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Skinning technique

 Poster: A snowHead
Poster: A snowHead
I've just finished the Haute Route (Col du Passon, Verbier, Prafleuri and Berthol variations) and so had many an hour to study the various techniques of the different members of the group. I was particularly interested to see than the two guides we had also seemed to have slightly differing styles, which both differed somewhat from the "classic" style I was taught.

1) Heel lift height. The more I went on the more I was finding I kept to the lowest heel lift setting I could. I would certainly keep mine flat until the track was about 15 degrees. Many of the others in the group would start setting a heel lift when it was anything other than dead flat. This also seemed to be the case with one of the guides (both using Dynafix bindings, whereas us punters were mostly on Fritschis of various flavours), but the other kept flat heels for much longer. When traversing a steep slope I also found it useful to have the downhill ski on a higher setting than the uphill one. The only time in the whole week when I used the topmost lift setting, and then only on my downhill ski, was when completely shattered getting near the top of the climb to the Berthol hut. It was also interesting (although possibly coincidence) that the two tallest, most beanpole-like, members of the group seemed to be the first to go for their heel lifts. I suspect if I was using downhill boots with much less flex at the ankle I'd go for heel lifts much earlier.

2) Boot clips. I was originally taught that for skinning the best thing is normally to undo the top clip (and maybe the 2nd also) but leave the foot clips done up. I actually found it best to do the diametric opposite - leave the top one done up and undo all the rest. This caused the least amount of movement between foot-liner-boot. This may be partly due to my boots actually being pretty snug - there's virtually no side-side movement even when the foot clips are completely undone. My right foot is though a bit smaller than my left, so I would frequently do the instep buckle up very loosely to stop my right heel lifting in the boot. This setup clearly works for me as I got through the week with no need for any plasters/blister-treatment at all ( Very Happy )

3) Stride length. I found it most efficient to stretch my stride as long as I sensibly could. When relaxed on flat tracks I would certainly get the toe of my front foot about 5-10cm in front of the tip of my rear ski before starting the next pace. Others (including the guides) would take much shorter paces, and that was also the preferred style of a biomechanician/chiropractor we kept on bumping into en route. I was finding I was running to a much much slower rhythm than everyone else, but then also normally having to consciously slow myself down even further to avoid overtaking them on the track. This of course did interact with the heel lift height - it was completely impossible to get such long strides with any form of lift at all. Once the slope got a bit more exacting the stride did of course shorten to avoid getting too tired. Once I had to set a heel lift though the stride pattern matched the others more closely - particularly towards the end of the week (as our fitness levels also evened out?).

4) Rhythm. I would try and maintain a consistent rhythm of one breath per stride, which seemed to be a good gauge of exertion level. If the breaths wanted to come faster the stride was too long, or if the paces came too fast the stride was too short - and I would start getting tired before too long. Of course, by the end of the week my fitness level had increased such that the flat stuff was far too easy for this kind of rhythm and I was frequently taking two strides per breath. I really couldn't cope with not matching breathing and stride patterns though and would get all out of kilter if they didn't mesh.

5) Glide or Lift? I was originally taught to try and keep the ski in contact with the snow at all times. I noticed that the guides though did lift their skis off the snow when moving the foot forwards, but one did so only fractionally (he was the one who preferred the lower heel lift, and on one occasion charged up the slope, skied fresh tracks back down it and then overtook us again still slogging half way up the slope). I suppose this could reduce the friction on the ski, and so making for a more efficient movement. Again this is possibly incompatible with the long pace I was using - where at least 30% of the stride length was a forward pushing glide with the ski on the snow. I also found the long stride helped to stop lifting the back ski off the snow at the start of the stride - the natural pull along the leg was more in line with the direction of travel of the ski rather than up off the snow. Ironically, given that I was probably the one in the group who kept his skis most on the snow all week, and that I was taught that one major purpose of this was to stop snow balling up under the skin, I also suffered most from wet snow balling up (and causing me an immense amount of grief on the climb to the Berthol, where on occasion up to 15cm collected underfoot in the space of a few paces), but I suspect this was more poor peformance of the skins - which I'm really irritated about, but that's for another thread.

