I would say ME or VO2max intervals depending on when you want to peak.
And don’t forget, the first days of the ski mountaineering your HR is elevated.
I’m wanting to do more ski mountaineering (not racing, just mountains) objectives but I am so slow skinning and I don’t know what I’m doing wrong.
I’ve been doing lots of steep trail runs this summer and I still am so slow! I spent a lot of time this summer running the places I ski tour thinking it was the altitude that was bothering me but still, we’re talking like a 20 min mile uphill power walk (on my trail runs) this summer breathing comfortably, hitting right at the edge of Z2/Z3 and now I feel like I’m red lining at a 45 min mile uphill on the SAME EXACT TRAIL on skis.
I don’t have the worlds lightest setup but like 1600g skis and lightweight touring boots (atomic backlands).
I need to figure this out before I really do any of the things I want to do! How do I improve?
Posted In: Ski Mountaineering
I know you are not going to be racing, but I will share my experience in race prep because I thinks its relevant: I am planning to race my first skimo season this winter. I come from an ultra trail racing background, but I grew up as a nordic racer, tele skier etc. my year round training is mainly focused on ultra trail distances, so my aerobic base is pretty good. about 8 weeks ago I examined what I thought I needed to focus on to prepare for skimo races. what it came down to was 2 things: 1) leg strength 2) Lactic Threshold . ultra trail races do not require exceptional levels of either. so what I started incorporating was: 1) 20 min intervals at 10% incline at just below my LT 2) strength exercises including box steps and lunges. after 8 weeks, I am much more comfortable spending 60 mins at LT( for me, thats 90% of my max HR). I can also now accomplish multiple sets of single leg box steps which were very difficult when I first tried them. as an experiment, yesterday I completed 4 laps(4k vert) of my local ski resort wearing 6lb leg weights( 12lbs total). I found that with the weights, my ascents were within 30 seconds of my ascent times without weights, and my HR/effort was the same. I do not believe I would have gotten the same result if I had not started the LT and strength work a couple of months ago. the other thing to remember is that if you are really using your arms for propulsion when skiing, calling the upper body into action will increase the effort, and will make your HR and perceived effort go up…eg. instead of all the blood and oxygen going only to legs, some is now going to upper body… when I first started using poles in my off season uphill training, it def felt harder….
I think the role of leg strength varies enormously depending on the route. For low-angle skinning on groomers, eh, feels like you’re always just spinning. Make the pitch steeper and/or including trail breaking and/or including kickturns, yep, now leg strength is key. Plus any sort of hiking or climbing puts a premium on leg strength.
And for the down, easy groomers or perfect power, once again, eh. But long difficult descents, oh yes, strength is hugely important!
fitness aside, another aspect is your choice of skins. I have a number of ski/skin setups. eg. I have some 106 width tele skis with full length BD skins. I believe I could climb a tree with these skins…I can also stand facing the fall-line of a 40% degree slope and they will not slide forward…aka zero-glide. pushing those skins forward with each step has a huge amount of drag…which uses energy. at the other end of the spectrum I have skimo race setups with tons of glide. if you are able to experiment with skins, my advice would be to use just enough skin grip to accomplish the task at hand. more grip than you need uses extra energy and will slow you down.
also, experiment with the length of your steps. technique is important. when I first was learning to skin, I took baby steps and shuffled along. I marveled at how I would be passed by people with a similar or slower cadence, but taking “giant” steps forward. experiment with step length on different terrain. also experiment with step vs push of the ski forward.
lots of tools in the tool box for you to experiment with.
The first weeks of skinning always feel like high gravity days to me. I can’t confidently say why, but I’m sure that all that weight strapped to my legs don’t help.
I’m not qualified to talk about physical aspects, so I’ll stick to the technical.
As others mentioned, skins with less grip/more glide work wonders. Mohair offers more glide than nylon but require better technique. Most skins are hybrid. Race skins are mohair and don’t have tails.
Play with stride length. I find high candence and shortish strides work best for me. People with longer legs might prefer it the other way round.
Pole placement. I’ve adopted a comically upright position, with the poles planted at the as far back as the other side’s toe (right pole in one line with left toe, and vice-versa) and push hard with my arms. More weight on the heel piece, and more air in the lungs. It also allows me to move uphill using more of my glutes so I spare the quads for the downhill. All too often you’ll see people with too much weight at the front, slipping about and poles swinging uselessly. There’s a balance between the two.
And lastly, one can compensate for a lack of speed by practicing transitions and kick turns and building an efficient layering system. Uphill Athlete gave a brill talk on the topic: https://uphillathlete.com/free-speed/
Which Backland boot?
My first thought is gear weight:
I don’t have the worlds lightest setup but like 1600g skis and lightweight touring boots (atomic backlands).*
Even with the Backland Ultimate boot, that’s a huge difference from running shoes. It’ll have a big decrease on cadence and a big increase in fiber recruitment.
