Thursday, December 23, 2010

On Track Setting

I hate poorly set skin-tracks. You know the ones - they feature excessive (any more than zero is excessive) kick turns, they climb straight up for a distance only to drop down again, they feature too many turns and you feel like you are going in circles. Or they feature too few turns and you end up either miles from your destination, perhaps in unfriendly or worse, dangerous, terrain. Skin tracks that ignore the nuances of terrain and bust up silly steep angles or go up and over every minor terrain feature instead of contouring. But, surely the worst skin track of all is the one that you are going to follow back out at the end of the day that goes uphill, when it should go gently downill, so you sweat and strain to climb up little rises with your skins off and your freshly waxed bases doing what they do best - slide downhill.

I wish I could say I always set great skin tracks, but I don't. I try my best, but sometimes I get it wrong, not horribly wrong (usually) but annoyingly wrong. Like today. Doug and I skinned up to Signpost Pass out of Kootenay Pass. Setting a good up-track up to Signpost Pass is important because, at the end of the day, when you ski out, you'll be using it. People familiar with Signpost Pass will remember that, apart from the final 200 metres climb to the pass, the terrain in the valley leading up to Signpost Pass is very low angle - flat, low angle. So, ideally, your trail climbs gently from the get-go and, at the end of the day, you ski down the top 200 metres, then pick up your up-track and cruise out.

Once around the ridge that runs north from Baldy Rocks, it's actually quite easy to set a good up-track if you stay pretty much smack dab in the middle of the valley. I usually use the creek as a handrail and this has always led me naturally and easily to the pass. Getting around the ridge, however, is very difficult to get the perfect up-track as the terrain almost always forces some downhill (on the way up) sections. Today, I would say Doug and I set probably the worst up-track I've ever set to Signpost Pass.

I started the problem by going too low getting around the ridge and ended up setting a track that was almost all uphill - on the way out. Then Doug took over and climbed too high and too far east onto a minor spur ridge that lies on the east side of the valley. Then, further up the valley, we both agreed to go right (west) near the final climb, instead of left (east), and ended up to the west of Signpost Pass. None of these were egregious errors, and, on the way up, they probably only delayed us by a few minutes, but at the end of the day, skiing out in the semi-dark, we did not have a nice quick track to follow and ended up slipping, sliding, sweating and swearing as we followed a poorly set up-track. We probably spent an extra ten minutes getting out. What's the big deal with ten minutes, you might be thinking, but on long trips that require fast and efficient travel, ten minutes here and there adds up to a lot of time and energy over the course of the day and could just make the difference between making your destination, having to turn back early, or even, worse, getting benighted.

You can read more about good track-setting here, but the best way to learn good track setting is to get out into lots of different and unfamiliar terrain and work on your technique. 

 Wind Rolls on the south side of the Crags, a challenge for track setting.

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