Nick Elson, a 2002 Carihi grad, is the fastest man in Canada at climbing up mountains on skis.
“It’s still a fairly obscure sport in Canada, I guess I’m probably the fastest in Canada,” Elson said. “It’s kind of a dubious honour when it’s such an obscure sport.”
Ski mountaineering, which Elson describes as competitive back country skiing, is more popular in Europe.
Which is why Elson competes in most of his races overseas.
“Not like Nordic skiing where there is groomed and prepared tracks, it is generally up in the mountains with fairly steep up and downs and sometimes along ridges and stuff, there might even be ropes that you have to clip into,” Elson said. “Sometimes you have carry your skis on your pack. The downhill is quite steep and technical.”
With specialized, light weight equipment and skins that go on the bottom of his skis for grip, Elson has been to the tops of mountains all over the world.
His most recent competitions were in Italy at the Ski Mountaineering World Championships and France at the Pierra Menta.
Elson went into the world championship sick, so he didn’t place as well as he’d hoped, crossing the finish line 35th in the individual race, but he was the fastest Canadian.
In the sprint race, he finished 33rd, and he and his race partner finished 17th in the team race.
The second, more traditional race, was a four day stage race. Elson and his partner ran into bad luck, his partner got sick, and they had to drop out on the third day.
Elson participated in his first mountaineering race six years ago in the Rockies.
The sport is a culmination of his athletic interests: nordic skiing, running and rock climbing.
He competed in cross-country skiing growing up, and was a competitive runner in university but took some time away from competing to focus on adventure and climbing.
He called getting into ski-mountaineering an outlet for his competitive side.
“The other thing is, there is the competition, but there is the fitness and the skills you get from it…allow you to have a lot of fun in the mountains and explore places you might not get to otherwise,” he said.
“I think that it’s cool if you have your goals be things that you enjoy preparing for, then I think it is easier to get out the door a lot of the time.”
At the moment, Elson is studying law at UBC. Though it takes away from his time in the mountains he said it has been good.
“There is some unavoidable stress involved but on the whole I have been enjoying it.”
For the most part Elson trains on skis.
He tries to go back country as much as possible but skins uphill at the resort if that is more convenient.
In the summer he runs.