Splitboarding is a good activity to escape the crowds and access unique terrains with your buddies. When going into the backcountry, it is best to be prepared with enough knowledge and experience, whi [...]
Backcountry Tips: How to Skin
Published: Jan 21, 2021
If you got your backcountry setup and you're already signed up for an avalanche course, all you've got to do now is figure out how to travel up the hill. Learning how to skin using your skis will be your ticket to exploring the backcountry. So, how do you skin?
You start skinning by making sure the skins fit your skis properly. Next, find or set your SkinTrack, and then put your foot in front of the other, and start skinning! This may sound very easy, but there are a lot of factors you should consider when skinning.
Read along, so we can give you some tips on how to skin smoothly.
Putting skins on
Before you start skinning, the first thing you do is put your skins on. Make sure they're trimmed, and perfectly fit your skis.
- Secure the clips around the tip of the ski to make sure it is a snug fit.
- Stretch the skin down the length of the ski, and keep it centered so that both edges remain visible. Slide your hand firmly on the skins as you go down, and make sure the skin sticks to the base.
- Clip the tail hardware to the back of the ski, and make sure to keep tension in the skin, so that it is tight and secure.
If you haven't chosen a pair of climbing skins yet, here are some of the best climbing skins on the market, and a guide on how to choose the right ones.
Tips and techniques
- Instead of picking up your feet, it's more effective to just glide, or to shuffle your skis forward without lifting them off the snow.
- Pull your skis uphill and do not push them.
- Strive for a long, rhythmic, and smooth stride whenever it's possible. It helps develop a rhythm of skinning and breathing, just like when you're hiking.
- Try to keep your line of ascent smooth and consistent when breaking trail, and also, not overly steep. It is best to look ahead, and plan your line around trees and rocks.
- When it gets steep or when the traction gets sketchy, shorten your stride.
- When you feel yourself slipping backwards, try to stand up straight, and weigh your heels in the back of your bindings. While skinning on steeper slopes, think of pulling your toes up, and drive with your heels.
- To limit slipping, it helps to relax and roll your ankles slightly. This way, you have more skin in contact with the snow surface.
- On short downhill sections, let your skiing instinct take over, and position yourself into a good centered stance, with your weight driving through your shins.
- Do not climb too steeply, because in many cases, a more moderate track can still get you there as quickly, and with less effort.
- Change your pace depending on the steepness of the slope.
- Loosen your boots, and set them up in Walk mode.
Using your heel risers
Heel risers are used to elevate the heels of your boots off your skis. They are designed to make uphill travel easier, and reduce strains on your calves and Achilles tendons.
- No-lift position
A no-lift position creates a very stable feel. This is because you're not elevated at all. This allows you to maximize your stride length for a more efficient travel. This position is best used on slopes with little or no uphill.
- Low-riser position
Moving into this setting will slightly reduce your stride length compared to the no lift position. However, being elevated will help you climb slopes with moderate to steep inclines.
- High-riser position
This position should be used very selectively, because being elevated too high off the ski can make it unstable. It can also force you into a leaned-forward position, which will reduce weight on the tails of the skis, and will therefore negatively affect your traction. This position is best for when you're skinning on really steep slopes.
Practicing kick turns
This is a useful skill to master for when you have to climb a steeper slope. This technique is similar to downhill kick turns in skiing, but with a few changes.
- Start by having your skis angled diagonally across the slope, and ensure that you're in a comfortable and stable stance.
- Plant your poles far apart, and out to the sides of the skis' tips.
- Pick up your uphill ski and rotate it, so that it swings across the slope. Twist your leg, so that your uphill ski faces across the slope. Then, plant the ski in the snow with a few stamps to make sure it is stable.
- Move your poles so they are uphill of you, and plant them in the snow, making sure to leave enough room for your downhill ski to pass between your body and the poles.
- Transfer your weight to your uphill ski.
- Lift your downhill ski, and give a small kick with your heel, so you can flick the tip of the ski up and out of the snow.
- Move the ski over and parallel to your uphill ski.
- Bring your second pole around, so that one is positioned on each side of your body.
- Then, skin onward in the other direction.
Basic skinning etiquette
- Check the resort's policy regarding uphill travel.
- Let faster skinners pass you. You have to step out of the skin track when you see someone is coming up fast behind you, so they can keep cruising.
- Remember to never walk in the skin track. If you need to hike uphill without skis or a splitboard, step to the side of the skin track and create your own path. Avoid damaging the skin track and your reputation.
- Be aware of downhill traffic. You'll surely be outnumbered by folks who are riding lifts to the top and sliding down the slopes. And these skiers and riders may not be expecting to come upon you skinning uphill, so be smart and cautious. Stick to the designated uphill route of the resort, stay to the side of any open slope, and avoid crossing into the middle. You have to yield to downhill traffic, because they have the priority.
- Don't go into closed terrains. Resorts close off terrains for a reason, so you have to respect the rules and stay within the patrolled boundaries.
- Make yourself visible. You want skiers and riders to see you, so they won't run into you. For this reason, make sure that you're visible by wearing light colors.
- Leave your dog at home. Most resorts don't allow dogs on the slopes, but a handful of places are dog-friendly though. So, it is worth checking first.
Remember not to overdress for uphill travel, because wearing too many layers will make you sweat more and may leave you cold and uncomfortable. Find a balance between not too hot and not too cold to stay comfortable.
Risks are always a factor in backcountry travel. Thus, backcountry travelers are recommended to take an AIARE Level 1 course, and should have enough knowledge and experience before heading into the backcountry.
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