Skiing uphill provides an opportunity to enjoy alpine vistas and warm up if you are cold. You “earn your turns”.
To travel on skis some form of grip on the base of the ski is required. Modern solutions for getting grip are:
Waxless skis have a section of pattern under the ski that grips to prevent the ski sliding backwards but allows the ski to glide forward
Ski skins attach to the bottom of the ski with reusable skin glue and are secured by a clip around the tip of the ski and an attachment at the rear. They have a synthetic fibre surface that grips to prevent the ski sliding backwards and glides when the ski moves forwards.
Cross country skiers traditionally used a variety of grip waxes (matched to the snow temperature) in the mid section of the ski but these are now only used by classic ski racers.
Skiing up gentle slopes
Ski tourers and backcountry skiers use bindings that allow the boot heel to lift off the ski while the toe remains attached so they can stride forward in a walking motion.
A normal walking motion is used to move forward on skis – weight on one ski provides grip then the unweighted ski is slid forward, maintaining contact with the snow.
A simple walking stride can be used to ski directly up easy angled slopes. As the slope gets steeper the grip on the snow gets harder to maintain. Some techniques for climbing steeper slopes include:
Lifting the forward ski, stamping it gently into the snow then transferring full body weight onto it.
Heel lifters (an accessory fitted to the rear binding or heel area of the ski on some bindings) can be used to level out the boot
For slopes that are too steep to ski up directly an uphill traverse provides a lesser angle of ascent.
The angle of traverse is dependent upon the type of snow, slope steepness and the grip of the skis.
Steeper or icy slopes can be tackled using a shallower angle than those with soft and deep snow.
Ascend at a manageable angle, particularly if carrying a heavy pack, or breaking a trail in deep or soft snow.
Uphill ski edges are usually edged into the snow
Use uphill kick turns (see below) to change direction.
The effect is to zig-zag up the slope.
Uphill kick turn
Uphill kick turns (also known as tacking turns) are effective for changing direction while ascending on slopes up to around 35 degrees.
Place both poles behind you down the slope
Lift your uphill ski off the snow and rotate it in the direction you wish to turn
Place the ski on the snow and transfer all your weight onto it (this becomes the new downhill ski)
Lift the other ski and rotate it around then bring it onto the slope next to the new downhill ski
Bring your poles around for normal use
Uphill kick turns are difficult on steeper slopes as the slope angle makes it difficult to rotate the skis.
A herringbone can be used on slopes that are too steep to ski up in a straight line. This method is good for short moderate slopes with softer snow.
Walk up the slope with the skis splayed in a ‘V’ with tips pointing outward.
Keep knees flexed
Transfer body weight onto the ski as each step is taken.
On steeper or icy snow, edging is vital, and is achieved by rolling your knees and ankles inwards on each step.
Rhythm in your stride will help a lot in the transfer of weight from one ski to the other.
Place your poles down the slope behind the skis to provide additional support.
If it gets too steep for a herringbone, side stepping can be used on moderate to steep slopes to ascend (or descend) safely. The skis are moved up (or down) keeping them 90° to (across) the fall line. Keeping the legs flexed is important. Good control of weight transfer and edge control are vital on icy surfaces. Side stepping can be difficult in deep fresh snow.
Lift the uphill ski up the slope and set the uphill edge in the snow
Transfer your weight to the uphill ski
Lift the downhill ski and bring it up parallel to the uphill ski then step down to set its uphill edge in the snow.
Use ski poles on either side of both skis to assist with balance, planting the poles with enough room to allow skis to be placed
Keep repeating this cycle until you get to where you want
Reverse these steps to descend.
The forward side step is a variation that combines a forward and sideways step.
Walking in a boot trail
On steep slopes with snow that is not too soft or icy a boot trail can be used to ascend directly.
When selecting a route for the boot trail avoid hazards and keep to the edge of the slope.
Skis are carried over the shoulder or secured to a pack
Group members walk in the footsteps of the first person climbing
The lead walker can rotate out when they get tired
The boot trail can be used for multiple ascents.
Summary of uphill ski techniques
Skiing up gentle slopes: Normal walking motion used to move forward on skis
Direct ascent: Ascending moderate slopes
Uphill traverse: Ascending steeper slopes
Uphill kick turn: Change direction when ascending medium to steep angle slopes
Herringbone: Ascending straight up short sections of medium angle slopes
Side stepping: Ascending (or descending) steeper slopes
Walking in a boot trail: Directly ascending steep slopes carrying skis