By T. Dietz
It’s been several weeks since the last snow fell in the Lake Tahoe region, and with warm temperatures, gliding sports are suffering. Not wanting to be deprived of a little outdoor adventure, I decided to fit my new “skins” to my skis and search out some backcountry terrain with whatever form of snow there might be.
If you want to go backcountry skiing or boarding, you’ll likely need to climb (some do it in snowmobiles but they’re missing the good sweat). In an upcoming GAC article, Brian and I chronicle our snowshoeing trek up the Mt. Rose Wilderness. my go to area for “close-to-civilization” backcountry
Skins for skiing have been around for a very long time, thousands of years in fact. Up until the free ride up the mountain by way of a ski lift, snow cat or other means, skiers earned their ride down the hill by first climbing. Historians report that the first skins were indeed skin, namely the skin of seals. The hair growing out of the seal skin, grows out at an angle allowing a smooth glide in one direction but gripping in the other. Think petting a dog in one direction where its smooth while petting in the reverse raises the fur. This dual action is the basis of using skins to glide the ski forward but giving it traction when you push against it. Skins can get you up fairly steep grades either directly or by traversing.
The new skins I acquired (fitting to my skis below) from Black Diamond are synthetic – nylon, while some enthusiasts still use mohair (goat hair). The skins are attached to the skis by means of a loop at the front and a hook at the rear. In addition a special, reusable glue is used that holds the skins fast to the skis but comes off fairly easily. Adhesives for skins have been around for over 50 years.
The photos here show the very straightforward way I prepared my new skins to fit my skis. The process took about 30 minutes. The skins are first cut to length, fittings attached, then trimmed to get good coverage but leaving the ski’s edge accessible to the snow.
Fitting skins to skis can be done by most ski shops that carry them but with a little patience you can produce a quality fit on your own.
Anxious to test the new skins and absorb some of the grandeur of the Sierra Nevadas, I set out for the Mt. Rose Wilderness. Wanting to get used to the whole process I geared up as if preparing for a much longer trek. To be prepared for more intense expeditions there’s nothing like getting used to your gear in a controlled environment.
Although the staging area was only a short distance from the road, I packed in my gear, skis, poles, etc, and then “skinned up” when I was ready to being the climb.
My skis have a backcountry alpine touring (AT) binding from Marker that can easily transition from alpine skiing to touring with the flip of a lever. The binding allows you to step and pivot freely in a climb. The walking motion is very easy and comfortable especially with my boots set for walking mode.
The pictures from midway up the climb and from where I stopped to transition to downhill don’t do the scenery justice. The 30,000+ acres Mt. Rose Wilderness is named for the highest peak in the Carson Range, the area being wholly situated within Nevada.
From the trailheads near the top of the Mt. Rose Highway I head west. This area is also trafficked by snowmobiles whose tracks you can see in the photos.
This wilderness is a real treat and only 40 minutes from Truckee. There are deer, black bears, mountain lions, and coyotes among other animals here. Although I wrote this time mostly about the skins and using them, the real motivation is to get out into nature and places that not a lot of others are willing to take the time or energy to get to. The gear is fun but it’s also a means to get to those unique places that can take your breath away.