Thursday, January 26, 2017

Ski Tips

I have had the good fortune of skiing a lot lately; it's been....uh.. "good":

 Actually, some of the best in recent - and beyond - memory.  As I have been wont to say:  Utah has The Greatest Snow on Earth.....until it doesn't, which is a surprisingly large amount of the time!  Weeks of sunny high pressure can be locked in place midwinter, but this year as with many places (aside from New England) God's snow gun turned on late and he's kept it a pretty much full throttle since (musta been all that praying for snow).  So when it's Good, you Gotta Go.  

As I've skied a bunch and wandered around the Wasangeles watching others' and my own habits I've been putting a lot of thought into efficiency; what are the things that I and my pards do/don't do that generate either greater efficiency or are inherent, easy-to-execute safety measures that are pretty subtle that some people may think are completely obvious but other people may not necessarily think of?  So I've been compiling a bit of a list, and thought I'd fire up a quick blawg post with My List....with the caveat that I may sound a bit imperious while doing so.....

First, transitions:

  • One thing that doing silly skimo races teaches you is to develop a transition "system", because systems are more efficient and effective than randomness.   That'll make you both efficient and maybe keep you from pushing off down the hill with one or both skins on!  
  • You got two hands:   use 'em!  When I bend down to buckle my boots I get both my right and left hands going on my (too many) boot buckles and the ski/walk mech.  Most people I see do one boot, then the other, with one hand working on each.  
  • Sink your teeth into your skins:  I like to put the first skin in my teeth while I rip the other skin off, and then - after folding them onto themselves -  fold the two together so they can be stashed simultaneously.  
  • Stash the skins in your jacket:  if you are swifter in your transitions and the weather isn't too harsh you may not otherwise need to swing your pack off, and stashing them close to your body keeps the skins warmer  -to stick better - as well.  You may look a bit pregnant in the sick blower pow photos that your brahs are getting of you, 
  • Along those lines when I snack it's usually low (at the bottom of the run) and - especially if it's cold - I usually keep my skins in my jacket whilst snacking/drinking to give them that much more time to warm up.  
  • I am still seeing people use those stupid black plastic things that companies (Black Diamond) sell to keep skin glue from  -God forbid - touching other skin glue.  Those are for summertime storage, not to try to apply and peel off every run.  
  • I also still see people changing their pole lengths every run for skiing/skinning; another little thing that's mostly unnecessary and adds to your list of things to do and takes time.  
Goggles - a bit of a subcategory of transitions.   It seems to me that most people always wear goggles for descending, regardless of weather.  Digging your goggles out, pulling them out of the goggle bag, putting them on, and reversing the operation at the bottom is another small time suck that again adds to your List of Things To Do every run.  Ashley wears contacts and her eyes tear up easily, so she has - to me - a legitimate excuse, but otherwise, just because they are "ski goggles" doesn't mean that you have to "ski" in them.  I always carry goggles for the burliest snowy/cold days (and super deep blower like the last few days), but even in moderate snowfall I find that glasses work just fine, they are super handy since you can keep them on for the climb, keep them in your pocket, and/or easily clean them off with a pocket-based hankie.  

