The path to your backcountry ski destination is a blank canvas of snow. The only real way to get to the epic lines, steep couloirs, and wide open powder faces of the backcountry is via the skin track. When you’re in the skin track, please be on your best behavior.
When you spend hours of your day huffing and puffing your way up the skin track to enjoy 15 minutes of pristine turns, you’ll learn to enjoy the up as much as the down – otherwise you best head to the closest ski resort. There’s nothing quite like ascending a mountain on skins. It’s an experience that requires a hypnotic, rhythmical ride on the old heel-toe express. And the skin track is meant to be enjoyed by all backcountry enthusiasts.
Whether you’re breaking trail or following an old track, when you’re skinning there are a few rules that you must follow to stay in the good graces of the backcountry gods. Follow these tips and tricks to help boost the skin track experience for everyone:
- Be friendly. – Everyone just wants to have a good time. Say hello.
- Don’t bootpack in the skin track. – Post holing along in the skin track damages the skin track for everyone behind you. No one wants to slip and slide because someone wasn’t prepared for the day. Even if you’re a professional snowshoer, this is an absolute no no.
- The skin track is not a toilet. – It stinks. It’s gross. It’s an eyesore. It seems silly to even have to write this one, but people need a reminder. Please step off to the side. Try to pee on something that won’t turn yellow.
- Go with the flow. – Set your track in the path of least resistance. Flow with the terrain. Try to make nice rounded turns and limit the number of kickturns to conserve energy.
- Feel free to edit the skin track. – If the skin track is erratic, cliff face steep, or unsafe, edit it. Don’t just follow a skin track blindly. You don’t know where you’ll end up or you may exert more energy than necessary.
- Walk slow to move fast. – A wise man once told me this and it’s true. Set an all day pace and you can just keep on trucking. Slow walking is the most efficient way to move through the mountains. Keep it slow and rhythmical and you’ll forget that your walking. Don’t walk faster than you can talk.
- Turn off the tunes. – It’s easy to zone out to your favorite dance hit or reggae riddim, but don’t. You’re in the backcountry and communication is important.
- Set an appropriate angle of attack. – Keep the track angle consistent. Don’t go too steep or too mellow. About 10 to 12 degrees is ideal. Tape a slope meter on your ski and measure it.
- Be aware of your surroundings. – Pay attention to the terrain around you. Are you in a terrain trap? Underneath an avalanche prone slope? On private property? Is the skin track dead ending? Always keep an eye on the mountains and where you are going. Travel safely at all times.
- Take care of your dog. – Your black lab named Bridger loves going skiing, but please pick up after him and make sure he listens to you.
- Don’t be a roadblock. – If the person behind you wants to pass, let them. If you need a swig of water, an electrolyte shot, or a breather, please step off the skin track to let others pass.
- Space it out. – Proper spacing is essential in the backcountry. Just be sure to always be able to communicate with your buddies.
- Don’t ski in the skin track. – It’s easy to take the path of least resistance, but it makes the skin track slick and off camber for the next uphill group.
- Explore wild snow. – Get out of the skin track to explore the wild snow. Untouched snow under your skis can tell you volumes about snow conditions, stability, and temperatures.
- Switch up breaking trail. – Breaking trail is demanding work. Give your buddy a break. If your ski tip clicks someone else’s ski tail, you’re up for breaking trail. No questions asked. Do it a second time and that’s an R.B.O.
- Leave a pristine skin track. – A skin track is a thing of beauty. It’s a pathway through the magical mountains. Make it look good. Keep it simple and make sure that you don’t have to cross it when you’re skiing down later. That would ruin an untouched pow run.
- Enjoy the uphill. – When you spend the majority of the day walking, get into the spirit of ascending.
Many of these rules apply to setting a backcountry bootpack too. Use your common sense and enjoy the uphill. Spread the backcountry stoke with proper skin track etiquette. People will respect you when you follow these skin track rules. Be safe in the backcountry.