When most people think of backcountry skiing, their minds turn to flying down a backcountry bowl or gliding through glades; but, the truth is, self-powered skiers spend far more time going uphill than down. To make the most of your time spent going uphill—and to hopefully spend a little less time doing so—follow these tips to become a skin track superstar.
Body Position Matters
Maintain an upright stance with your head, shoulders, and back straight and your knees slightly bent. Resist the urge to lean forward. You want your weight on your heels.
It’s All in the Hips
Skinning is all about repeating the same movement for hours, and it all begins with the hips. Here’s the basic movement: lead with your hip and pull the boot toe of your trailing ski forward until it is in front. Then, shift your weight onto your new front ski and stand upright, letting your big leg muscles do the work. All the while, keep your skins in contact with the snow.
Don’t Step, Glide
You’re making a mistake if you’re lifting your skin and ski off the snow surface. Stepping uses a lot more energy than gliding, so focus on finding a regular, rhythmic stride that feels comfortable and keeps your skis gliding on the snow.
Loosen Your Boots
In addition to being uncomfortable, tight boots also restrict your range of motion and reduce the length of your stride. Make sure your boots are not in “ski” mode and loosen all the buckles.
Heel Risers Can Be Good (Sometimes)
Heel risers are a great way to ease muscle strain on longer, steeper uphill sections. But they aren’t for every application, as they can shift your center of balance, shorten your stride, and complicate traversing. Moreover, switching back and forth too often can significantly disrupt your pace. A good rule of thumb is to try to anticipate the steep sections, raise the heel before you get there, and then switch back immediately afterward.
Steeps Can Be Tricky
Losing traction when it gets steep? You’re probably leaning too far forward. This causes the skin to lose traction with the snow surface. Focus on standing up straight and balancing your weight over your heel.
Figure Out Your Pole Length
Adjustable poles are a must for skinning. We both like our poles slightly longer for skinning than skiing. It is also great to be able to adjust one pole when you’re traversing on an incline or one side of the skin track is at a different height.
Practice…and Practice Some More
The best way to get better at skinning is skinning—and uphilling at the resort is a great way to get in volume.
Looking for more detailed how-to information? Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering by Martin Volken, Scott Schell, and Margaret Wheeler has a full chapter on uphill movement and is a great resource for any backcountry skier.
Words by Doug Martland
Photo by Tim Peck