There are those of us old enough to remember the days when if we wanted to ski down a mountain, the first thing we had to do was climb up.

Granted, back in my early youth there were some rope-towed hills strewn around the state, but if we wanted to expand our skiing horizons it was all muscle power that got us to the top of a hill. And there were occasions when our rope-stretched arms just gave out on us and it seemed to be easier to climb.

Had there been the option to grab a T-bar or sit on a chairlift, I can’t imagine that we would have opted to hike rather than ride. But oh, how times have changed. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal began with “Skiing up a hill before zipping down is a fast-growing trend …and curiously fun.”

It didn’t take that article to remind me that something’s happening on the mountains of Maine that I never would have predicted. Just last weekend, as I cruised Tote Road and Timberline at Sugarloaf multiple times on glorious conditions, I was astounded at the number of skiers skinning up. Skinning is the word describing the use of removable, grippy strips of material attached to the bottom of a pair of skis. When I first tried skinning a few decades ago, the skins we used were, well, skins. Real strips of mohair that had the virtue of being smooth in one direction for sliding the skis forward, and grippy in the other when you stepped down to prevent backward sliding.

Now, modern technology has introduced nylon, or nylon and mohair combinations to provide long-lasting use. Once at the top, the skier just removes the skins, folds them up, puts them in a pack and heads down.

Snowsports Industries of America, the national ski trade group, recently reported that skinning, also variously referred to as Alpine touring or backcountry skiing, is the fastest-growing segment of the entire sport. And based on my casual observations here on our home snow, that certainly seems to be the case.

Back in the day, our wobbly leather boots, crude bindings, and heavy, ungainly wood skis were our modus ascendus, but how times have changed. I have vague memories of back in the 1950s making two ascents a day, side-stepping and herringboning up the nearly 1,000 vertical feet of the Slope Trail on Mt. Megunticook in Camden Hills State Park. Side-stepping because that’s how we broke up the coastal crust and crud as human-powered snow groomers.

Spurred on by my skiing heroes, older brother Mick and his buddy Orman (Sonny) Goodwin, we’d labor to the summit, rest a bit, then head down to the log lodge built by the CCC boys in the ’30s for lunch. Then back up for an afternoon run.

In his delightful, yet-to-be-published memoir, “Some of the Tales in the Life of Sonny,” a draft of which I’ve had the privilege to read, Goodwin describes building a log shelter with Mick’s help at Pokey Knob near the summit of Megunticook so that we could camp out overnight and perhaps get three runs in a day as a result.

No surprise to me that Sonny went on to become a builder of some of the finest homes in the entire mid-coast area.

Now, ski area skinners and backcountry explorers eager to avoid crowds and lines at resorts – and find some untracked pow – have a wide choice of specialized equipment at their disposal. A lot has happened, especially in the past few years, in the upgrading of equipment for a sport that plodded along since its origins some 6,000 years ago.

For example, Marker makes a pretty inexpensive boot-binding-ski combo. In one mode it’s a downhill ski, and with the flick of a lever the back of the binding is released from the ski allowing the user to walk uphill with skis still on. Specially designed boots have a releasable cuff that allows your ankle to move forward freely for the ascent. Or, the manufacturers say, for apres ski at the bar.

Our boarding brethren haven’t been left out of the revolution, either. I remember a couple of years ago spotting a boarder trekking to the eastern edge of Casablanca on Saddleback on two halves of a board he had cut in half, lengthwise, wearing each one like a ski. At the top he somehow hitched them together and took off with a triumphant hoot.

Now there are specially designed split-boards, as well as some ingenious backcountry bindings. For the trip up they face forward, allowing the user’s heel to rise freely and the toe to pivot.

Then with a flick, the bindings slide to the sideways boarding position and just like that, it’s off down the mountain.

Bear in mind that if you plan to ski uphill at an operating ski area, most of them have policies applying to the activity, establishing special routes, times and other pertinent particulars. So check with them before heading up.

As the Wall Street Journal put it, “Traveling uphill on your skis is liberating and, rather inconceivably, fun … and a great workout. Not to mention the adrenaline rush of racing downhill as your reward.”

John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write columns on alternating weeks. He can be reached at:

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