Skiing uphill

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Skiing uphill provides an opportunity to enjoy alpine vistas and warm up if you are cold. You “earn your turns”. 

Getting grip

To travel on skis some form of grip on the base of the ski is required.   Modern solutions for getting grip are:

  • Waxless skis have a section of pattern under the ski that grips to prevents the ski sliding backwards but allows the ski to slide forward
  • Ski skins attach to the bottom of the ski with reusable skin glue and are secured by a clip around the tip of the ski and an attachment at the rear.  They have a synthetic fibre surface that grips to prevent the ski sliding backwards and slides when the ski is moved forwards.

Cross country skiers traditionally used a variety of grip waxes (matched to the snow temperature) in the mid section of the ski but these are now only used by classic ski racers. 

Walking on skis

Ski tourers and backcountry skiers use bindings that allow the heel to lift off the ski so they can stride forward in a walking motion.  There are two main types of bindings:

  • Telemark (or free heel) bindings attach at the front of the boot and leave the heel free.
  • Alpine touring bindings fix the boot at the front and rear but can be configured to release the heel of the boot allowing it to pivot at the toe when ascending.

A normal walking motion is used to move forward on skis –  weight on one ski provides grip then the other ski is slid forward. This is a simplified variation of the diagonal stride technique used by cross country skiers.

Direct ascent 

A simple walking stride can be used to ski directly up easy angled slopes. As the slope gets steeper the grip on the snow gets harder to maintain. Some techniques for climbing steeper slopes include:

  • Lifting the forward ski, stamping it gently into the snow then transferring full body weight onto it. 
  • Using heel lifters (an accessory fitted to the rear binding or heel area of the ski) to level out the boot

Uphill traverse

For slopes that are too steep to ski up directly an uphill traverse provides a lesser angle of ascent.

The angle of traverse is dependent upon the type of snow, slope steepness and the grip of the skis. 

Steeper or icy slopes can be tackled using a shallower angle than those with soft and deep snow. 

Ascend at a manageable angle, particularly if carrying a heavy pack, or breaking a trail in deep or soft snow.

Uphill kick turns to change direction.  The effect is to zig-zag up the slope.

Uphill kick turn

Uphill kick turns (also known as tacking turns) are effective for turning direction while ascending on slopes up to around 35 degrees.

Steps:

  • Place both poles behind you down the slope
  • Lift your uphill ski off the snow and rotate it in the direction you wish to turn
  • Place the ski on the snow and transfer all your weight onto it (this becomes the new downhill ski)
  • Lift the other ski and rotate it around then bring it onto the slope next to the new downhill ski
  • Bring your poles around for normal use

Uphill kick turns are difficult on steeper slopes.

Herringbone

A herringbone can be used on slopes that are too steep to ski up in a straight line. This method is good for short moderate slopes with softer snow. 

Steps:

  • Walk up the slope with the skis splayed in a ‘V’ with tips pointing outward. 
  • Keep knees flexed
  • Transfer body weight onto the knee as each step is taken. 
  • Rhythm in your stride will help a lot in the transfer of weight from one leg to the other.
  • On steeper or icy snow, edging is vital, and is achieved by rolling your knees and ankles inwards on each step.
  • Place your poles down the slope behind the skis to provide additional support.

Side stepping

If it gets too steep for a herringbone, side stepping can be used on moderate to steep slopes to ascend (or descend) safely.  The skis are moved up (or down) keeping them 90° to (across) the fall line. Keeping the legs flexed is important. Good control of weight transfer and edge control are vital on icy surfaces. Side stepping can be difficult in deep fresh snow. 

Steps:

  • Lift uphill ski up the slope and set its edge in the snow
  • Transfer your weight to the uphill ski
  • Lift the downhill ski and bring it up parallel to the uphill ski
  • Keep repeating this cycle until you get to where you want

Reverse these steps to descend.

The forward side step is a variation that combines a forward and sideways step.

Walking in a boot trail

On steep slopes with snow that is not too soft or icy a boot trail can be used to ascend directly.

  • Skis must be carried over the shoulder or on a pack
  • Group members walk in the footsteps of  the first person climbing
  • The lead walker can rotate out when they get tired
  • The boot trail can be used for multiple ascents.

Summary of uphill ski techniques

Walking on skisFlat terrain
Direct ascentEasy angle slopes
Uphill traverseMedium angle slopes
Uphill kick turnChange direction when ascending medium to steep angle slopes
HerringboneAscending straight up short sections of medium angle slopes
Side steppingAscending (or descending) steeper slopes
Walking in a boot trailAscending steep slopes carrying skis