Quinn competes at World Skimo Championships

March 16, 2017

When Najeeby Quinn attempted her first ski mountaineering race in 2012 on borrowed gear, she struggled mightily.

“It was freakin’ horrible, the most humbling thing ever,” Quinn said of the experience in Colorado, where she grew up. “My mom almost beat me in the race.”

Despite the inauspicious start, Quinn, of Anchorage, had a surprising takeaway: she was hooked.

Fast forward five years. Quinn, 37, recently became the first Alaskan to represent the United States at the International Ski Mountaineering Federation World Championships in Italy. She competed in three of five events, helping the U.S. place sixth, its best-ever result.

“The U.S. had a huge impact over there,” said Quinn of the sport long dominated by European nations, adding that a record 23 Americans competed.

Ski mountaineering, or SkiMo, is a popular sport in Europe, drawing professional racers and large crowds. It entails skinning or boot-packing up a mountain and then alpine racing down on minimalist equipment. The sport will be added to the Winter Olympics in 2022.

Quinn qualified for the world championships with strong results in Carbondale, Colo., in January.

Her experience at worlds was mixed, however. In her first event, a two-person team race Feb. 26 in the southern Dolomites town of Alpago, she joined Michela Adrian of Bozeman, Mont., and placed ninth of 14 teams in 3 hours, 27 minutes (the winners from France were 54 minutes faster).

Amid “sketchy” conditions, Quinn was simply happy to come away uninjured. But she lamented struggling to keep up with Adrian.

“Imagine Hatcher Pass with one foot of snow. It was just icy and super steep. You’re descending 5,500 (vertical) feet total over no snow with a ton of exposed rock,” Quinn said. “I was scared about breaking my leg, blowing my knee (out) the entire race.”

Two days later, Quinn took 29th in the uphill-only individual sprint. A highlight was starting next to Emelie Forsberg, a Swedish star who also holds the women’s record at Seward’s Mount Marathon Race.

“It was super hard. I didn’t expect anything,” said Quinn, a top mountain runner and longtime employee at Skinny Raven Sports. “I don’t think I’ve ever wanted to vomit so bad after a race.”

Her final race, a three-person relay in better conditions at the Piancavallo venue, was her best. She joined Janelle Smiley and Jessie Young to place a competitive 8th of 10 teams (and less than a minute behind 5th).

Quinn strives to keep improving and return to the next world championships in 2019.

In the meantime, she wants to help grow the sport in Alaska, where skimo athletes may not train by “skiing uphill” on skins at resorts, unlike policies at some Lower 48 ski areas that allow the practice.

Quinn is hoping for a solid turnout at Alaska’s first skimo race this Friday night at Alyeska Resort. The St. Patrick’s Day event is a fundraiser for the Alaska Avalanche School.

“Just come out and do it,” Quinn urged.

– By Matias Saari, Alaska Sports Blog contributor