Jun 27 2012

Technique: Steep Skinning


Keepin' 'er steeper - Scott Sady skins straight up.

As much as I lobby for people to wake up to the advantages of setting a low angle skin track, the fact of the matter is most people prefer to set and/or follow a steep track. By steep I mean in the neighborhood of 20°.

Without actually measuring it, how do you know you’re on a steep track? While it isn’t a guarantee, odds are better than even that if you’re using a climbing peg, even the lowest one at your disposal, and you’re feeling a bit of incline but are comfortable in your ascent angle you’re climbing close to 20°. If you’re on your high climbing post, you’re ascending steeper than 20°, probably more like 25°.

There are several reason why the steep track is preferred by most. Foremost is the sensation that you’re maximizing your vertical gain with every step. After all, isn’t the goal to get to the top so you can soak in a view and then commence to reap the rewards of untracked turns? Climbing steeply means achieving that goal sooner. I’ll leave the debate on the validity of that claim for my long winded rebuttal in a later series of posts.

Climbing steeper usually requires more energy output—it depends on how grippy the snow is—but many like the extra pump of a steep climb. It is a great way to get the motor revving and flush out the weeks toxins with a sweat bathed sprint up a steep slope. It also takes a bit of skinning skill to be able to hold a steep line, which can be reward in itself, provided your skins don’t lose their grip and you lose the elevation you have so zealously gained.

Even if you prefer a low-angle skin track there are times when a steep track simply makes sense. Either the terrain on the low track is infested with vegetation, or the snow simply ceases to exist and a steep line is required to stay on the snow.

Sometimes the snow conditions simply encourage it, like when it is slightly undercooked corn. Soft enough on top for excellent grip, but thin enough that a low angle traverse requires more energy to hold an edge than just heading straight up and putting all your weight on your heels to let the skins grip with confidence.

Finally, if you’re a newbie to the backcountry you simply must go steep for awhile just to see how steep you can go. In the process you’ll learn how to properly weight your skins for maximum grip while you’re at it.

© 2012

Related Posts:
Steep Skinning – the Hare Brained Way
Low Angle Skinning – Way of the Tortoise

  • j

    Ski crampons are so valuable for Spring Corn.
    Sidehilling angle is the issue rather than steepness of the uptrack.
    Often a gully/couloir can dictate a steep and ‘turney’ ascent vs a big-slope hike.

  • https://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie


    Not sure I’m following your meaning with a big-slope hike. Care to clarify a bit?

    Do agree on the value of ski crampons, especially when switchbacking on firm snow, but also admit that they’re not as useful as they should be because I usually forget them when I need them, and bring them when I don’t. ;)

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