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Tony Little and better uphill skinning

Kala Mtn Blog

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Tony Little and better uphill skinning

Eddie Schoen

Lately I have been noticing a lot of poor technique when it comes to traveling uphill on a splitboard or AT skis.  There are two points I want to address, and if you are looking to refine your uphill technique, either one of these concepts should be something for you to focus on.


1) Move uphill like a gazelle

When skinning, we are not just walking (or running if you're from Boulder) uphill with skis on our feet.  Skinning requires a different movement pattern altogether.  The differences are subtle, but they matter.  I don't just see this with clients who are new to skinning.  I am seeing this in experienced athletes who are zooming past me with the newest, lightest AT gear on the market.  When we run/walk, we are lifting our knees up toward our chest.  The power and length of our stride determines just how high our knees get, but they are always moving on the same patter.  Try a few high-step moves, lifting your knee as high up to your chest as you comfortably can.  Then, walk or jog as normal.  Pay attention to the arc of your knee, and the sensation in your hip.  Feel any similarities?  You should.   

When skinning, think about pushing your knee straight out in front of you.  Proper skinning motion is driven more heavily by the hips.  Remember Tony Little and the Gazelle?  Watch his movement in the video below. Just the normal, easy glide.  Some of his other antics, especially gliding in tandem with Darla, can be applied to skinning as well.  But we'll save those for a more advanced lesson ;).  In all seriousness, you'll know you are using proper technique if the tail of your ski stays on the ground throughout the entire stride.  The first thing I look at when working with a client's uphill technique is whether there is any lift of the tails off the ground.  

Improving your glide technique has the potential to save an enormous amount of energy over the course of a long tour.  

2) Stop blaming all the back-slipping on your skins

Good technique and the worst skins will likely outperform the best skins with mediocre technique.  If you find yourself slipping out and sliding backwards once the slope angles start to increase, focus on getting the weight firmly settled onto the forward ski before gliding the back ski up.  This means getting centered over the ski, both forward/backward as well as laterally.  When I see people slipping back downhill, the most common cause is leaning too far forward over the skis.  It doesn't matter whether you are using heel risers or not, you need to get your weight down into the heel.  The second most common cause I see is a failure to shift the weight side to  side.  Skiers get away with this due to skinnier skis that allow a completely centered position to still engage the skins on either side.  Splitboarders on the other hand, having much wider skis, often need to focus a bit more on shifting their weight onto the forward ski, keeping that weight down in the heel, and then gliding the back ski forward.  If you are slipping a lot, try to really exaggerate this and see if it helps.  An important thing to note is that this requires what can feel like a very odd motion in the hips.  When you weight the forward ski, in order to glide the back ski forward while keeping weight in the front heel, you will need to almost roll the hip up and over the top of your femur bone.  Think of it like a sassy lady walk.  You can also think of it as if you were trying to pop your hip out of the socket.  

Caveat on both points:  please don't injure yourself!  If anything in your knee, hip, or anywhere else for that matter doesn't feel right when you try these things, don't keep doing it!  Practice these techniques on lower angle slopes and see how they feel.  If you have access to an inbounds area that allows uphill practice, that would be a fantastic place to try these things out.  A hard-packed or icy groomer will make it obvious if that tail is popping up at all, and if you can get your skins to stick on that then you should be able to handle anything.