Frontcountry Freedom


The innovative cross-country ski technology that takes you faster and farther along the winter trails, letting you climb hills with ease and explore more challenging paths.

cross country skiing uphill off trails
Imagine you are skiing through a winter wonderland, easily gliding over gently rolling terrain. Suddenly, you are faced with a climb that interrupts the flow, requiring herringboning, side-stepping, or even removing the skis and walking up.
cross country ski uphill with ease
Your outdoor adventure of freedom and mindfulness can be turned into one of frustration. Beginners can be challenged by rises that advanced skiers take in their stride. Experienced skiers can face impossible climbs in the rougher frontcountry.

Until now.

From the Yukon in northern Canada, SkiClaws let you easily and quickly climb straight up steep slopes without using a herring-bone or side-stepping manoeuvre. The claws shine best on steep inclines and in icy conditions where other traction methods fail. Providing confidence-inspiring grip, they make skiing uphill a pleasure! 

Quick and effortless to activate, SkiClaws engage and disengage on the go. There is no stopping to deal with skins or crampons. Simply put the SkiClaws on your skis and get ready to run up one side – no matter how steep or icy – and glide down the other, all without stopping.

Whether you’re looking to break free of the groomed trail, go on expeditions with a pulk, get into the back country, or even just enjoy your daily ski even more, SkiClaws will help you discover a whole new world on your cross-country skis.

Ready to make the winter world your playground?

Crowdfunding campaign coming soon. Get on the list to be the first to know!


doug hitch skiclaws cross country skiing uphill

The SkiClaws Story

As a long-time cross-country enthusiast, I prided myself on getting up any hill, no matter how difficult.

Then in Yellowknife, I faced an impossible climb. 

The trail went up a cleft in the rock on Tincan Hill that was too steep and narrow for anything but removing the skis and walking up. It was a short uphill section, with great skiing below and above, and it frustrated me that such a short climb interrupted the flow.

I thought there had to be a way to get up without taking off the skis.

doug hitch skiclaws cross country skiing uphill
I puzzled over this for a long time.

In Whitehorse I tested some ideas, one time literally falling on my face.  

Then the idea came to me: have the binding slide a bit along the ski and use that motion to engage traction.

The idea of SkiClaws was born.

