Economic hardships and limited opportunities are putting a strain on the sport of ski mountaineering
Some athletes get paid huge salaries to compete in their chosen sport. But ski mountaineers - who ski up hills and then continue to race down them in timed relays - aren't among them, struggling to find the financial resources to keep them competing in their beloved sport.
Few people know this struggle more than Melanie Bernier, who is an active member of Canada's ski mountaineering scene, and just last year became the first Canadian to get a podium placement in the International Ski Mountaineering Federation (ISMF) World Cup. When she's not competing or training throughout the Rocky Mountains, Bernier can be found working at one of her three jobs, one of which is running her own residential design business.
"It's a bit of a challenge," stated Bernier. "We [ski mountaineers] have our everyday life, trying to make a wage, then on top of that there's travelling to Europe."
The trips to Europe are a required part of the sport if the racers want to pursue it to the top level, due to the fact that the ISMF World Cup is held in Europe every year.
Although there is a large amount of travelling involved in ski mountaineering, it is only part of the financial strain that is put on the racers. They also have to deal with purchasing the required sporting gear, and paying the entrance fees for the many different races. Along with the basic requirements of skis, ski boots, and helmets, ski mountaineering also requires that racers have ski skins, a backpack with ski attachments, and some races even require avalanche gear as well.
In order to help pay for these costly factors, some of the more advanced racers, such as Bernier, resort to fundraisers to help collect money for their ski mountaineering efforts.
For some of the other ski mountaineering racers, finding the time to train is the more daunting task. Kylee Ohler is a prime example of this, as she is a dedicated racer as well as a full-time stay at home mother to her two young sons.
Ohler explained, "It takes some sacrifice. I have to get myself out early before the kids are up, and late at night I'm on my treadmill. You can make it work, but you have to want it."
Ohler proved that she has the attitude required for excelling in ski mountaineering, when she took first place in the solo female category of the Dec. 6, Vert 180 race at Canada Olympic Park.
Many of the struggles of ski mountaineers may soon be solved, however, due to the current workings of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
In April, the IOC started reviewing the possibility of including ski mountaineering as an official Olympic sport in the 2022 Winter Olympics.
If ski mountaineering is passed as an official sport in the Olympics, then the financial hardships placed on the racers would start to greatly decline.
According to Alpine Club Of Canada event coordinator David Dornian, "There will be much more money and interest if our sport is admitted to the [Olympic] games. It is this effort to win a place that is the most productive in the end - it encourages more events, stronger athletes, and a better organization."
- By BRANDON TUCKER