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Adventure

Backcountry Tips from a Pro

Tim Dobbins, a guide with Alpine Skills International in Truckee, California, shares pointers for efficient travel in the backcountry. By Olivia Dwyer

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Do you know the shortcuts to shave minutes off your commute? Or the best time to hit the deli down the street to miss the long lines of lunch hour?…

Do you know the shortcuts to shave minutes off your commute? Or the best time to hit the deli down the street to miss the long lines of lunch hour? These are a necessary part of your day, and you want to waste as little time and energy on them as possible. Tim Dobbins is no different. He’s spent the last three years as a guide on backcountry ski trips for Alpine Skills International, and it’s his job to make sure these outings run smoothly. “As a guide, I need to teach people the most efficient way to travel through terrain,” he says. “It’s in my best interests to keep people’s energy up. You enjoy skiing more when you’re not exhausted, and any time you can save energy it increases all-around safety. It’s about enjoying ourselves and taking pride in our work.” Even if you can’t make it out to Tahoe, you can still learn from Dobbins with these tips for efficient travel in the backcountry.

Pulling skins apart. Put the stuck together end of your skins between your thighs and stretch the loose ends over the tops of your legs. Move your…

Pulling skins apart. Put the stuck together end of your skins between your thighs and stretch the loose ends over the tops of your legs. Move your legs apart, pulling the skins away from each other. “This minimizes energy use. Skins are pretty hard to pull apart—you might as well make it as easy for yourself as possible,” Dobbins says. Keep glue active. Wrestling with skins can take up time if you’re doing a lot of laps, and it becomes more difficult in cold and wintery conditions. Dobbins recommends putting skins inside your jacket and using the belt of your backpack to hold them in place while you’re on a descent. “It keeps the skins more active with the glue so they’re sticking better,” he says. “And you can pop them right out. You don’t even have to take off your backpack.”

Pick your bindings. Don’t know which alpine touring binding to start with? Listen to Dobbins. “The Dynafit rep told me he likes [Marker] Dukes…

Pick your bindings. Don’t know which alpine touring binding to start with? Listen to Dobbins. “The Dynafit rep told me he likes [Marker] Dukes because they’re like a gateway drug. Eventually people get smart and get the Dynafit.” Dukes are a beefy binding that will hold you in really well while allowing you to charge hard. Because of weight, Dobbins recommends them for sidecountry excursions. However, Dobbins says Dynafits are “all I want to ski on.” Light and fast, they offer a good connection to the ski and are usable with a ski crampon, characteristics that make them ideal for serious backcountry expeditions. Personalize your poles. When it comes to gear, Dobbins prefers working with what he has as opposed to going on a shopping spree. He uses castoff cork from bike shops to adapt alpine poles for touring comfort. By wrapping cork around the pole’s midsection, he creates a grip that allows him to choke up on the pole in steep terrain and do so comfortably even in gloveless weather. “You save money, and I like poles that aren’t adjustable—then you don’t have to worry about them coming apart while you’re skiing.”

Tour in style. Be conscious of your body position while touring and save energy on the skin track. Dobbins recommends looking past the tips of your…

Tour in style. Be conscious of your body position while touring and save energy on the skin track. Dobbins recommends looking past the tips of your skis to the terrain ahead. “You don’t want to look down,” he says. “Where you look is where your body tends to go. If you’re hunched over, it doesn’t keep your weight centered over the skins.” Keep your body upright and don’t break at the waist to be energy efficient. —Olivia Dwyer