Winter Hiking: Master Winter Travel

Quick tips for your transportation of choice.
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Quick tips for your transportation of choice.

Skins | Crampons | Cross-Country Skis | Which is Best?



SKINS


These mohair or synthetic strips stick to the bottoms of your A.T. or tele skis and provide the traction needed to ascend slopes.

>> As you glide uphill, don't waste energy by picking up your feet too much with each step; instead, skim the ski just above the surface as you move it uphill.

>> Another common mistake: trying to skin straight up a supersteep slope, which is inefficient and draining. Instead, switchback up slopes of more than 35 degrees. (Keane's rule of thumb: If the slope is steep enough to require using your skis' riser bars, it's too steep to beeline.)

>> Separating skins is often like pulling apart Krazy Glue. Speed up the process by buying "cheat sheets" (like Voile's $18 ones, voile-usa.com). Press these long, thin mesh sheets onto a skin's sticky side, then fold the skin in half like a sandwich. This makes it easier to separate later and also preserves the glue's adhesiveness, extending your skins' lifespan.

Skins | Crampons | Cross-Country Skis | Which is Best?

CRAMPONS

Attach these spikes to your boots via straps or clips for bomber grip on ice.

>> When ascending a moderate slope, people tend to try to walk as they do in boots. Instead, widen your stance a bit to avoid snagging your pants, and fully plant your foot so all the crampon points bite into the snow. When climbing a very steep slope (greater than 45 degrees), kick steps using the front points of the crampons, then step up by balancing your weight over your toes.

>>Take them off in deep snow (where they won't grip) or rocky stretches (to avoid wearing down the points). And of course, never glissade with them on, which is a recipe for a bad gash or broken ankle.

>> Anti-balling plates (pieces of flexible plastic that fit under the toe and heel of the crampon) are a must, says Carlos Cummings, assistant guide at Timberline Mountain Guides, since they keep snow from sticking to the metal underfoot. "When snow balls up, it feels like you're walking on high heels," he says. Either buy some at a gear store, or fashion a pair by cutting out a piece of detergent bottle plastic and duct-taping it to the crampon. To make ad-hoc plates in the field, tie a thin piece of nylon (like a patch from your pants) or insulite pad to the bottom of the crampons using thin Spectra cord.

Skins | Crampons | Cross-Country Skis | Which is Best?

CROSS-COUNTRY SKIS

These light, flexible sticks are your ticket to exploring rolling backcountry terrain.

>> Use the herringbone technique to ascend steep hills: Spread your skis into a V shape with the point of the V behind you, and duck-walk up the hill, putting your weight on the inside edges.

>> To descend, use the snowplow to control speed (form a V with the point in front of you), or switchback across the slope with your weight on the uphill ski edges.

>> Cover flat terrain with the classic "kick and glide," a move in which you slide one foot forward while lightly kicking with your other foot to propel yourself ahead. Plant your kicking side's pole lightly into the snow with each glide. Arms should be shoulder-width apart (don't cross over your body) and slightly bent. Lean your torso slightly forward, with shoulders rounded. For more glide, keep your weight over the forward, driving ski.

Skins | Crampons | Cross-Country Skis | Which is Best?

FAST OR EASY: WHICH MODE OF TRAVEL IS BEST?

Snowshoes

Pros

Easy learning curve—just walk; max flotation in deep snow; light and packable; work with most boots; relatively cheap ($70 to $280)

Cons

Slooooow; less of an adrenaline thrill than skis

Best For

Rolling terrain, mixed snow and rock conditions, and dense forests too tight to ski


A.T. or tele skis

Pros

Fast; let you cover more terrain; exhilarating

Cons

Require practice; higher injury risk; more likely to take you into avy terrain; expensive ($1,500 to $1,800)

Best for

Broad ridgelines, couloirs, widely spaced trees, or faces less than 30 degrees steep

Cross-country skis

Pros

Faster than snowshoes; lighter than A.T. or tele skis by two to three pounds; more affordable ($300 to $600 for skis, bindings, and boots)

Cons

Less control on steeps or ice; waxable skis require practice (and patience!) to get the wax application just right.

Best For

Relatively flat or rolling terrain