Skinning Outside the Box

| February 2, 2009
A common skinning malady is to turf face-first just as you are committing to an uphill kickturn on a steep, greasy switchback.  This can be fun the first few times it happens, but gets old quickly and can be easily remedied. 

A minty-fresh uphill kickturn, or switchback. They don't stay like this for long.

Over time, skin tracks get beat-out for a variety of reasons.  One of the main culprits is when subsequent skinners come up a few inches short of the turning point and instead of taking a six-inch baby step, they rush the turn, which essentially makes it steeper than it already is.  Another common problem with switchbacks (especially steep ones), is that people stomp their skins to help set them before starting the turn, which further steepens the track by creating divots that have to be climbed out of.  But, none of this matters as there is a way around this turf-fest. 

An exaggerated view of a beat-out switchback.

The solution involves two simple steps.  The first is to go deeper into the kickturn “box” (an unofficial term) such that you are overshooting the switchback to the point that your lower boot is now even with the upper track (#1 below).  After this, with your new leading foot, step DOWN across the skin track (#2 below) instead of stepping directly into the skin track.  This gives you a nice solid platform so that now, as you bring your new ski around, you can step back into the track and be on your greasy way.

Help support and stop a bloody nose after a switchback attack with an Adventure Medical Ultralight Traveler First Aid Kit from Click on the photo below…


Category: 05 Uphill

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (10)

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  1. Doug says:

    We call those steep ones f#@% your friend turns…..first guy up has it made everyone after gets f@#$ed!

  2. Andrew says:

    A time honored tradition… :)

  3. mark says:

    Nice sketches. Now if you could just explain how to keep skins from slipping in those greasy skintracks…

  4. Jim R. says:

    Thanks for the tips. Very timely as I was struggling (and fell three annoying times!) in a steep skintrack with many switchbacks. As soon as I transferred all my weight to my foot in the new track, I started to slip and lost my balance before I could complete the kick turn. I will definitely try the method in your last drawing. Thanks!

  5. terry says:

    Good tips!

    Andrew, am just about to trim a new pair of skins. Was looking forward to using the new G3 trim tool. Then i watched Steve Romeo’s new video on trimming skins, where the skins are left full width – no edge exposed. Am curious about which method you use? Edges exposed or not? Do you think its important to cover every bit of the base? I got a great deal on a bunch of 110mm skins a couple years ago and have been using these on wider skis.

  6. Andrew says:

    Hi Terry – I’m a fan of leaving the edge exposed (held back about 1/8″ or 3/16″ of an inch) as it gives you a nice solid edge on icy slopes. Trimming them “neat” to the edge of the ski only improves your grip by a small percentage and I don’t think it is worth it.

    An earlier post on the topic (including a photo of Steve patching out…) can be found here:

  7. rockhead says:

    Andrew, thanks for highlighting the uphill part of the day. Everyone wants to talk about the down when 3/4 of the day is spent going up.

  8. Darrell says:

    Cool sketches. I’ve been using this technique for years but I often go just a little further uphill, kick turn, and pack in a new ski length track and then merge with the existing skin track. As for F@#k your friends, depending on whom I am skiing with, if I am breaking trail I will try to look for a good, slightly flatter spot to make a kick turn or make the first two strides after a turn flatter and then aim as steep as traction will allow. This gives every one else a slight breather to get back into the rhythm before they put it back into low gear.
    My favorite form of self punishment is to slide backwards and then fall over downhill with my pants unzipped for venting so they fill up with snow which then melts and drains into my boots.

  9. Andrew says:

    … My favorite form of self punishment is to slide backwards and then fall over downhill with my pants unzipped for venting so they fill up with snow which then melts and drains into my boots.

    That is pretty hard to beat – I love it as well.

  10. David says:

    Nice post.

    I often observe tired newby skinners laboring up a track, then they come to a steep but makeable swithback and they try to make it easier on themselves by not skinning all the way and cutting the corner. Big mistake, but interesting human behavior study.

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