This may be a bit anal - but with 6 days of skinning for about 4-5 hours each day, you've got to think about something!

I suppose whatever works best for you is best (for you), but any thoughts?

(Oh, and BTW, the trip was ABOSULTELY FANTASTIC snowHead snowHead snowHead snowHead )
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 Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Obviously A snowHead isn't a real person
Sounds great, what skis did you use?
Did you hire them and did you get skis that you wanted?
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 Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Well, the person's real but it's just a made up name, see?
Skinned for the first time last Sat. When doing the zig zagging up a steep slope I changed direction with as much finesse as someone having trouble opening a deckchair in a sand storm. rolling eyes Embarassed Toofy Grin
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GrahamN, it sounds as though you had a fairly soft-flexing boot (#1, #2) with a low boot cuff height relative to your ankle-to-knee length (#1, #3).

On XC gear I've found that with clumping (#5), longer strides really strain the top of the quadricep, right at where the quadricep ties into the pelvis. So, with heavy footgear or in high friction situations I have to think about deliberately shortening my stride.

Did you make any observations about pole length on your trip?
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 Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
Anyway, snowHeads is much more fun if you do.
GrahamN wrote:
Ironically, given that I was probably the one in the group who kept his skis most on the snow all week, and that I was taught that one major purpose of this was to stop snow balling up under the skin, I also suffered most from wet snow balling up (and causing me an immense amount of grief on the climb to the Berthol, where on occasion up to 15cm collected underfoot in the space of a few paces), but I suspect this was more poor peformance of the skins - which I'm really irritated about, but that's for another thread.




Since it is in this thread... Smile I keep an aerosol spray of furniture polish on my bench, which I spray liberally on boots to stop them icing up, and on bindings to stop the same thing happening. I also spray the grippy, non glued bottom side of our skins with it so it repells water that can otherwise freeze onto the skin and cause the 'clumping' you describe. I too was taught to not lift the ski when walking and still advise my clients not to lift the weight of the boot and ski on each step.

Spraying boots also has the wonderful side effect of stopping squeaks as the plastic parts slide over each other.. Anyone remember the red and white 'Squeakyfit' (Dinafit) boots of yore?
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You'll need to Register first of course.
JT, My setup is:
- Dynastar Legend 8000 (184)
- G3 skins, fully shaped to fit the profile of the ski
- Fritschi FreeRide (brakes included, no return springs, powder leashes)
- Scarpa Denali TT
- Regular non-telescopic Salomon poles (125cm), shaft 2/3 covered with handlebar tape from the local cycle shop
These are all my own. It was very reassuring (since we all like justification for out kit choice wink ) to see that one of the guides also had the 8000s and loves them too. He actually has two pairs, one for touring with Dynafit bindings and one for in-bounds use with regular downhill bindings. The other guide (who I suspect is a better mountaineer, but slightly less natural a skier) was on Legend 4800s. Those on hire gear had Dynastar Intuitiv 74s or Atomic Beta Ride.

DB, it would seem as if the uphill kick-turn is a black art, and you either get it or you don't. Fortunately when I was taught I got it after about 2 turns, but one clearly very experienced back-country skier in our group (on Rossi B3s/Naxo bindings) really couldn't get it and fitted your description pretty well. Laughing . There seem to be two different techniques for the 2nd half of the turn, depending on how flexible you are at your hips. If you can do a ballet pliet (sp?) in skis, i.e. skis facing opposite directions boots pretty much touching, you can use the uphill boot as a lever to control the vertical angle of the turning ski and so keep it parallel to the slope as it turns. If you're a more normal mortal and have troubles getting you feet within 50cm of each other when in the 'pliet' position, the thing that works for me is to a) make sure the new uphill pole is as far up the hill as you can manage b) hang your turning leg high up behind you (so you're effectively doing a daffy on the side of the hill) c) then do the heel flick and knee twist to bring the ski under the uphill pole and complete the turn. The first one of these I did this year I rather overdid the flick and nearly emasculated myself with the ski tip Embarassed

