The Skinny on Climbing Skins
Published in Vermont Sports – Feb. 2005
Photos and Story by Brian Mohr
There’s no better place to develop and hone your uphill skiing skills than right here in the rugged and heavily forested Green Mountains. Open water, steep and narrow trails, extremely variable snow conditions and plenty of bushwhacking (for those out there exploring) combine to put your skinning abilities to the ultimate test. Through a lifetime of skiing adventures, I’ve discovered an assortment of uphill skiing and skinning techniques that make climbing any mountain a breeze – providing the breeze doesn’t blow you off first. So here they are…
Press the Heel – Think “flat foot” and “heel pressure”. The more you can keep your ski and skins flat to the snow – and not on edge – the less you will slip. For example, when climbing a hill on a tricky traverse, try rolling your ankles down the hill in order to keep the ski flat to the angled slope beneath you. Without fail, keep your heels pressed down against the ski – so that the skin can do its job. This is especially important in steeper terrain when tip-toeing up the mountain will have you eating snow for lunch in no time.
Loosen those Boots – Keep your boot’s upper buckles and power-straps as loose as possible in order to maximize ankle flexibility for the climb. With most boots, you can accomplish this by backing off the buckles, and then leaving them open for the climb. Make sure to pull your pant cuffs over your loose power-straps so that they don’t dangle and get caked up with snow.
Love your Skins – Whatever you do, keep your skins away from water. If you touch down in a stream on a powdery day, prepare to break out a good scraper (the edge of your opposite ski works great for this).A great solution to wet skins and skins that seem to be glopping up with snow is “skin wax”. Any fine ski shop near you should have bars of skin wax for sale. Keep your skins waxed up for a smoother, glop-free climb.
Make sure to dry your skins out every night. Also, as the glue wears off or becomes contaminated with dirt and debris, clean them up and re-glue them as needed.
Wear your Straps – Always wear them on the uphill. With your pole straps looped around your wrist, you can free up your hands to grab tree branches and trunks when the going gets tight and steep. Remember, trees are your friends, allow them to lend you a hand.
Use your Heel Lifters/Climbing Bars –All telemark and AT bindings on the market today are equipped with heel lifters. If you aren’t using them, give them a try on the steeper stretches of your climb. They take the strain off your calves and make it easier to apply slip-preventing heel pressure to the ski when the going gets steep and slippery.
With practice, you should be able to flip your heel lifters up and down with little more than the flick of your ski pole. I often do this several times throughout a climb.
Master Skinning Up and De-Skinning – Try taking your skins off of your skis with your skis on. Do this by lifting your boot/ski behind you and stabbing your ski tip into the snow –leaving your tail skyward. Then grab the tail-end of your skin and unpeel the skin from tail to tip while swinging your ski tip out from under you and skyward. Once you figure this one out, practice attaching your skins to your skis with your skis on. It will ultimately save you lots of time and fumbling around.
Use the Tail Hook and Butt Brace – When climbing through a tight or steep forest, brace yourself against the uphill side of tree trunks with your butt and/or the tail of your ski. When the going gets steep and slippery, this gives you a chance to rest for a second while you contemplate your next move.
Shed Some Skin - With some practice, you’ll be able to skin up just about any terrain that holds snow - and with skins that are two-thirds the width of your ski. Although some skiers fancy the 4x4 traction that full-width skins offer, there are really few benefits to lugging full-width skins. Partial-width skins are lighter, give you more ski glide on the climb, and they leave more of your edge available for tricky side-stepping and traversing on firm snow.
Don’t Forget your Skin Kit – Throw a couple of extra tip-loops (or heavy wire) into your repair kit, and if all else fails, you can always break out the duct tape. Torn skins can be stitched like any fabric, but you’ll need a good needle and heavy-duty thread to do the trick.
Think snow and happy skinning.
Brian Mohr is a writer and photographer from Moretown, VT, and a Contributing Editor at Backcountry Magazine. He can be reached at email@example.com.