Scott Simmons is a professional ski mountaineer – an endurance athlete on skis. Instead of riding chairlifts all day, Scott slaps skins onto the bottom of his super-light randonnée skis and flies up the mountain. He is officially one of the fastest ski mountaineers in the United States, having won the Continental Ski Mountaineering Championship in Kicking Horse, British Columbia last year. Not to mention, he can rip skins off his skis in 20 seconds and put them back on in 50.
Warned that Scott Simmons was a quiet guy, we came to the interview armed with questions. But Scott was thrilled to talk about his ski adventures and why he chooses to ditch the chairlifts.
JULBO: How long have you been skiing?
SCOTT SIMMONS: Being born in Alaska, cross-country skiing was a common activity. I started downhill skiing at age 19 when I went to college at Fort Lewis in Colorado. Then I discovered backcountry skiing at age 20 and that was 20 years ago. I’ve been racing seriously for three years.
J: What got you into ski mountaineering? Why did you choose that path?
SS: It’s more fun than regular skiing. I raced mountain bikes and road bikes growing up and I do triathlons; I like to race. Plus, being able to just go into the gorgeous mountains is amazing. When you’re training, you’re always in a stunning place.
J: What’s your biggest challenge in the sport?
SS: It’s pretty hard trying to live like a normal person, have a family and work in addition to training. It’s also difficult to not overdo it. I build houses, so I do physical work all day and then train after work. It can get you down. I have to maintain a balance.
J: Do you ski for fun?
SS: I actually love training! I already skied twice today. I usually ski at Ski Hesperus. It’s a little hill with 700 vertical feet, about 10 miles west of Durango. We just got a club established there and we can skin up when the mountain is not open. It’s ideal because I can ski for an hour and a half before work.
I ski with my kids, as well. My older boy (12) is getting into ski mountaineering and skins with me. I also take him and my younger son (10) to ski at Purgatory. They’re so fast now. A couple of years ago I would have to give them a head start down the challenging runs; now they’re beating me.
J: Favorite place to ski?
SS: My favorite place is the little subrange of the San Juans called La Plata – it’s about seven minutes from my doorstep. There are 23 peaks over 12,000 feet and I’ve skied them all. I know them like the back of my hand. Internationally, the Alps are magical. It’s endless over there.
How do you feel about the rise in backcountry skiing?
I think about this often. The increase is huge since I started backcountry skiing 20 years ago, but I like it. It’s neat to see people out there. I guess I don’t like that I have to go further to get fresh tracks, but that’s a selfish reason.
Biggest outdoor industry muse?
I really admire [world-class ski mountaineer] Andrew McClane, especially all of his first ascents and the unique places he’s skied. I’m a little jealous.
And of course, what Julbo shades do you wear?
Oh man, I love the shades! I had the Dusts and Treks; the Treks, by the way, are the greatest ski mountaineering glasses. They sit off your face and don’t fog up. They’re awesome for going in and out of shade and flat light. I even wear them when it’s snowing.
Now that’s good to hear. Good luck at your races this season!