Steep Skinning – Technique

| March 26, 2009 | 11 Comments

The technique for steep skinning is just the opposite of skiing, which makes sense as you are going up, not down. One of the harder things to get the hang of is the idea of leaning back, not forward.  Because touring bindings have a pivoting toe, it is hard, if not impossible to pressure the tip of the ski while in tour mode, which means you can’t press the skin’s nap into the snow.  Because of this, all of your grip comes from your toepieces back, so you want to make sure that is where your weight is. 

Chris Figenshau skinning up a 34-degree icy slope in New Zealand with textbook perfect style. Not bad for a photo dude from J-Hole. Good job Figs.

  1. Keep your back straight – don’t bend/break at the waist
  2. Keep your skis as flat as possible on the snow to maximize the surface area
  3. Press through your heels (important)
  4. Plant your poles near to your toepieces – not too far forward or off to the side.
  5. Stay off of your edges.  If you need to move sideways, “crab” to the left or right by moving your entire ski instead of trying to edge.
  6. Look up and forward, not down at your boots.  As the Bloodhound Gang song goes – “Lift your head up high and blow your brains out.”  Steep skinning may be painful until you get the hang of it, but it also gets you places in a hurry.

If you find yourself slipping, try lifting your big toe.  This is hard to do if you are leaning forward, (so lean back) and it will help shift your weight to the aft.  It’s like hitting the brakes.
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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.

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  1. dr says:

    Best blog going, Senor McClean. Your words of wit ease me through my work day.

  2. Evan says:

    Wow, I don’t know what certified guide pissed in Andrew’s cornflakes, but his generalizations about certified guides are just too much. I think that he is actually the elitist here! In my exams and courses I was evaluated to make sure I had steep skinning techniques, moving up slick, icy steep slopes at a 3,000′/hour. I almost always have clients use heel lifts as well. Granted not the top step, but the middles alleviate some of that leg strain, and I can put in a slightly steeper track than the so called guide 12 degrees. You must have had Bela as your examiner/instructor…every guide is different my friend so don’t paint us all in the same light!

  3. Andrew says:

    I did have Bela and I can see his point, but it is not for me.

    PS – I hate cornflakes – pissed on or not. :)

  4. Grizzly Adam says:

    By chance, I read through the steep skinning guides last night, and then found myself on a steep, slippery slope this morning. The tips and techniques you have listed here helped me quite a bit. As a newcomer to the backcountry I am still learning how to not flail about out there.

    So, thanks!

  5. tim says:

    Great Bloodhound Gang reference. Let’s see you work “The Ballad of Chasey Lain” into your next post.

  6. Yvonne says:

    I am new to skinning on my split board and have slipped off the skin track when trying to negotiate the end of a switch back on a real steep slope. Which leaves me in some crazy yoga pose face down in the snow. How do you weight one ski and get your other ski around onto the track????

  7. Andrew says:

    Hi Yvonne – I know exactly what you are talking about. Oftentimes the switchbacks are the worst part of a skin track. I think I wrote something along the lines of “skinning outside the box” on straightchuter.com a while ago where I described the idea of going deeper into the switchback (basically breaking another 3-4′ of trail) and then stepping down onto the old track. As skin tracks get used and people stomp down the switchbacks to help establish their skis for the kickturn, the turn itself tends to get steeper and steeper, as well as slicker. The main thing to try and avoid is stepping onto the new ski/foot where it is placed in steep, greasy track – you’ll never stick. By going a bit deeper, you cut down on that steep section and also give yourself a bit of new, fresh, grippy snow. I’ve been meaning to make a little helmet cam video of this technique, so hopefully I get around to it this year… if it ever snows here.

  8. Yvonne says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Thanks so much for this info. I will try it next time I go out!

  9. Aimee says:

    Hi Andrew,
    I’m a shrimp. 5’2″, 110 lbs fully geared up. It doesn’t bother me. Recently, however, I’ve been finding I don’t stick to steep skin tracks if there is any ice present, and there’s always at least a bit. I think I have decent technique, but I’m sure it could be better. When I asked a few of the local guys what I could do, they essentially said it was my “petiteness” that was the root of my problem. Is there any truth to this? If so, do you know if there’s anything I can do to compensate? Thanks!

  10. Andrew says:

    Hi Aimee – Hmm, I don’t know about that and can’t think of why size/weight would make a difference. Perhaps if you weighed 5 pounds, yes, but anything over about 50lbs seems like plenty of ummph to get the skin bristles to engage with the snowpack. Are you using synthetic/nylon skins? Mohair and 50/50 mixes are gaining popularity in the US, but perhaps not gaining any extra traction. If your local hills tend to have steep skin tracks, as the Wasatch does, you’d be better off with a grippy skin.

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