By the Teeth of Your Skins
By Andrew McLean

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Going uphill with skins on your skis is deceptively simple. Make sure the plush is going in the right direction, slap’em on and start paddling around. How hard can it be? Extremely. To become efficient at skinning it is like becoming a champion race-walker. It requires a modified stride and pace that may not feel natural at first and takes time, effort and practice to become good at. Skinning is akin to friction climbing – anyone can walk up a 5.4 slab, but to get to 5.14 skinning, you have to develop a delicate feel for the snow, concentrating on getting the skin to stick with the absolute minimum amount of effort. 

When I first started skinning, I had the great misfortune to learn from Alex Lowe, aka “The Lung with Legs”. There was never a chance in hell that any of us could keep up with him, but we all wanted to and devised strategies for doing it – streamlining our gear, trying to match his stride, drinking lots of water and even abstaining from beer. None of it helped in the least. Only after many months of self imposed humiliation did I finally make a major break-through by completely giving up. It was a wonderful feeling.

Instead of trying to catch Alex, I slowed down and concentrated on my systems – how to eat and drink while moving, quick transitions, avoiding bonking, anticipating terrain changes, focusing on a smooth stride, practicing snappy kickturns, using heel lifters and getting in lots of moving micro rests instead of a few major gasps. Eventually, I was able to keep him in sight (as long as he was breaking trail) and even managed to link a few coherent syllables of conversation together. Remember, it’s not how fast you go, but how long you stop and all those little breaks add up. While large lungs often get the credit, it’s actually the micro efficiencies of each stride that is the real force behind such feats as skiing 6,400’ in two hours or punching out a 30,000’ day of touring.

The Million Step Recovery Program.
Getting your systems in order and developing an all day pace is just the beginning of your career in the fast track. Now you need to practice, practice, practice. Preferably on soft, vast fields of unbroken powder. Do it for a few years, and before you know it, you are going further and faster with less effort than ever before and having more fun. And who knows - you might even start to enjoy it!

Copyright - Andrew McLean Back to Writings Index