A good introduction to ski mountaineering will help you to figure out whether this is a sport you actually can or want to participate in. Most people don't even know what ski mountaineering is when it comes up in conversation, which really only occurs when dealing with people who ski on a regular basis who are looking for new thrills and extremes. Check out the basic information on ski mountaineering below to see what is involved in this extreme winter sport so you can at least talk about it with all the cool ski bums this winter.
The basic definition for ski mountaineering is the use of skis for ascending or descending mountains. This is often confused with backcountry skiing. While aspects of ski mountaineering are basically backcountry skiing, the entire activity is much more involved and intense. Ski mountaineers use all types of skis, from downhill skis to alpine skis to telemark gear to even snowboards. It is basically whatever gear will allow them to get down the mountain they have climbed to properly ski down.
The first and, arguably, truest ski mountaineers out there today make both their ascents and descents on whatever skis they are using for that particular trek. This basically means they must be in excellent shape and be fantastic skiers in order to ensure they will be able to make it down whatever mountain they decide to climb. Ski mountaineers are often carrying multiple sets of skis on their backs, so they can use cross-country or telemark skis on the ascent and then will switch to downhill or alpine skis on the descent. Skiing a mountain that has not been groomed and that may have hidden crags, rocks, or crevasses under the snow is difficult enough. Doing it while carrying a pair of skis on your back is even more difficult.
To successfully ski mountaineer, you need to be more than just a very talented skier and in great shape; you need to know the mountain. Climbing is integral to ski mountaineering, as is just knowing where to go on a mountain to be able to get up safely and ski down in a certain direction. Not knowing how a mountain works with different slopes and snow conditions can cause an avalanche or send you skiing off a cliff, a few of the many things that can get you killed in this rugged, old fashioned sport.
As difficult as ski mountaineering sounds, and for the most part is, many people wonder what the point of the sport is in general. While we have become accustomed to ski lifts to the tops of mountains or even helicopter jumps onto extreme slopes, ski mountaineering echoes back to the people who were first skiing, before it was considered a sport and there were ever ski resorts. This is old-fashioned skiing at its absolute finest. One could argue that the ski mountaineers are the purest skiers out there, the only ones who truly conquer a mountain when they ski to the bottom unscathed.