comprex, the Denali TTs have a pretty stiff shell for a touring boot, but seem to flex pretty well at the ankle. Of the others in the group, IIRC, there were two on Garmont Adrenaline, one on Scarpa Matrix, and three on Denalis. From the impression left on my legs from the last week, the top of the boot cuff comes almost half way from my ankle to knee. The clumping was a real pain (both metaphorically and literally). Sometimes I found it would clear itself if I kept dragging the ski along the track fast and smooth, but more often than not the additional friction just tired me out. I then needed to keep the ski off the snow and forget any glide component, but this would then result in collecting a bit more snow each step, and needed a hearty kick against the snow every ten paces or so to shake of the couple of kgs that had collected.

Poles: nothing of great import. I think all had poles of "conventional" length. Some had telescopic poles but most had fixed length. As indicated above, I had got some cushioned handlebar tape from the local cycle shop and wound it around the shaft, finishing off at each end with some electrical heatshrink sleeving. This worked absolutely great, giving me a great grip right down to about 30cm from the bottom of the pole - at the expense of a little extra weight. On one early morning start I did notice a group of clearly very experienced tourers pounding along the slope with some very long poles - probably about 10cm longer that you'd use for regular downhill. As far as I can see the only advantage of telescopic poles is that they can stow more nicely on your backpack when you need to get the ice-axe(s) out.

colinmcc (since this is turning into an equipment thread rolling eyes ), interesting idea. Have you compared the effect of the polish vs dedicated paraffin wax (one guide had a stick of this which he rubbed on the skin, but I think it was beyond the point of no return that day) or other waterproofing products? Does it not cause matting or clagging up of the skin. I'm particuarly irritated since G3 make a big thing about how their skins are given a special hydrophobic treatment - either it got missed off this batch or it doesn't work. It was also interesting that my brother also had problems, and also had recently bought G3 skins (possibly from the same batch - although he went for an essentially straight rather than fully shaped fit so only got 80mm wide skins). The other guy having problems was on Black Diamond skins (also owned). The ones who had few or no problems were on cheapo rental Colltex. So much for expensive skins! I do like G3's tail fixings though - very adjustable. This actually came in very useful in my case as in the warmup day it became very clear that the tip loops I had been supplied with (as part of the 110mm wide skin package) were far too wide for the Dynastars and the skin sat too far back from the tip, so I bought some smaller loops before setting out. This resulted in the skins sitting about 5 cm further up the ski, which the tail adjustable tail fixing accommodated fine. The guy with the Black Diamond Clipfix skins was continually having to clip them back on, and (having clipped them back on for him a couple of times myself) there seemed little or nothing to hold the clip in place - that seems a fatally flawed design to me.
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 Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
Then you can post your own questions or snow reports...
GrahamN,

I'm off on a 4 day ski tour of the Silvrettas in 3 weeks time. Was planning to rent the Dynastar Legend 8000's.

1) Do you have to cut the G3 skins yourself to match the ski or are they pre-cut?
2) Should touring skis be slightly longer? I'm 5'8" and ca 155-160 lbs (71-73 kg) was thinking of renting the 172cm or maybe the 178.

Of the things I learnt from Sat
a) Use waterproof/sweatproof high factor suncream. Embarassed
b) Learn how to do kick turns
c) Don't forget to change the boots from "walk" to "ski" mode before starting the descent. rolling eyes

PS When doing long climbs (on a mountain bike) I concentrate on breathing out and let the air fill the lungs naturally afterwards - It's a tip I picked up from a Mountain Bike trainning book http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/1840184248/qid=1112087679/sr=1-2/ref=sr_1_10_2/202-6417277-2039011?tag=amz07b-21 and it works for me.
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 After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
After all it is free Go on u know u want to!
DB, If you're renting they will provide the skins (and Haarscheisen/couteaux) to match the skis, although I would expect them to be Colltex rather than anything else (and probably straight cut rather than shaped). G3 and Black Diamond are expensive skins, so tend not to be rented out. If you want specific skis (and the 8000s are great) I would certainly phone around to see whether any shops have them on rental. I'm not sure I've seen any rental 8000s in a touring setup (I rented them in downhill at new year), but I have seen I74s and 4800s, so you may have to look around a bit. I would suspect the 172s will be enough for you - I'm 180cm and 95kg (correction...90kg after last week Very Happy ), so the 178s didn't provide quite enough floatation for me in powder. The shorter skis will make the kick turns easier - and the chances of deep powder in 3 weeks time.... Puzzled

