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Ski Mountaineering's Olympic climb and descent


To begin to understand Ski mountaineering you must realize how it relates to the other discipline of skiing. This relationship is outlined below.

The accidental x axis shows each events compliance with gravity. Notice Skimo (as it colloquially known) on the far right. These athletes aren’t Newton's biggest fans. So, if I may ask a leading question, where did the desire to competitively ski backwards come from.

Part 1: Military Ski Patrol

Its evolutionary ancestor departed Olympic programming in 1948. Military Ski Patrol as it was called back then had been a demonstration sport for 3 Olympics (1928, 1936, 1948) after its only medal appearance in the 1924 Chamonix Winter Olympics.

This was the first ever winter Olympics, but they did not know it at the time. The growing popularity of cold weather sports led to the inclusion of figure skating and hockey in the summer Olympics. Not wanting to include even more winter sports into a summer Olympics the IOC finally convinced the Scandinavian countries to participate and organized the International Winter Sports Week. Military Patrol made to program.

Its DNA is much more similar to a biathlon than Skimo but one genetic trait that didn’t get passed down to biathlon is the insane changes in elevation. The 2018 PyeongChang biathlon course changed in elevation 47m. The Chamonix course difference was 775m. That wasn’t even the biggest change the next Olympics featured an elevation of 1,172m in urban construction terms its comparable to the Burj Khalifa with First Canadian Place standing on its head. The competition could only be run by actual military personnel. With teams looked like this.

These teams would have to complete the 30 km in relative lockstep since they couldn’t begin the shooting portion until everyone finished the course. Though the shooting portion didn’t change any of the placements. Switzerland won handily with a time of 3h 56m 6s, Finland took home silver with 4h 0m 10s, and France got bronze with 4h 18m 53s. Czechoslovakia finished 4th and Italy and Poland withdrew due to difficult weather conditions.

When the Olympics went to the Swiss town of St. Moritz Military Patrol followed. The race was well documented, and the field grew by 3.

Norway started in seventh but climbed it’s way up the leader board especially on decent in section 3. Finland also past by a significant portion of their competition which earned them a second-place finish. That story also repeated for the Swiss team who finished with the third fastest team. However, the sport was relegated to a demonstration sport due to the lack of an international federation. No medals would be handed out.

The only mention of Military Patrol in the 1932 Winter Olympics is that the Lake Placid Club had the facilities and expertise to hold a race, but no contest was held.

The sport reappeared for demonstration again in the 1936 Winter Olympics held in pre-war Nazi Germany. The preparation, management, and implementation of the event was overseen by the Reich Ministry of War. The race would turn out to be the closest as the Finish team was only 14 seconds slower than the champion Italian team. Switzerland would get slapped with a considerably harsh 3-minute penalty for missing one of the three balloons. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a picture of the inflated rubber targets.

After being dragged to two Olympics, being excluded from one, and a 12 year hiatus of the winter Olympics due to the second world war surely Military Ski Patrol wouldn’t be a sport the IOC would be eagerly looking to slot into the programming for the 1948 Winter Olympics. It wasn’t. If not for Switzerland’s neutral position in the war military patrol’s Olympic days end in 1936. But the IOC needed a place that had the facilities and was politically agreeable. So back to the Swiss town of St. Mortiz they went. Where the host nation pushed hard for the inclusion of the patrol.

"The patrol was launched against the will of the IOC Congress from the fall of 1946 added to the program of the 5th Olympic Winter Games. This only happened in Stockholm in June 1947."
The Swiss "would never have understood if this traditional military sport test had not been included …"
"The relationship between the eight military teams was really comradely and downright warm. If the Olympic spirit was expressed in one discipline, it really was in the patrol."

The Camaraderie between military units post world war seems odd. However, among the 8 participating nations only Italy/France and US/Romania directly fought each other. Romania got bombed by the states but later flipped sides and joined the allies. Italy and France engaged in the Battle of the Alps and Italy later occupied parts of southern France. But that was it. Which is surprisingly low since most of the team were from Europe which had just been the epicentre of WWII. A war in which all these athletes had likely been involved in.

Karel Dvořák, a member of the Czechoslovakian team recounted his experience of this cordial contest for an early 2000’s Czech Ski blog. He explained how the discrepancies between team’s equipment and lack of international organization allowed the Nordic countries and Switzerland hold an upper hand on their competitors. The “Northerners” had spent time developing superior waxes. The Swiss according to Dvořák had designed a course built to their strength.

His colourful retelling of the race is picturized below.

Dvorak's 1948 Winter Olympics Military Ski Patrol race

All Dvořák and other competitors got for returning to Ithaca is a page in the history books and the unsatisfying satisfaction of being the last people on Earth to compete in this spectacle on the Olympic stage.

The 1952 program wouldn’t feature Military Ski Patrol

nor would 1956's

1960 would bring in the evolutionary descendant, Biathlon

1964 nada

1968 nope

1972 never heard of her

1976 not a chance

1980 in this economy


Part 2 coming shortly



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