My assumptions are that most skimo racers lock out their toes close to 100% of the time when skiing on race skis (in races and training), and over half of the time when skiing on their bigger/backcountry skis.
Personally, I usually unlock my toes on my bigger skis when conditions are “breakable” (crust, wind slabs…) and when skiing where coverage is thin or trees are tight because the risk of twisting a knee or simply falling are higher. I do the same on my race skis but less often.
One rationale for locking the toes is to prevent losing a ski that is without brakes. Occasionally, I use ski leashes to prevent loosing a ski but not often enough which then gives me a “bad” reason to have my toes locked. My main fall prevention method is skiing at speeds at which I feel in full control – my perception is that I am in control 80-90% of the time.
Some seasons I used ski brakes and after watching the talk below I think that is the best option to prevent loosing a ski while skiing with an unlocked toe.
Locking vs Unlocking while Skinning and Steep Skiing
By now, you have probably noticed I have been only talking about locking/unlocking the toe pieces while skiing downhill and that I haven’t mentioned skinning (tour mode) at all. This is because I don’t know anyone who skins with their toes unlocked even occasionally. However, the video below will point out situations when it would be advisable to do so.
Skiing steep terrain or when conditions are hard/icy are probably the only two situations when I believe locking out the toe is preferable. The risk of premature or unwanted release in such situations outweighs the other risks, in my opinion. Also, when you are skiing something steep or icy then you are skiing carefully anyways, therefore, already minimizing the chance of injuring yourself due to skiing and crashing at high speed.
Lower Leg Injury and Deep Avalanche Burial
Now, that I have pointed fingers (at all of us) and put my thoughts out there, go ahead and watch this highly recommended research talk.
Jeff Campbell – Retention and Release in the Backcountry:
What Are Your Habits and Thoughts ?
Scroll down to the comments section and share your habits and thoughts on this topic. It’s always interesting to learn what other people are doing.