I love mellow skin tracks. I love being able to glide effortlessly up a slope while staying flat on my skis. Each time I went to Utah I found myself cursing about those "in your face straight up" skin tracks. It seemed like I spent my entire time on the highest riser position. Being on a race heel with only 1 riser, I cursed a lot. More efficient or not? I don't think there is an answer to that...
Here in the Rockies we have long and flat approaches and I don't encounter many skin tracks that are too steep. Usually, if I can't keep going (with my race heels) it probably means that I should bootpack. I noticed from talking to fellow skiers that certain concepts are quite universal no matter how steep you like to ski uphill.
• The best skin track should avoid dangerous features and slopes as much as possible. Sometimes it means a steep section where you might need to hop on the high heels and sometimes it means a long and flat traverse...
• When things get steeper, give yourself a chance to increase traction. Keep your back relatively straight, press through your heels, stay off your edges and look up ahead of you.
• If you find yourself slipping, try lifting your big toe to increase the pressure on your heel. Another way of increasing traction if the skin track becomes more technical or slippery is to come off the lifters to a flatter position. This way, the "skin pocket" or the effective traction area of your skins increases.
• On flatter sections, that same technique of weighing your heels and lifting your toes in the "glide" phase of your stride will increase your efficiency.
• On an off-camber skin track, roll your ankles downslope. While this might seem counter-intuitive, it will increase the contact between the snow and your skins. Increasing the angle between your skis and the slope will simply put you more and more on your edges.
• Light is right, much more often than most people think...
• A good skinning technique can easily make up for slicker skins and give you a huge advantage on flatter sections.
There is no good answer to the perfect skin track angle... You might prefer cranking it up on your highest lifters and high traction skins... But let's agree on the fact that a mellower skin track is easier to follow for most people!