The Original Mountain Ops SKIMO Team: Ahead of its Time

The Original Mountain Ops SKIMO Team: Ahead of its Time

By: Dave Hatoff Comments: 0

Every now and then something happens in a town that is quite special.  And it in a ski town like Stowe which has very rich history in the sport of skiing, a lot of times it circles around the sport that has given the town the nickname “The Ski Capitol of East.”  A lot of times, it has to do with community and their shared passions for some form of skiing and in this case its SKIMO, which is an abbreviation for ski mountaineering.

Although not a new sport by any means, (It’s been very popular in Europe for years now) it relatively new to the US.  It’s finally catching on in all aspects of the sport from high school and college race teams to local clubs and is now slated for official medal status in the next Winter Olympic games.

Mountain Ops jumped on board early, having one of the first skimo teams here in Vermont. The year was 2017.  The team consisted of Milan Kubala, John Spinney and John Wullf. (All pictured in the opening photo of this article)  They used Stowe as their training ground to gain for lots of vert by either skiing early morning dawn patrols or at night once the ski resort stopped spinning the lifts.

(Teammates Milan Kubala and John Spinney racing side by side pictured in jeans and blue tops)

I remember a few times on a powder day skiing before the lifts opened that these guys would have 2 runs under their belts already by 6am.  They were fast and relentless on the skin track, so when you saw them coming and gaining ground on you quickly, you just moved over.  Tried to keep up with Milan once and I blew myself out so much, I could barley make it to the top.

The team competed in local races, primarily the Eastern Skimo series, which had a number stops in Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Canada.  The original team did quite well with all three skiers consistently placing in the top 5 during the course of the season. Milan was the true power house of the team, wining the Eastern series two years in row in 2017/18 and 2019/20.  He skied in jeans that first season letting everyone know that you did not have to wear Lycra to ski fast and wore those jeans for not only racing, but for training and backcountry pursuits as well.   Teammates and friends soon coined the nick name of the “Denin Ghost” to Milan. The rest of the original team members also raced in jeans in his honor for the 17/18 season.  There was even a Backcountry Magazine article written about the Denim Ghost too.

Milan got invited to Europe to compete with the Winter World Games of 2020 where placed an impressive 9th in the vertical and a 17th in the individual categories.  Milan is a now a coach for US SKIMO, and travels the world coaching and mentoring these specialized athletes.

(Milan stretching out his lead in his jeans)

Over the next few years, the team grew with it first female member Caitlin Mahoney coming on board in 2019 along with Ian Clark and Sheldon Miller.  Ian went on to become a national team member and really brought credibility to the eastern SKIMO scene on a national level.  

Skimo is now ready for full medal status in the up-and-coming winter Olympic games in Cortina, Italy in 2026.  The Europeans still rule the roost as they do in most skiing disciplines, but America is slowly rising through the ranks.  We are a new country to this sport and it takes time for a team to develop and mature over time before podiums can be secured and eventually won, just as it did years ago when US Alpine Ski and Cross Country teams started from the very bottom and worked their way up through learning from the Europeans.  After watching and learning from the Euros, equipment choices, training and technique changes were made, as well as mental and physical preparation.  Over the years these teams started to crack the top 20, then the top 10, then eventually podium and go on to win some World Cup races, season long titles and eventually Olympic medals.   

A lot can be learned from traveling abroad and watching the very best of the best, especially in a new sport.  I remember when Milan first came back from Europe and he was just glowing with excitement.  He said it was a true eye opener for him, and learned so much just by watching and observing some of the best European racers.  In particular the transitions, pre-race waxing and equipment that these guys were using.  Along with that came valuable year-round training tactics and knowledge.

The best SKIMO racers either have had a prior alpine ski racing background or were Nordic skiers before switching over to SKIMO.  Nordic racers usually did well with the courses that were groomed and did not require much technical skiing ability on the way down. Former alpine ski racers did better on courses that were not as groomed, bumpy or were just complete ice.

The Mountain Ops Skimo team does not exist anymore, but its history and legacy will carry on for decades to come.  Since the inception of that team, Mountain Ops has continued to support SKIMO racing by volunteering our time to run our annual race here in Stowe each year in conjunction with Stowe Mountain Resort, the Catamount Trail Organization, as well as the newly formed Mansfield Backcountry Alliance.  We had close to 40 competitors show up on the last Tuesday of January and it was great to see that the sport is still very much alive and well here in the Green mountains. 

The rest of the SKIMO races locally will happen at Bolton Valley Resort each and every Tuesday evening throughout the season for the remainder of February. All abilities are encouraged to come out and join.

Lastly, mark your calendars for Saturday, March 23rd as Mountain Ops in conjunction with Mad River Glen present the first ever “Uprising” SKIMO-type event.  This will test all of your uphill and downhill skills as we tackle the fabled steeps of Mad River with the uphill taking place on Lower Antelope and the downhill taking place on the Lynx trail.  AT and Telemark categories, as well as free demos all day long by many of the industry’s leading manufacturers  will be on hand.  Prizes, a raffle and live music will take place in General Starks Pub to close out the day.  This will be the most unique uphill event you will ever participate in.  We hope to see you out there. 

A big "Thank You!" go's out to John Spinney for the photos!!

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