Roger Marolt: Ski(nn)ing is (not) fun! (!!)
I know a lot of mountain people are really into “skinning.” It’s not as sexy as the name sounds. It is where you strap politically correct fake seal skins to the bottom of your skis to prevent them from sliding backward so you can walk uphill on snow. It’s like velvet — you rub your hand one way and it slides smoothly across its surface; when you go the other way it feels bristly.
They actually used real seal skins in the old days when this activity wasn’t fun and you only did it if you were a mailman in northern Norway who couldn’t rely on the income from a trust fund. Now that nobody trudges up and down snowy mountains to deliver the mail, traveling through snow under you own power in opposition to gravity has become a form of privileged recreation for many who do have trust funds. It bears well for ditch digging becoming a sport for our grandchildren. What a workout! The faster you shovel the better.
Due to skinnings popularity, I decided to try it out. It’s not that I am worried about having FOMO or even that I have never tried it before. It’s that I have a bad memory.
I did a lot of skinning in the ’90s when I used to be a mountaineer with my brothers and it was still considered a stupid thing to do. Then I got distracted watching “Friends” and started drinking lots of coffee instead. I took a couple decades off before getting suckered into doing the Power of Four ski mountaineering race with my mortal enemy, Lo Semple, in 2013. I have no logical explanation for paying hard-earned money to join that sufferfest. I chalked it up to the apex of my midlife crisis, but never honestly felt like that explained it.
I will never claim that real skiers go uphill on fake fur. As far as I am concerned, real skiers don’t go uphill on anything except a chairlift. Maybe a snowcat. Possibly a helicopter. I rarely hike up Highland Bowl unless to entertain guests visiting from the Midwest, and I never call that a day of skiing. It’s hiking, and I bring my skis along to enhance the workout and to get me the heck out of there as quickly as possible afterward.
I am going to have a hard time explaining what came over me, because for the life of me I don’t exactly know. I’ll blame it on the weather. Two weekends ago, when I would have gladly been doing yardwork instead of skinning, I couldn’t pick-axe a giant root out of my lawn because there was 6 inches of new snow on it. The lifts were closed and I guess I got the powder urge with nothing to distract me from it.
I felt like I slept-walked into the garage and threw the dust-covered skinning equipment into the back of my car. I was surprised when, a few minutes later, I found myself at the bottom of Fanny Hill. I have no recollection until my heart rate maxed out five minutes into it at about 190 bpm.
Without disclaimer, I will tell you that skinning up Snowmass is not fun. It is just long.
The first thing I remembered about skinning is that regular skiers do not possess the perspective necessary to make it tolerable. Skiing from the top of High Alpine lift to Gwen’s restaurant is nothing. You thoughtlessly cruise the top, relatively flat part, you make a few turns through the bumps on the short, steeper pitch, and before you know it you are in the lunch line deciding between the chili and a bratwurst.
As a skinner going the opposite direction, the steeps aren’t so bad, except that you think you are about finished when you crest them. The hike across the flats with skis on your feet is then incessant. When you finally get a glimpse of the top lift terminal you think you are there, but soon realize you are hallucinating. It’s still 30 minutes out. Yes, it is only the altitude affecting you, but that is like saying it is only the parasites affecting you after you eat bad oysters. Finally, half dead, you reach the top and reward yourself with a frozen Powerbar that is the consistency of asphalt.
I want you to know that I doubled down on this experiment in perfidy the next weekend to make sure I wasn’t just having a bad day the first time out after my long layoff. The best I can say is that it wasn’t as bad as the week before, and that I am now mentally qualified to perform the duties of an old Norwegian mailman.
Roger Marolt is ready for some summer fun. Email at email@example.com.
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