a) Suncream/sweat mixture dripping into your eyes can be a real bugger!
b) It generally comes as long as you don't panic and take your time. I still screw up half the time when I try rushing things.
c) Been there, done that, got the t-shirt! You remember after the first couple of times!
...and add
d) Get good wicking gear. I did nearly all of the HR in just 2 layers (even for the 7 am starts at >3000m), a polyester Polartec 100 base layer made by LG (from Field and Trek), and a windstopper fleece by Mountain Equipment. Both were absolutely fantastic (I also have a merino base layer I don't like quite as much, but it may just be a bit too thick). This kept me just about right in all but a long snow shower and a cold late evening approach to the Prafleuri hut, but went down to just the base layer for that afternoon climb to the Bethol (and should have for the Col du Passon too). If the weather is going to be hot, you may wish to get another thin layer for use in the late morning and afternoon instead of the fleece.
e) Lightweight sun-hat. I had a fairly warm peaked forage cap and spent most of the uphill with that inside my fleece and my monastic tonsure ( Sad ) exposed to the sun.
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You'll get to see more forums and be part of the best ski club on the net.
GrahamN,

Like the sound of the 8000's but good to see the 74's still alive and kicking.
I don't mind hiking a bit, not sure about 6 days though, but the trip sounded fantastic.

But I will have to get fit as I have always liked the sound of getting over onto the Argentierre glacier from Grand Montet

Got any pics..?
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Is this a good place to put in a plug for my B3's with Black Diamond skins etc? (see Buy and Sell) Toofy Grin Very Happy
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snowHeads are a friendly bunch.
JT, finally got a computer and image editing software that agreed to work together, so have posted a fair selection of the pics here (you'll need to press the sort button to get them to display in forward rather than reverse order). The Argentiere glacier is great for a first/second day out. The tour up it is a long flattish walk get to the base of the cols (either Argentiere or Tour Noir), which gets your gliding going, then it's up all the way. You do actually get the best bits of the glacier through just by a simple ski down from the Grands Montees and follow the track along the edge of the glacier below/towards Point de Vue, with no skinning required (make sure you head back to the left to reach the piste in time though). It did seem a bit more crevassed this year though than in previous years, so it's worth being prepared for glacier travel. An even better day is to head off from the Aiguille du Midi towards Hellbronner. The time we did that we messed up over booking onto the lift and got there a bit too late to get over to the Italian side, but the ski back across the top of the Vallee Blanche was orgasmic!

Alan Craggs, still not sold them? You may attract some passing trade. BTW I found no problem without having any return springs on my bindings...I must be doing something wrong! Leashes were good though (particularly in a couple of times I fell through the crust into seemingly bottomless soft stuff, well up to the armpits). One of the guys with us had B3s and seemed to do fine on them - but he was clearly a very fit Fitzwilliam (that's an interesting translation by the naughty word filter!). We didn't really see enough powder for them to really come into there own though.
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 And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
And love to help out and answer questions and of course, read each other's snow reports.
GrahamN,

Sorry, meant the Glacier du tour...!!
Geography getting a bit ragged.

Messed about on Helbronner and the view across to the Aiguille du Midi doesn't look too far. We decided not to do it as the only good looking bit was right at the beginning...forget the name...and then onto the classic vallee blanche. It appeared that we would lose height - we have some reluctant walkers - and not be able to do one of the more interesting variations. But maybe a guide would sort this out.

It is a pity about the Aiguille du Midi, the french don't seem to be able to make up their mind, tourist spot or high alpine terrian. They want the lift money but then complain about unprepared travellers

Nice pics now that I have registered...!!
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 So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
So if you're just off somewhere snowy come back and post a snow report of your own and we'll all love you very much
Some more info in this TGR thread

http://www.tetongravity.com/forums/showthread.php?t=27496
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