The Best New Winter Workout: Skinning

And you thought skiing down the mountain was difficult.

A combination of skiing, cross-country, and climbing every stair in the Empire State Building, skinning is a sport that's on the up-and-up—literally. In skinning, you have to ski up the slope before you can shred downhill.

Why would you ever do such a thing, you ask? In the olden days, it was the only way to get up the mountain. In fact, the name skinning comes from the sealskins people used to attach to the bottom of their skis to give them more traction. (Perhaps it's also the reason why some people prefer to call it ski mountaineering, ski randonnée, or alpine touring.)

Fast-forward to present day. While ski lifts are your easy ticket up the mountain, skinning offers an invigorating (and ass-kicking) workout. To skin, you wear alpine touring (AT) equipment, which looks a lot like traditional alpine gear with a few key differences. First, the boots allow for more range of motion up the hill and have a pivoting binding that lets you raise your heels with each step. Second, they come with skins, which are thankfully now just self-adhesive nylon strips with attached mohair or synthetic fur. And third, the poles are extra sturdy to help propel yourself with your total body. Once you make it to the top of the mountain, you remove the skins, clip your heels into your skis, give your legs a few minutes to stop shaking while you gasp for air, and then start shredding.

What can you expect from this ridiculously high intensity sport? The Breckenridge Ascent Series, which is currently underway, challenges snow bunnies to climb 1,500 vertical feet—a height some extreme skinners can surmount in about half an hour. "It lets you get an amazing workout in a very short period of time," says Greg Gerloff, who has competed in the series since its first year. "You can really push yourself to your limits."

While your calorie burn depends on various factors like the weight of your equipment and how fast you're clipping along, you can easily plan to burn 600-plus calories per hour. (Just imagine how much the super-speedsters out there burn.) Plus, the sliding works the small stabilizing muscles your typical gym workout or run might miss—all with minimal impact.

And perhaps even better than the whole fitness thing, you get a killer view from the top.

Where to Skin

Skinning isn't allowed at every mountain. If you want to go for a test run, here are some of the best skinning sites in the country. Visit to learn about more skin-worthy slopes and their uphill ski policies.

Alta, UT

Breckenridge, CO

Keystone, CO

Saddleback, ME

Sugar Bowl, CA

Whiteface Lake Placid, NY

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