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RACE I 16.11.2018 I Johanna Erhart - DYNAFIT Athlete I Pictures © Harald Wisthaler

ISMF World Cup: When the world’s best athletes go head to head

Austrian Dynafit athlete Johanna Erhart knows what it comes down to in all matters competition.  At the young age of 13, she finished her first half-marathon, and five years later her first full triathlon. Five years later, she discovered her passion for ski mountaineering races, and it didn’t take long after that for her to become a member of the Austrian National Team for that sport. Since that time, she has racked up many achievements, for example 2nd place in the most recent Sellaronda Ski Marathon and a top finish in the World Cup. As an expert, she is going to give us a look at competition at the ISMF World Cup, plus she will explain key information and facts of each discipline.

Essentially, all national athletes can qualify to compete in the ISMF World Cup. Countries however, have a different criteria. Each country’s national federation determines specific races where independent athletes can qualify. National Team athletes who have already proved their performance ability in past seasons almost always have a standing starting position at the World Cup. In order to be permitted to start at a ISMF World Cup, the national federation must declare its athletes to the ISMF. After that, each athlete receives a license with which he or she is eligible to start. This license is really all about being able to show the athlete has medical approval to participate in performance sports. In addition, the athlete must adhere to international anti-doping regulations, which must be confirmed with a signature.

What disciplines are there?

In the World Cup there are three disciplines: Individual, Sprint and Vertical. At a major event, such as the European or World championships, additional disciplines included are Relay and Team.


The Individual race is a competition in the back country where technical ability on the climb but also on the downhill is required, as vertical passages requiring crampons and climbing sections are part of the course. During the uphill to downhill transition you cannot lose too much time, as a lot of repetitive routine is involved to stay in the front of the pack. The Individual race is considered the pinnacle event in the World Cup.

The main regulations

There are also a few age groups at the ISMF World Cup: juniors, espoirs and open. At major events, very young athletes (cadets) are also included.  Espoirs are athletes aged 21-23 although they are also ranked in the open division. At the ISMF World Cup one also has rankings for espoirs to ease the transition from the junior division to open.

Anti-doping regulations of the International Anti-Doping Code must be followed.  There are drug tests after every competition, and in addition, every athlete must be ready at anytime to present themselves  for drug tests. Based on the ADAMS system, which was developed by WADA, every athlete who is a member of a national team must always notify officials of his or her whereabouts each day. The reason for this is because every athlete must be available for testing at any time, so the officials must know they're not far away. 

The Sprint details are as follows: Part of the course is a climb that has a section where you must carry your skis, followed by a downhill section of about 100 meters of vert. First, each athlete must complete the course with their best-possible time. Based on these completion times, the top 30 athletes are selected, then divided into heats, which then follows a disqualification “winners-take-all” system. With this system in place, the top two athletes in each heat move on immediately, but the third or fourth athlete still has the chance (based on his or her qualification time) to automatically move into the next round. The remaining six athletes move into the final round to compete head to head, which is where the overall winner is determined.

In every heat all athletes must compete against each other and must complete the course. In the Sprint, tiny mistakes can play a vital role in the athletes outcome, as those are impactful seconds that could be lost and cost them the lead. The Sprint is usually raced on one piste in order to create audience appeal and attention.


In the Vertical race, the competition is all about climbing 600-900 meters on groomed trails. The Vertical event is well suited for crossover athletes or top athletes from other sports. This race is really about an athlete’s endurance and the athlete having a high threshold for pain.