SkiClaws FAQ

No. Maybe the best way to think of this new paradigm in skiing, is that it replaces herringboning. That is, where until now you would ski to a hill, herringbone up, then ski down the other side, now you can ski to a hill, run straight up (even narrow, icy, steep hills), and glide down the other side. The other traction systems still have their place. Skins don’t replace wax.
The claws are naturally always disengaged as you stride and glide. You don't notice they are there. You consciously engage them as you are skiing when you need more traction on the uphill. There is no stopping. To engage the claws you lift the ski, move it forward, and as you stop your foot’s forward motion the ski continues on and the Claws slidably rotate down. The technique is easy to learn and quickly feels natural. Some newbies can run uphill in minutes.
Someone who skis mostly in the frontcountry which is everything between the set tracks of classic and skate skiing, and the enormous elevation gains of AT (alpine touring). In a sense it is a return to original skiing, before track setting and before technological innovations in equipment. We hope to use the basic technology on in-track and skate skis later.
SkiClaws represent a new paradigm in skiing, with new techniques. In the 70's the development of skating changed the sport, and divided cross-country into two categories, Classic and Open (skating). Recently there has been a shift in classic competition to double-poling. Both skating and double poling are at odds with the traditional stride and glide technique. With SkiClaws you stride and glide but at a hill, instead of switching to herringboning, you claw straight up. You can also do a scooter or skateboard technique for more speed in some circumstances.
SkiClaws improve the winter outdoor experience for most people. Many cross-country beginners have issues with going uphill. Frontcountry skiers can ascend hills which are not possible to herringbone or side-step. Folks with injured ankles or hips who cannot herringbone can still ski.
Add SkiClaws to perfect technique and waxing and pass your friends going uphill. And in the bush, on the impossible uphill, your friends dismount and walk up, while you claw up and wait for them at the top.
If you are breaking trail in really deep snow, essentially you are on snowshoes and the SkiClaws will not help. But most of the time in the frontcountry you are on old snow, shallow fresh snow, or packed snow where the claws shine.
It is hard to tell if SkiClaws have passed along a groomed track. A pole on the edge of the track or a ski sliding in or out or a dog paw print are all more noticeable. It would be only on the uphills where you might notice, and generally in those spots most track skiers resort to herringboning and there are no tracks. Also, this particular frontcountry model, for 60-62mm waist skis, is meant to excel on ungroomed trails. 60-62mm waist skis will fit in tracks but tip and tail will grind in sharp corners. At a resort, one would get a better experience skiing mostly on the skate area and, like skaters, stepping into the track on the straighter downhlls. On old, well-worn groomed classic tracks the wider skis can work very well.
Skins are great for long, continuous uphill sections where stopping to put them on and then to take them off makes sense. But in most cases for most people SkiClaws are a better option. With SkiClaws you don't need to stop, dismount, clean bases, apply skins, mount, ski up, stop, dismount, remove skins, and mount. You just ski, ski, ski up and down most hills.
If you ski mostly in professionally groomed classic tracks then the SkiClaws FC model is not for you. It is intended for frontcountry skiers. Future models may be designed to excel in tracks. The FC is for 60-62mm waist skis, which technically will fit in tracks, but skinny cross-country skis work best in tracks. You could use SkiClaws FC at a resort but you would find that much of the time you would get better results skiing in the skate-skiing zone.
Theoretically, the technology can be useful on any ski which goes uphill. The current prototype and the first manufactured model will be the FC which is designed for skis 60-62mm at the waist. Once this model has proven itself in the market, we intend to develop models for in-track classic and skate skis. It is possible also to make models for wider skis, and we can if there is demand, but generally speaking, wider skis are intended for deeper, fresher snow where the claws may not be effective. Of course, those versions could also have wider claws.
The very first, very ugly but working prototype used 3-pin bindings. It was a tough decision to go with NNN-BC compatibility in the first production model. If this initial use of the technology finds market acceptance, then a future 3-pin version is guaranteed.
The FrontCountry prototype shown in the photos and on the video at has to be angled at more than 40º for the claw to contact the snow. Most skiers, most of the time, edge without noticing the claws. The first production version will have a steeper angle.
The ski has to be unweighted and moved forward relative to the foot in order to engage. The SkiClaws cannot unintentionally engage with usual classic-style skiing. In theory, they could unintentionally engage with skiing backwards or aerial maneuvers but almost no one attempts those tricks on cross-country skis.
There will be written and video instructions. Roughly: Mount the rail on the ski with screws. Slide on the binding-platform. Mount the front bumper and the rear bumper-heelpad on the ski with screws . Mount the claws with a screw through the axle hole in the binding-platform and a screw through the hole in the rail.
Details are still being worked out. Some parts may be made in Yukon. Unique fasteners and bumpers are sourced in the US. Some parts like the claws and wire spring are likely to be made in India.
The technology can work on any free-heel uphill ski. We started with classic prototypes, then switched to frontcountry (light backcountry) as that market seemed to be more open-minded about innovation in gear. The crowdfunding campaign should prove market viability which can then be leveraged to support the design and manufacture of other models. Start small and build up.
I have had NNN, SNS, and NNN-BC bindings freeze in those conditions so the binding which will come with SkiClaws may face that possibility. The other moving parts of SkiClaws have not yet seized up under those conditions. Those parts move a little with each step, even on the flats, so ice does not have as much chance to set up while you are skiing a does a binding. But if you remove a wet ski and allow it to freeze you may have to warm it to get the platform to slide again.