That said, if you do use goggles a lot, gog-management is key.  Ashley has a great little system where she puts her hankie next to the lens, so on the climb up any moisture on the lens is absorbed by the hankie, leaving her lens nice and dry and thus unlikely to fog up on the descent.  
isn't she cute?  And note her bulkiness is due to her skins inside her jacket.  
And Colin uses a similar-but-different technique of a terry-cloth goggle bag that is super-absorbent:
Colin's mostly a glasses guy but gogs up on storm days
And while on the topic of goggles, I have always used the super-dorky but very effective neoprene patch to protect my nose from frostnip:
As noted above, super dorky!  But really effective.  Just glue it on.  
Helmets are kind of in the same camp as goggles.  "Ski Helmets" are for resorts and suck for backcountry skiing; they are heavy and bulky, but at least they'll make your head catch fire as you march up the skin track!  You've probably seen folks skinning and skiing in lightweight, well-ventilated climbing helmets which are ok, but having broken something like 25 bike helmets with my head I have learned to put a lot of faith in bike helmets which also have much better side and back-of-head protection.  I am using a Giro Time Trial helmet (without the sick fairing sticking out the back, though that would be pretty rad!) that has minimal venting on the top to keep snow off my balding pate, but still has enough venting to be cool on climbs, and in the past I've just put tape over the top vents of regular bike helmets.  If I ski with a helmet I usually keep it off for the approach climb and then put it on and keep it on for the rest of the day so I don't have to futz with it every run.  And in conjunction with goggles, skimo types know that they can put goggles on the solid, non-ventilated "forehead" of their helmets where there's a decent seal between goggle and helmet to keep snow out and don't get steamed up from your own forehead.  

Pants with zippers:  I gave up on GoreTex a long time ago; at least in the Wasatch soft shells work just fine at snow-shedding, and I would argue that our weather prognosticating has gotten to the point where it it's too wet.....we just don't go.  It seems to me that GoreTex pants in particular are expensive, heavy, and bulky, but at least they make your legs catch fire on the climbs.  So people understandably unzip them, which is yet another "thing" to do at transitions, or - as I used to do about 3 times a day - leave the zippers down, creating a perfect snow funnel whenst skiing down.  

A lot of these transitions things are sorta stupid, but again they all add up, and one benefit of being efficient at transitions means that your inefficient pards feel self-conscious at holding you up and thus they are far more likely to say "why don't you go first!"  

  • if you use tech-style (ie Dynafit) bindings, use tech-style boots; that is, with a very short "lip" at the front.  Boots like the Scarpa Maestrale/Gea/Freedom, the Dynafit Vulcan, the now-defunct Black Diamond boots (which, to be fair, I still use, but the price was right...), and most of the boots by the alpine boot manufacturers have longer lips to accommodate frame-style AT bindings where the little tech fittings (the pin holes) are about a centimeter farther forward, and thus you have to go that much further over-center to get the rotation with each step.  It may not seem like a big deal, but that subtle difference adds up over a zillion or two steps up steep Wasatch skin tracks (and is really noticeable as compared to the too-far-forward pivot point of old fritschis and the farther-back pivot point of a split board binding).  The manufacturers are basically putting tech fittings into boots designed for frame bindings, and the consumer using those boots for tech bindings is getting unnecessarily overkilled.   
  • along those lines, there are so many great boots out there that ski really well that save over a pound per foot from the likes of the boots above (and that old adage of "1 pound on your foot = 5 pounds on your back" was actually proven in a big military test in the 80's; that and other interesting info along those lines can be found here) .  The Dynafit TLT 6 and 7, the new Arcteryx boot, most of the La Sportiva boots, the Scarpa F1 Evo, the Atomic Backland - all of these have the short lips, somewhat curved soles for easier booting/walking (in the spring), have huge cuff ranges of motion, are pretty warm, and ski really well.. Yeah, I know, you're a badass skier with more resort years than you can count and you need the burliest shit imaginable so you can slay the 32 degree backcountry powder shots like the Big Mountain Ripper (BMR) that you are, but these boots ski really well, and can indeed push around your BMR skis with them just fine.  
  • If you are still on 3-4 buckle boots.....unbuckle them for the climb.  I feel like we blaze past so many folks who are barely moving up skin tracks with their boots firmly clamped down, obviating their ankle's - and the boot's walk mechanism's - ability to flex to get you up the hills efficiently.  Also, the top of your foot (the navicular) is the key zone in keeping your toes warm; if you clamp down there it'll pinch that nerve/main blood supply and make your toes colder.  
  • Power straps - these to me seem like yet another thing to fiddle with at transitions if indeed you loosen and tighten them every run (to get better walkability and skiability), and because they are up under your pant legs and have fabric-catching velcro they are even more fiddlesome than the other things you're fiddling with.  I know that there are plenty of BMR's out there who will think I'm a weenie, but I think that a boot that buckles up - as they all do - should provide plenty of oomph for your skiing.  
Heel risers  - Along the lines of boots, buckles, straps, and range-of-motion cuffs, the new school boots have so much range of motion built into them that you should be able to accommodate every pitch - from flat to steep - on one binding heel riser setting.  As terrain changes or - hopefully not - skin tracks vary in their pitch (more on that later) stopping to change the heel riser setting back and forth between high, medium, and flat is again something I see a lot, and it seems time consuming and unnecessary.  

