The Skills Guide: Four steps for Blissful Ascents

Knowledge is power and, in the mountains, it leads to powder. But getting there and doing it safely takes time, practice and lessons both formal and not. And this year’s Skills Guide is a platform from which to dip a toe into the off piste, the impetus to dive headlong into a backcountry education or an opportunity to refresh and rethink personal processes. Because no matter your background, there’s always more to learn. And, just like traveling through the mountains, there’s pleasure in the pursuit.

There are few high-output activities as rhythmic, tranquil and calming as skinning. Indeed, the uptrack is a major draw for many, whether it’s deep in the mountains or alongside a resort-bound groomer. But achieving uphill bliss takes practice, attention to detail and the right gear. Here’s how. 

Skinning toward enlightenment in Kyrgyzstan. [Photo] Nicolas Teichrob

Glide and Glue

Lightweight skis, boots with broad, friction-free walk-mode ranges and tech bindings that negate the need to lift a bulky frame get much of the credit for enjoyable ascents. But skins are the ultimate conduit for grip and glide and are finally earning the attention they deserve in terms of glue and plush innovation. Synthetic fibers generally offer more grip and greater durability than their mohair counterpart, favored for its lighter weight, greater packability and smoother glide. Mixed-fiber options, offering the best of both, are now readily plentiful, as are various alternatives to hot-melt glues, some of which can be washed or are easier to separate (glue from glue) than traditional, high-tack adhesives.

Caring is Caring

Dog hair, dirt and moisture are the most menacing saboteurs of skins, which are only as effective as the adhesive that, unfortunately, tends to pick up any and every sort of grime with magnetic fortitude. At home, dry skins thoroughly by draping them over a door or drying rack, glue side outward—beware of hanging skin too close to a heat source, however, as glue can melt off. In the off-season, store skins in a cool, dry place using the cheat sheet with which they came. In the field, ditch that sheet for more efficient transitions and, when skins aren’t tacked to your skis, fold them glue to glue, taking caution to keep them out of the snow and away from that crushed-up granola bar in your pack.

Grip It & Rip It

While most skins offer tip-to-tail, edge-to-edge plush, grip is primarily generated from a skin’s rear half, from the boot heel backward. Therefore earn maximum grip by maintaining an upright posture with firm heel placement, vertically aligning nose, knees and toes and resisting the temptation to reach forward when things get slippery. On slick sidehills, articulate knees outward (or downslope) to maximize each skin’s contact area with the snow. And conserve energy by sliding skis—rather than lifting them—on each step, relying on your glutes to push skis forward rather than your hip flexors to drag them from behind.

Low and Slow

While many a Wasatch skinner might suggest otherwise, the most efficient skintracks climb at moderate angles rather than straight up stiletto-like ramps. That’s because, while sliding along a mellow track may take longer, it’s ultimately less taxing. Follow natural benches, contours and ramps to easily earn elevation as the terrain allows. Aim to make rounded turns, rather than kickturns, wherever possible—they’re more efficient, too. And, if a tour plan allows, lap the same track multiple times to maximize any trail-breaking efforts.


  1. Tm Johnson says:

    Skins, glue side to glue side, can often be insurmountably difficult to separate, particularly for new generation skins that are often wide and with exceptionally sticky glue. Cheat sheets are the way to go in the field. If you want to reduce time just use one cheat sheet between both skins. It’s still way easier to separate than by putting both glue sides directly together.

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