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The Skinny on Skinning

Posted by Kim Filler

Backcountry skinning with Steamboat Powdercats

Have you ever sat in the gondola and looked out the window to see someone ascending Mount Werner on skis and wondered ‘what is that person doing – why hike when you can ride?’ Either they want to earn their turns and get heck of a work out, or they don’t want to pay a full price lift ticket. Whatever the motivation ‘skinning’ is on the rise and Condos in Steamboat decided delve into the details of this growing pastime.

We sat down with Kent Vertrees, the self-proclaimed master of chaos for Steamboat Powdercats, a local operation that added guided backcountry skinning trips to their repertoire this season.

Condos in Steamboat: What is skinning?

Kent Vertrees: It is hiking uphill wearing all terrain gear with skins attached to the base of the ski which enables it to grip the snow. At the top, peel off the skins and ski (or board) back down.

CIS: Why is it becoming so popular?

KV: It’s a natural progression as a skier or snowboarder to move out of bounds and try new things. Skinning in the backcountry gives expert skiers a challenge. Plus advances in technology are making it easier; lighter skis, better skins, more accessibility, avalanche beacons and general safety  information.

CIS: What equipment do you need?

KV: Basically you need to dress for hiking in the backcountry, which means layers, (Gortex is great to keep moisture out), hat, and sunglasses; a backpack with safety equipment such as a beacon, avalanche probe and shovel; a water bladder to keep hydrated. Extra clothing is good so you can change when you get sweaty. You’ll need skis, skins and poles, or a split board. All terrain gear includes a specific all terrain boot and skis that enable the walk mode.

CIS: Any tips on technique?

KV: Keep your head up – don’t look down at the skis. Poles out front, and glide skis don’t lift the whole ski. Maximize energy and minimize your effort, one step at a time. Look for the lowest pitch aspect. You don’t want to crisscross the snow where you plan to ski down.

CIS: Can anyone do it?

KV: You have to be a good level of fitness. If you want to try it in the backcountry then you should go with a guide who can teach you how to put skins on, work the bindings and how to do kick turns. Guides are also familiar with the terrain and know where it is safe to go and where it isn’t.

CIS: What do you do once you get to the top?

KV: Catch your breath, take off skis, lock bindings down, change clothes, hydrate, eat and descend.

CIS: How do snow conditions affect technique and overall experience?

KV: On a sunny warm spring day skis and skins can get clumped up with snow. In deeper conditions it is more difficult to set the track, which is another benefit of having a guide. On days when it’s stormy, consider your gear as you can get really wet and thermal regulation is key. On deeper and lighter days, the smiles get bigger.

For detailed information on equipment needed and guide services with Steamboat Powdercats, check out www.steamboatpowdercats.com 

* If you want to skin up at the Steamboat Ski Area, you need to purchase an uphill use pass and sign a waiver before taking it to the Visitor Center at the base area. For more information download the form here: Download

Skiing up at the Steamboat Ski Area


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