be at least 2,100 meters and finish times should be 3 or more hours for the top team.

In the team event, a team (usually composed of two racers) must race together for the duration of the event and must also finish together. During ascents, team members should not be separated by more than 30 seconds, and during descents no more than 10 seconds. Team members must leave all checkpoints and transitions together and must finish within 5 seconds of each other.

Team event formats and equipment requirements can vary widely. Always see specific race information for event details.

Sprint Race

The sprint race is a short-format event consisting of one or more skinning sections, a bootpacking section, and a clearly marked gate descent.

As the title implies, this is a very fast race, and is based on completing the total course in approximately 3 minutes for the fastest racers. The total ascent and descent is roughly 100m, with athletes starting and finishing at almost the same point. The race begins with an individual time trial seeding/qualification run, in which athletes start one after the other every 20 seconds. After the qualifying round, athletes face each other in elimination heats of up to 6 racers.

Although the ascent is usually on well packed snow, the descent is supposed to be fun and can be on or off-piste, with gates and with small jumps.

Sprint races typically have qualifying phases, quarter-finals, semi-finals and a final round. Races have a maximum of six athletes per heat.

Avalanche/emergency safety gear and clothing requirements are frequently relaxed in this format. Always see specific race information for event details.

Relay Race

The relay takes place in a team of 3 or 4 competitors, but with members of the team carrying out the ‘circuit’ one after the other, with each athlete racing once. Again, this is quite a fast event, with each circuit lasting about 15 minutes, including 2 ascents and descents, and a short section with the skis on the backpack.

The total height gain is about 150 to 180m.

Avalanche/emergency safety gear and clothing requirements are frequently relaxed in this format. Always see specific race information for event details.

Vertical Race

The vertical race is a single ascent completed entirely on skis using skins, no bootpacking or downhill skiing is involved. Vertical gain should be at least 500 meters for men and women, and 400-500 meters for juniors.

The vertical is a simple race to the top. Rules on helmets, packs and other gear are frequently relaxed in this format. Always see specific race information for event details.

Universal Rules

Uphill skinning marked with green flags – racers must use skins on skis to climb. Bootpacking, even in the case of equipment failure will be penalized.

Bootpacking marked with yellow flags – racers must have skis or split board attached to backpack and travel on foot.

Descending marked with red flags – racers must wear helmet, remove skins and lock heels (if applicable to binding type).

If a competitor is in need of help, racers must stop to assist them. Finish times may be recalculated to account for racers who stop to render aid. Penalties will be applied to racers who fail to stop to render aid.

Helmets must be worn for descents (some races also require helmets for bootpacking). While it is technically legal for a racer to remove their helmet while skinning, is normal and recommended to keep one’s helmet on for the duration of the race.

Gloves must be worn at all times. This protects from cold, as well as injuries due to crashes and edges during transitions.

Competitors must wear a 3 antenna transceiver inside or underneath their clothing throughout the race, as well as carry a shovel and probe. This rule is frequently relaxed in the Vertical, Sprint and Relay formats if the course does not pass through avalanche terrain.

Additional rules vary by location, race director, and type of race. Always see specific race information for event details.

For more detailed and up-to-the-minute rules for the sport of Ski Mountaineering, please visit the website for the International Ski Mountaineering Federation and follow the links through Official Texts – Sport Regulations – Sporting Rules.

Required Equipment

Ski Equipment:

  • Skis with metal edges or splitboard
  • Bindings (alpine touring or telemark)
  • Boots (walk mode strongly recommended)
  • Skins
  • Poles

Safety Equipment:

  • Three antenna avalanche beacon
  • Probe
  • Shovel with handle
  • Helmet
  • Gloves
  • Pack (capable of carrying skis or split board)
  • Protective eyewear – usually sunglasses and/or googles
  • Emergency blanket or bivy
  • Whistle
  • Note that more or less equipment may be required based on specific race and format details


  • Three top layers
    • one long sleeve or skin suit (must be worn)
    • long sleeve breathable wind breaker top (optional to wear or pack)
    • second long or short sleeve top (optional to wear or pack)
  • Two bottom layers
    • 1 pants or skin suit (must be worn)
    • long sleeve breathable wind breaker pants (optional to wear or pack)
  • Note that more or less clothing may be required based on specific race and format details

Other recommended equipment:

  • Food
  • Water
  • Neck tube or similar insulating head/face covering

Equipment Specifications

Equipment MenWomen
Ski – minimum length160 cm150 cm
Ski and binding – minimum weight750 g700 g
Boots (shell and dry liner) – minimum weight500 g450 g


  • Must meet above length and weight specs
  • Must have 90% metallic edges
  • Minimum width: 60 mm under the foot


  • Must meet above minimum weight specs


  • Must be able to release from toe and heel.
  • Note: SMCC will not require bindings to include brakes or retaining devices on bindings in any Canadian races during the 2021/2022 season due to lack of brake availability. This includes 2022 North American Championships.
    • Beginning in 2021/2022, bindings used in ISMF World Cup Races, World Championships, and Long Distance Teams World Championships require a ski brake: defined as a retention device for ski mountaineering which is designed to slow down a ski after a ski binding release or ski loss.
    • SMCC aims to adopt this rule for its sanctioned events in the 2022/2023 season, subject to brake availibility.


  • Must cover at least 50% of ski base area
  • Must be at least 50% length of the ski