This skinning trick is one of the most useful, important, keep-your-sanity maneuvers out there. If you already know how to employ a self-belay while skinning you know exactly what I mean. If you don’t, pay attention, it’s not very hard, but once you practice it in skinning conditions that warrant the move you’ll use it indefinitely for the rest of your backcountry career, guaranteed.
Skinning is a beautiful, meditative activity when you’re walking with the mountain. Although cutting your skins properly is a key defense against slipping on a skin track, and ski crampons are incredibly useful as well, skinning is not always the seamless activity it can be. Sometimes you’re skinning on an uneven slope, in deep conditions where a switchback is steep and the track actually breaks away from you as you try and set up for a turn, or you’re heading up a frozen slope in hopes to time a perfect corn run. The self-belay will assist you in all of these instances, whether you’re slipping or just can’t set a secure edge. A skinning self-belay is essentially giving yourself a spot with your ski pole(s). The following five steps will help you set up a proper self-belay.
Step 1: You’re heading towards a switchback. Visualize your plan to set up for a kick-turn before you get there. This is always a good practice to get into, but is especially important if you already know your kick turn is going to be slippery and you’ll be using a self-belay.
Step 2: Line your skis up in the corner of the switchback, balance yourself and prepare to turn.
Step 3: Set your downhill pole around the mid point of your boot, below the edge of your downhill ski.
Step 4: Commit to your turn. Put weight on your downhill ski and kick-turn with your uphill ski. Make sure your downhill pole stays snug to your boot/ski edge to give you a proper belay as you kick turn.
Step 5: Shift your weight to your uphill ski. Now follow through with your downhill ski to meet your uphill ski. You should now be pointed in the opposite direction ready to continue skinning and do it all over again at the next switchback. *Note, if the skin track is slippery no matter where you are skinning, when you set your downhill ski and get ready to shift your weight to your uphill ski, self-belay your uphill ski in a similar manner as your downhill ski. Your pole can be set higher up near your ski tip so long as you feel secure. Don’t forget to set your pole up to its basket, or even deeper in fresh snow if that’s your skinning conditions.
When you’re backcountry riding you gotta get up to get down. There’s a right way to do things and a wrong way. Many times you’ll still be able to ski your objective even if you have poor technique, but when you learn the proper way to engage in the backcountry the whole process becomes much more enjoyable. Check out these other backcountry focussed articles, linked here, and here to help you get a solid start from the ground up and before you know it, you’ll be doing what you came to do in no time.