If you are an experienced skier, you might be searching for ways to reach the next level in terms of difficulty. Furthermore, if you are already adept on the slopes, you have probably heard of skinning, or the process of “sticking synthetic skins to the bottom of your skis, climbing up your favorite ski trail, then skiing down.” These adhesive layers stick directly to your skis or splitboard and allow you to slide forward across the snow without slipping backward.
Skinning is an efficient climbing strategy because it generally requires less energy than that expended hiking through deep snow, and yet it has developed a reputation for being painful and torturous. In this regard, skinning may stand as the next step in difficulty you are looking for. However, it should be noted that, with proper preparation and practice, the process is not as nightmarish as it is sometimes made out to be.
Here are a few quick tips for proper skinning.
The best rule of thumb, with regards to skinning, is to take proper inventory before hitting the backcountry. Make sure you have a functional beacon, shovel, and probe, and that you have a good knowledge of the area you will be traversing, including potential dangers such as avalanches and local predatory wildlife. You will also want to invest in proper alpine boots to ensure optimal mobility during your ascent. When preparing the skins themselves, be sure that they fit your skis naturally and snugly (or that are trimmed to do so).
Hone your technique
Skinning is sometimes considered an “art form” in the sense that flaws are usually revealed quickly in slick conditions. Therefore, it is important to understand that your first adventure will likely come with a learning period where you find your rhythm, your comfort zone, and most importantly your technique. If find yourself losing your balance at first, focus solely on standing up straight and feeling how to properly displace your weight. “Some people find it helpful to think in terms of pulling their toes up while skinning on steeper slopes.” This technique works against your natural tendency to lean forward, creating an alternate muscle memory of sorts that will become habitual over time.
Know your limits
As alluded to earlier, skinning is sometimes mythologized as being incredibly painful and difficult. In many cases, the degree of challenge actually lies in the type of slopes you are skinning, as you are basically just “hiking with a lot of equipment on your feet,” but without actually lifting your feet. Still, though, it is important to not underestimate your first skinning excursion. Do not push yourself beyond your limits outside of what is comfortable (a little muscle fatigue here and there won’t hurt you, but intolerable physical exhaustion will). Like any other ambitious physical endeavor, skinning is usually a gradual build-up process in terms of duration and difficulty. Start as small as you can — and take advantage of risers — and you should adapt quickly. After all, you are likely already at a reasonable skiing experience level.