If you are going to introduce your spouse/friend/sibling/parent/ to ski touring...
Don’t screw this up.
This is going to be a learning process, and a huge amount of that learning process is going to be for you, the teacher. Here are some dos and don’ts to avoid meltdowns while sharing our ‘simple’ sport with people you like.
Don’t: make the skin track too steep. If you aren’t sure if the skin track is too steep, it’s definitely too steep.
Do: bring snacks. Not snacks for you, not the snacks they brought for them, but extra ones you carry for both of you to share. It’ll be a nice moment together that isn’t constructive criticism. Bonus points if you initiate the snack break before they too get hangry.
Don’t: make kick turns. Yes, they will have to learn them, but why on earth would you get your inflexible uncle to do yoga poses on his first day skinning? He still smokes cigarettes for god’s sake, don’t make the guy kick turn.
Do: fortify a kick turn if, god forbid, you have to create a kick turn. Use your poles to dig up hill, and stomp to create a little platform.
Don’t: give ‘just a little’ bit more advice. The wrong heel riser for 60 seconds might be easier for them to stomach than another piece of unsolicited advice.
Do: pick a small objective. Yes, your newbie’s in-bounds appetite is for steep complex terrain, but why would you think their first day in the backcountry needs to be aggressive?
Don’t: pick routes you’ve never skied. I f’d this up royally two years ago... near a place I’ve skied 100 times. ‘I think I heard there’s an easy way over here’ ended up with a sun crusted down climb through pepper. Sorry, Silas. Sorry, Aron.
Do: carry all of the group supplies. Medical kit? You. Sun screen? You. Spare snacks? You. Yeah, I’m saying it again.
Don’t: rush through your own transition. Take your time, and let the newbie finish their transition before you finish your own. Even if you tell them it’s normal to be slow the first time, it’s even nicer when it’s a non-issue.
Do: a beacon test, drill, and shoveling with a group. This stuff never gets old, and their skills are your survival.
Do: watch for the newbie trying to get on their edges if they slip while ascending. Newbies apply their intuition to their uptrack, if they are sliding backwards in the uptrack they try to get on edge since that normally stops them while descending. Instead, get them to put as much of the skin surface on the skin track. This is particularly important on the corners (not kick turn) where they will instinctively lean forward. A well-placed “try to stand up tall” tip can go a long ways. (Bonus tip: only talk about this if it becomes a problem it’s hella confusing).
Do: stay on the bright side. Yes, femur fractures and avalanches do happen in the backcountry, and you might have had that experience. That doesn’t mean it needs to be a topic of conversation around people who may already be in a stressful and emotional space. Keep conversations about how life is good, the sky is blue, and how today is awesome no matter what.
Don’t: forget to smell the roses - point out cool stuff to your crew. Newbie Nick is probably all in his head freaking out about avalanches and didn’t notice the nifty hoar frost on the branches.
Do: involve the newbies in the decision making process. Unless you are a mountain guide, you are not a guide. Intentionally ask the newbies about their thoughts, how the group’s decisions align or don’t align with their education and ambition.
Don’t: make a hierarchy. Invite the newbie to have their opinion, and inform them that skiing is best as a consensus sport. If one person is uneasy, the group is uneasy. Specifically call on their opinion: “Newbie Nelly, do you see any signs of avalanche activity today?” “Newbie Nelly are you feeling comfortable skinning past this avalanche chute one by one?” If you don’t invite Nelly to speak up, I can guarantee she won’t.
Once you’ve invited Newbie Nelly to offer opinions, and her level of comfort, you can make it into a fun game to build their confidence and engagement at every huddle. “Last skin track we were looking at cornice hazard, who can tell me what we’re interested in in this next pitch?”
Do: keep the vibe high. You’ve forgotten how confident you have become on this, your fiftieth day in the backcountry. Newbies do well when they feel like a stallion, not like a baby giraffe. They may be a baby giraffe, but keeping positive will help the world stay a happy place.
Do: call out a gender dynamic if there is one. Regardless of their experience in a group, dudes often voice their opinion regardless of experience. Women, especially if outnumbered, often bite their tongue. But statistically if there’s one woman in a group, the group is less likely to die in an avalanche. Invite voices and opinions, ask questions directly to the silent person.
Do: try learning some of the skills at home first. Which would be better: trying to put skins on skis in a snowstorm the first time, or in the comfort of your home, with a hot chocolate nearby?
Do: checklist their kit before leaving the car. And, inform them that checklists aren’t a paternal treatment; they’re mandatory for survival. Common points of failure and frustration: sunglasses, second pair of lenses for fogged goggles, batteries.
Do: skin silently, or tell stories. If you start interrogating them with questions about their last performance review while they are mouth breathing, sweating through their base layers, and about to lose six layers of skin to a blister, you will end up with a ski pole sticking out of your neck.
Don’t: forget moleskin.
Do: use the moleskin. ‘Hot spot’ is a phrase that tells you something needs to be done immediately. ‘Blister’ is a word meaning you, the teacher, already screwed up.
Don’t: forget to empathize with Newbie Nick’n’Nelly. Take a nostalgic moment and remember your first day of ski touring. Your day was probably comically awkward, exhausting, frustrating, eye opening, and inspiring.
Reuben Krabbe is G3’s Chief Relationship Officer, a professional ski photographer, and G3 Ambassador. We wish happy skin tracks to all, and let us know if we missed anything!