If a trail running shoe weighs 300 grams per foot, and if we assume your boots are ~1,000 grams per foot, and skins are 300? grams per foot, then you’re increasing the load by almost 900%: ((2900 / 300) – 1) * 100. Plus, I assume you’re carrying more pack weight as well? So perhaps over 1,000% increase in load?
In that context, it sounds reasonable to slow from 20m/mile to 45m. Expense is always a factor with ski gear, but that seems like the lowest hanging fruit to me.
* Every manufacturer calls their gear “lightweight” which makes the adjective useless. And most retail salespeople won’t have the experience to offer an informed opinion. In more concrete terms, I think you can get plenty-enough performance out of boots and skis that are in the sub-1000-grams-per-foot range. (That’s based on a size 27 boot which seems to be the manufacturer weight benchmark. Scale up or down proportionately.)
Another factor is slope angle (as NE Rando hinted with leg strength.) If your 20m/mile and 45m/mile paces are on different terrain, they’re not comparable.
I’ve put in a lot of hours of treadmill training for skimo (with running shoes, not skis.) I noticed that steeper is not always better for climb rate. (Although this is largely a huge secret to the Hulk Like Harder crowd.) There’s a “sweet spot” angle that is the right mix of horizontal and vertical effort that results in the greatest vertical meters per hour.
A ski guide friend of mine also confirmed this. Although the sweet spot angle is lower for clients than skimo racers, he can make faster progress with less effort with clients at more conservative climb angles.
(I found that my sweet spot was 25%—about 14 degrees—but I suspect the ideal grade may vary by person. As a rough rule of thumb, I noticed that for every 1% change in grade (either up or down) my climb rate would fall about 2%. So a 5% change in grade would drop my climb rate by 10%, given a constant intensity. Pretty significant!)
Below that sweet spoot angle, climb rate falls because (I assume) more effort is going toward forward motion rather than vertical. Above that angle, climb rate also falls because (I assume) more effort is going toward vertical motion than forward.
The latter may sound counter-intuitive, but think of it in a climbing context. Even if Alex Honnold can climb The Nose on El Cap in two hours (for 1,000m), he’s still slowAF compared to a skimo racer. 100% of his effort is vertical, but the rate in meters per hour is far less than he could do on lower angle terrain.
So it’s really hard to compare your two paces. They may very well be equivalent and respectable, all things considered.
I hope that helps.
A guide once told me that the optimum skintrack angle is 12.5 degrees.
I never asked about the seemingly spurious precision, although that made his yelling out to me of “twelve-and-a-half degrees!” all the more entertaining whenever I set the skintrack a bit too steeply.
Either way, that’s very close to Scott’s 14 degrees.
And when I’ve mapped out skintracks for my skimo races, the segments in that range always feel just right.
12.5! As you were, I’m impressed with his precision…
As a less precise indicator, my guide friend said that you can “feel it in your skis.” If they feel like they’re still sliding forward, rather than feeling any back pressure, then you’re probably in the right range. I was skeptical at first, but there is a point when the back pressure is more noticeable, especially when putting in a new up track.
Stano at Skintrack has a good article on slope angles in skimo versus running. His conclusions:
The most efficient angle for:
- skinning for guided clients is believed to be 12 degrees.
- skinning for trained athletes is 13-16 degrees.
- skimo and uphill running isn’t the same.
- skinning is lower than the one for uphill running.
the funny thing about skimo races is that you “skin up what you are told to skin up”. I suspect that in many races if you take the average of all ascents, you might get somewhere close to 12-14%, but the reality usually plays out differently: with steep pitches and gentle traverses. and what that means is you must be able to power up ascents that are over 20%, and then you must be able to transition to kick and glide when it flattens out. so if you are training for ski mountaineering or skimo racing, I would suggest you train the full range of gradients.
Reporting back after a massive season. So first of all, this was year 3 of touring for me, the previous two years I got out about 20 days, this year I did 77 (…and counting!). I toured over 250 miles and over 113,000ft of elevation gain.
What I learned was actually, I just sucked at skinning. I watched a bunch of videos on how to skin by male guides and TBH there is a big difference between someone who is 6ft tall and someone who is 5.5ft tall in terms of technique. I started taking smaller steps, sometimes tiny steps, and that helped a ton in not burning out my legs. I also made a rule: if I slip twice I do something different. Either cut a lower angle track or put on ski crampons or switch to booting. But mostly cut a lower angle track. I have excelled at kick turns and I actually find them enjoyable and a way to rest, so I do them often. Also, I’ve stopped using heel risers 90% of the time. Ive discovered its actually far more efficient to be on flat skis. Basically the only time I use them now is when traversing across a steeper slope where one foot is lower than the other, I’ll use one heel riser to make my hips flat. I did also buy a lighter pair of skis (volie hyper manti) but those don’t seem to help as much as all the other things I just listed, they dont hurt, but my times didnt sky rocket faster.
By March of this season, my uphill skinning speed converged on my uphill “running” speed (read: power hiking), so now it’s time to incorporate speed work into my summer running plans.
Anyways, if anyone else is trying to get faster skinning, I would seriously consider looking at your technique.