Steep Skinning – Mindset

| March 27, 2009

Having the right mindset is almost as important as the right gear and technique when it comes to steep skinning.  You have to be into it.  I was out touring with a friend from Switzerland in the Wasatch Mountains a few years ago and he refused to follow any of the existing skin tracks, which tend to be steep (from what I’ve heard from out-of-state visitors – they seem normal to me).  “These skin tracks are stupid!”  We ended up breaking new trails, which is about the worst that can happen if you can’t or don’t want to push the angle.  So what, eh?

Another little trick is to be calm a subtle with your footwork and try to milk every little irregularity you can.  Put your ski/skin down once, pressure it firmly and stand up on it smoothly.  Stomping rarely helps and more often than not destroys any grip the snow might have.


Perhaps one of the reasons I like steep skinning is that I also like friction climbing (moderate angle, smooth slabs, minimal handholds).  I was a little insulted when a friend once said “Oh yeah, friction climbing – whatever.  Once you get the hang of that you can hike routes all day long.” which is kind of true.  More than anything it is about developing a feel for the rock or snow, trusting your feet and relaxing.  Once you get comfortable with these elements, you can hike steep skin tracks all day long.

Help support and get your groove on with Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS Skins on sale now at 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 (7)

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  1. Nate says:

    Great advice. Out of all the skiing web sites I visit, this one’s the best for two reasons: it’s based in my home state, and there is great advice like this featured. I also used your helemt cam idea but it didn’t work out due to all the crap I got from my partners for having a camera screwed to my head. Weird huh.

  2. mark says:

    Good info as usual. Thanks for this series, it’s been valuable.

  3. David says:

    I thought you were gonna say Steep Skinning was all about headbands.

    I think the slab climbing analogy is absolutely perfect, except that the people who need to hear it probably ain’t big climbers.

  4. Colin in CA says:

    Ugh… slab climbing. A necessary evil. Especially if you climb in Tuolumne. But not my cup of tea, if given the choice. Give me clean granite ridgeline traverses.

    Thanks for the skinning tips Andrew. I’ll try to think about them next time I’m out.

  5. Greg in UT says:

    I have never understood people that complain about an established skin track being too steep. If they don’t like it, they are welcome to break their own.

    I remember skiing alone several years ago in White Pine. I broke a steep track in deep snow. When I got to the top, another party came up my track and complained to me that I had put it in too steep. I was so stunned I couldn’t even think of a response.

  6. Andrew says:

    Hi Greg – I’ve had the same experience where a group will follow our track for hours, then when we finally cross paths they lay into us about the angle, danger, etc.. Personally, I don’t see breaking trail as a public service, although I could care less if anyone else wants to use it.

  7. Bart T says:

    Looking at the photo makes me think that somebody (Andrew) ought to invent special poles for slab climbing, maybe with little suction cups that could attach to your ski poles? It would be spooky to lead with them, but I bet you could just run up some slabs on second. I guess that might count as aid climbing though :-(

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