We caught up with Hive athlete and ski mountaineer Cam Smith to learn more about the sport of ski mountaineering, how he uses cross training to stay strong in the off season, and his goals for the future in a rapidly growing sport.
Photo: Memry Anderson
Where is home?
I grew up in Rockford, Illinois and currently live in Crested Butte, Colorado.
What is your primary sport?
My passion is ski mountaineering, also known as “skimo” racing.
How did you get into racing?
I started racing about 5 years ago when my older sister asked me to race The Grand Traverse with her. We spent that season training and racing together and I was hooked right away!
What is ski mountaineering?
A ski mountaineering race involves using special equipment to climb up and ski down mountains. For the uphill we have lightweight skis, light boots with a flexible cuff, and a binding where the heel can be adjusted to be free for ascents and fixed for descents. Meanwhile, you place skins with directional fibers on your skis that glide forward but catch going backward. Skins keep you from sliding down the mountain while you’re climbing up. When you reach the top of a climb you pull the skins off and store them away, lock your boot cuff, lock your heel in, and start racing downhill.
What is a ski mountaineering race like?
A standard race has 3-5 different climbs and descents totaling 4,000-6,000 feet of vertical gain. A good course also includes climbing sections, peak ascents, and difficult backcountry skiing. There are also unique events like the Sprint (5ish minute short course), Vertical (uphill only) and Teams Race (long events competed in pairs of two).
Why do you compete & why ski mountaineering?
I love the process of finding out what I’m capable of. People are almost always capable of much more than they believe they are, and sports are a wonderful avenue for pushing ourselves. Plus, I want to make my mom proud.
Skimo is beautiful because it allows you to travel anywhere you could dream, safety permitting! You get to make your own trail and visit wild places, and then ski back down to the start. It is such a liberating way to travel through the mountains.
Photo: Xavi Fane
Do you compete on a team or for a sponsor(s)?
What is your profession (if not your sport)?
I work as an instructor at the Adaptive Sports Center in Crested Butte. We take folks with all kinds of disabilities out on outdoor adventures. I learn so much from our amazing participants about life and perspective, which makes me a better person and athlete in the long run.
What is your greatest personal accomplishment, in your sport or in life?
I’m most proud of balancing my life in sport with full-time work that I find fulfilling.
What are your goals for the future?
I’ve been fortunate to be on the U.S. Skimo Team the past 3 years, highlights of which included an 18th place finish in the Vertical and 8th place finish in the Team Race in the last World Championships. My current goals are to improve on those results and see how far I can push myself. Ski mountaineering isn’t in the Olympics currently, but it seems likely it will be introduced for the 2026 games in Italy. Being able to participate in an Olympics would be the ultimate dream come true.
Who is a person or athlete that you look up to and why?
I’m inspired daily by a mentor of mine, Murray. Murray is in a hard battle with cancer, but spends every bit of his remaining energy giving back to our community as a volunteer coach with local youth skiers. As a former professional athlete himself, he has shown me how to balance my passion for racing with giving back. The lessons he has taught me will be with me forever.
Do you have any habits, routines, or superstitions?
I like to race important events with my hair in cornrows. It started as a joke and now I feel like it gives me some minor superpowers. Please give it a try yourself and let me know if you feel the same, I need more evidence!
Pieces of advice you have learned over the years and would like to pass on?
Wisdom: At the end of the day, the things we accomplish probably aren’t all that important. What is important are the memories we make and the relationships we build. Don’t get too caught up in the results and remember your WHY in whatever you do.
Training Tip: Training isn’t about what you do, it’s the affect that action has on your body. Focus on taking care of your body and giving it what it needs, not just hitting objective targets.
Fueling Tip: Find out what works for you during training so you know you can trust it during competition. If it’s not appealing and easy to eat while you’re working hard and under stress, you can quickly get behind in your nutrition.
How do you fuel for a race?
During events shorter than 2 hours, I’ll fuel with gels or gels mixed into water. For events longer than 2 hours, I’ll start to use more waffles and energy chews. I find that the tasty flavors and natural honey makes things easy to eat and easy to digest while working hard.
How do you keep your fuel from freezing?
It’s important to keep your food and water close to your body during any winter sport, or else they will freeze. The tricky part is maintaining their accessibility. I find putting food and water in zipped vests or pockets underneath your jacket work well for keeping them accessible, but the ultimate place of warmth is in a fanny pack placed behind you or a backpack close to your body because it keeps everything protected from the wind.
Interesting or random fact about yourself?
Each year I’ve traveled to race in Europe. I have kept a running tally of the amount of croissants I’ve eaten. I’m proud to say that I’ve improved upon my total each year. My current personal best is 66 croissants in one race trip. Stay tuned for the next record pursuit this winter.
Photo: Xavi Fane
How do you train to stay fit for skiing in the off-season?
In the summer I spend lots of time trail running and mountain biking. I really like being able to train and race in multiple sports in the summer because it keeps things fresh and exciting. Running in the mountains is physically similar to the demands of skimo, while the technical challenges of mountain biking is similar to skimo from a mental standpoint.
What are your top tips for those just getting into the sport?
Go with a mentor. There are so many tips and tricks they will be able to share with you. If skiing in the backcountry, Know Before You Go. Never go without the right training and equipment, and make sure you know the forecast and avalanche danger. The risks are very real out there.
Favorite Honey Stinger products and flavors?
I’m obsessed with the Almond Butter Dark Chocolate Organic Cracker Bars.
Photo: Memry Anderson
Follow along with Cam’s adventures: