One week in Aspen taught me the word “skinning”. And that was back in October, before snow even graced our majestic mountains.

“Skinning…?”

“Yeah, Skinning. It’s when you strap skins to the bottom of your skis and skin up a mountain.”

What?

I didn’t quite get it until a couple of months later when I was up before dawn meeting Charlie Lucarelli to go “skinning” up Ajax. It was -6 and I, as new to town as I was, only had faux snow boots and a pair of yak trax.

“You can just hike up, right?”

Oh wow. Never had I ever.

“Welcome to Aspen,” I thought. The land of true athletes, where people do what they do to feel the breath fill their lungs, the cool mountain air on their skin, and the world awaken around them.

Close-up of cross-country skis and skins, Aspen Snowmass
Close-up of cross-country skis and skins, Aspen Snowmass

Applying skins to the bottom of cross-country skis, Aspen
Applying skins to the bottom of cross-country skis, Aspen

Skinning and cross-country skiing near Aspen
Closeup of a cross-country ski binding

Never had I ever been so cold that I couldn’t stop to warm up. Never had I ever been so acutely aware of the mind over matter phenomenon. Never had I ever been so grateful for the experienced company that I kept, fully understanding the importance of “going with the right people."


And never had I ever experienced the pure ecstasy of doing something because it makes you feel so fully and vibrantly alive.


There were only four of us on the mountain that morning, as far as I could tell, and everyone else thought we were crazy for choosing such a cold morning.

Charlie and I were the first to head up and shortly thereafter, we were surpassed by Chris Klug and one other.

“Welcome to Aspen,” I thought. The land of true athletes, where people do what they do to feel the breath fill their lungs, the cool mountain air on their skin, and the world awaken around them.

A few weeks later I found myself “on skins” again, this time in Hunter Creek. It was beautiful out, the sun high over head, peeling layers as we went.

And this is where I felt it: The perplexing sensation of gliding.

Charlie watched me struggle through the habitual reflex of walking as I tried to follow his instructions of “just glide.” Stepping into each pace, finding frustration and confusion.

A Quick Guide to Skinning

A Quick Guide to Skinning

So ... What is Skinning?

Skinning is the act of gliding uphill with specific alpine touring (AT) equipment designed for mobility uphill and stability downhill. You might hear locals — and others in the sport — simply refer to it as "uphilling."

What is AT gear?

Similar to your usual ski set up (skis, boots, pools), AT gear is lighter in weight and allows greater flexibility. AT bindings and boots have a “walk (glide)” mode and “ski” mode allowing you to glide uphill and ski down. The “skins” are long strips of nylon with mohair or synthetic fur on one side and an adhesive on the other, which you affix to your skis’ bases. The fur flattens as you move uphill, allowing your skis to glide over the snow, but it grips to keep you from sliding back after each step.

How Do You Glide?

You bring your weight into the ball of the foot as you let the heal lift and press through each pace, eventually, finding a natural rhythm to fall into. Your skis never leave the snow, they glide forward.

The rhythm is meditative — connecting movement with breath, allowing the motion to take over the mind.

By allowing yourself to go with the flow, you retrain the body’s ability to actualize a different way of moving, realizing just how quickly the body can acquire and adapt. The feeling is freeing, melting away layers of constructed behavior into something altogether new. Or, once forgotten now remembered.

What to Know Before You Go?

Wear layers

You will build heat while you glide and want something warm on the ride down.


Bring snacks

Water and food is essential when you are out on the trail. The excursion may take longer than you think.


Know the Trail

If you don’t know the trail, bring someone who does. Having someone who knows the ropes will prevent you from getting lost or unable to get down.


Enjoy

Enjoy the pulse of each and every moment, allowing yourself to get lost in the rhythm go with the flow. You never know where it will take you.


About the Author

Nicole Lindstrom is the co-author of Wanderlust, A Modern Yogi’s Guide To Discovering Your Best Self, and was the 2015 producer of Wanderlust Festival's lecture series, The Speakeasy. Nicole relocated from New York City to Aspen in October 2015 to join Gina Murdock in co-managing the Aspen Yoga Society.

Learn More About Uphilling

Uphilling at Buttermilk Ski Area
Uphilling at Buttermilk Ski Area

Uphilling Guide

Learn more

Uphilling Policies & Designated Routes

All four mountains have an uphill skiing policy. Learn more about the designated routes and policies for each.