Skin Tracks - this topic alone has the potential for multiple articles/posts and is hotly contested, but I'm a pretty mellow skin track putter-inner relative to many of our fellow Wasangeleans, and here's a bit of science applied to it by the smart and nice guy who does - appropriately -  Basically, 13-16 degrees is what he found is optimal; I've measured mine at about 20 degrees, and I've seen plenty in the Wasatch that are pushing 30 degrees! (and watched plenty of folks barely moving up these skinners, whether due to their lack of fitness or lack of technique or even a lack of viability at all once a bit of sun or hoar frost gets applied).  
here's a 28 degree skinner that we "fixed" the other day
Keeping the pitch consistent is also important for efficiency, and most of the time if I am faced with going steep or flat to get around a tree or other obstacle I'll usually go low so my pards and I don't flail to get just other foot or two.  

My theory about the Wasatch's steep skin tracks is that so many people do so many quick  - ie coupla-hour or half-day outings that they a) don't feel the need to conserve their power - and it is power, on steep skinners - for a long day, and/or b) their enthusiasm to get'er done in a short amount of time translates to a desire/need to go near-as-possible to straightlining up (Tom's Very Scientific Anecdotal Observations have supported this).  I'd like to think that steep skinners aren't a function of people purposely doing so in order to make it more challenging for future followers, but that could be a factor as well....

Additionally, long reaches (ie fewer switchbacks) are more efficient since switchbacks take additional time/energy and longer reaches means you cross skinners fewer times on the descent, and rounded turns should be done where....rounded turns are appropriate, like at tree bases.  We keep seeing rounded turns happening on consistently steep pitches, thus forcing followers to get their skis facing pretty much straight uphill at some point in making the turn.  Note:  true switchbacks are ok!   

Everybody has their little techniques/tips - and strong opinions about them - and these are simply a few of mine, along with a few gleaned from my consistent pards.  And I'm kinda wondering why I'm being so altruistic, because certainly there are already plenty of skiers skiing plenty of lines in the Wasatch and elsewhere plenty efficiently!  

I will likely follow this up with a few subtle safety tips that my pards and I also use....and it probably won't be this long or imperious!  In the meantime, keep those "tips" up.....


  1. Scrabble dictionary says no on whenst. But I'll bet he's played it and gotten away with it.

    There are many paths to enlightenment, according the Budda (or the interwebs? Or my imagination). I like softshell zip pants. I also like climbing helmets which, with a buff, are very much like... hats. Goggles on my light no-front-vents helmet work pretty much work perfectly until the spring sun comes out. I use pretty nice, high tech venting goggles, though (Julbo Aerospace). Power straps? More effective (important) on some boots than others. Super easy to ski a run or 2 with one tight and one loose and decide for yourself. And enough with encouraging the BMRs to lighten up - If they could climb more than 2,000 without a week of rest and a 12 pack of Redbull, first tracks would be even harder to get. Bad. BMRs, you need those 188 underfoots w/sik graphics. Trust us.

  2. Much appreciated such a great amount for this data. I need to tell you I agree on a few of the focuses you make here and others might require some further survey, however I can see your perspective. SkiWitHerwin