Pacing: A Backcountry Skier’s Secret Weapon

Clay Malott | BackcountryBackcountry
Are You the Tortoise or the Hare? | by Gary Ryan Blair | Mind Munchies | Medium, pacing,
In the backcountry, be the tortoise, not the hare. Photo credit: Medium

Often while touring in the backcountry, it can feel natural to ascend as quickly as possible. After all, the faster you go, the more laps you can get, right? In fact, the old adage holds true; slow and steady wins the race.

I started backcountry touring back in 2013 when I was just eight years old. And in the time since I began, the number one thing I’ve learned is that pacing is everything. It unlocked my full physical potential and has allowed me to do massive days with relative ease.

So what is pacing? Pacing is being able to regulate a consistent pace throughout the day, to prevent yourself from getting tired. We all know the feeling; starting fast in the morning and feeling good, and absolutely dragging by the time you get to the car. This is what poor pacing feels like; you drain the tank too early in the day. With good pacing, you may feel tired at the end of the day, but not nearly as tired as you would be without good pacing.

Proper pacing will save your legs and improve your days. Photo credit: Clay Malott

Something that I like to think about to maintain a good pace is whether I could hold that pace for twelve straight hours if I needed to. So, throughout the day, I check in with myself and imagine how the current pace would leave me feeling after twelve hours. If the answer is “tired,” I scale back the pace.

Another thing to remember when pacing is that you should pace for effort, not for speed or vertical per hour. You can skin much faster over flat ground than you would on a steep hill while exerting the same amount of effort. Below, you can see heart rate data from when I toured approximately 2,400-feet in one hour. You can see that my heart rate stayed within about 5BPM of 155BPM throughout the entire hour. This is an example of good pacing, where I was exerting a consistent amount of effort throughout the tour. If I were going for a longer tour, I would scale back the pace, to make sure I had enough gas in the tank to last the whole day without getting tired.

Pacing is not easy, and it takes practice to become proficient at it. However, as you continue to work on it, you will have a better and better sense of your pacing, and it will allow you to push on bigger and bigger days while retaining plenty of energy!

pacing, heart rate
Heart rate data from a tour of mine. Photo credit: Clay Malott

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