Doing a skin-to-boot transition in less than 10 seconds is possible with enough practice with the right gear. Think of 20 seconds as a maximum.
Speed will come naturally as you become more efficient, while rushing in practice will just make you sloppy. The first few hundred reps may take minutes each time, but with enough practice, a fast time will become casual.
Speed doesn't come from doing everything faster, but in not doing things that don't matter. It comes from removing waste, not adding panic.
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How to do the skin-to-boot transition in 10 seconds
The following method is one of many. Different body mechanics and levels of flexibility may require some adjustments. Practice it a lot, and then make it your own.
1. As you approach the transition zone, put both poles in one hand.
Be ready to act as soon as you enter the transition zone. Do not wait until you enter the transition zone to get organized.
The more you can do before you enter the transition zone, the less you'll have to do while you're there, and the faster the transition will be. To make that happen, get your hands where they need to be as you approach your transition spot.
2. Move to the front-most open area within the transition zone.
Transition zones can be busy. Get as close to the exit of the transition as possible. Do not be Canadian about this and worry about offending someone. (It's a race, not a campfire sing-along.)
Being near the front of the transition zone reduces the chance of any interference when you're ready to leave. And it makes it less likely that your poles will get kicked by an incoming racer as they pass by.
3. Put your poles on the ground.
Start bending when you're close to stopping. Let your poles fall to the ground when your hands are at about shin height.
4. Open both toe pieces at the same time and fall to one knee.
Use both hands to press down on both toe pieces almost simultaneously. (You'll need to switch your weight from foot to foot to get out of your bindings, but the switch should be very close together.)
Fall to one knee with your skis between your legs. (Doing the skin-to-boot transition on one knee, eliminates the extra standing and kneeling movements of trying to do it standing.)
5. Mate the skis base-to-base.
Grab your skis and turn them so that they are base-to-base. Use the ground to align them. Offset your skis so that the right-hand ski base is exposed.
Offsetting the bases will make it easier to eyeball the tails into the ski holster on your pack. Without the offset, it's not uncommon to miss the holster with one ski.
6. Lift your skis with both hands.
Lift your skis with your left hand above the toe piece and your right hand above the heel piece. Squeeze them together to make sure that they're aligned.
7. Grab your ski holster with your left hand and eyeball the tails into it.
Reach back and grab the holster with your left hand while squeezing your skis together with your right. Eyeball the offset tail into the holster to ensure that both tails go through.
8. Holster your skis with your right hand, and grab the tips with your left.
As your right hand guides your skis into the holster, underhand grab the tips with your left. When grabbing the tips, your palm should be up and your thumb pointing toward you. (If you grab the tips with your hand on top, you won't be able to get them into position.)
9. Eyeball the ski hook as you move your skis behind your head.
As you pass the skis across your back, eyeball the ski hook. The ski hook can move around during a race, so it's best to know where it is before reaching for it.
10. Hook your skis.
Place the hook onto both skis behind your neck. Take a moment to feel that both skis are in the hook. (If you miss a ski with the hook, it'll fall to the ground as you stand up.)
11. Grab your poles.
With your skis hooked, reach for your poles.
12. Drink from your bottle.
As you stand, use your right hand to grab your bottle and take a drink.
If the race is long enough that you'll need calories and water, exiting a transition is the time to get some. During the transition, your heart rate and respiration rate will ease. That makes it easier to drink than when you're working hard going uphill or down. Take advantage of it and take a big gulp as you exit the transition.
(If you estimate your race time in the two- to three-hour range, and if you have a strong aerobic base, it probably won't be necessary to eat any solid food. You should be able to get enough calories with your hydration system. However, if your race will be longer, or if you've done too much high intensity, you may need to eat solid food when races get longer than two hours.)
13. Get your poles into position as you start booting.
After taking a swig from your bottle, get your hands into your pole straps as you start booting.
Sometimes a bootpack will be short enough that using your straps may take more time than it's worth. However, bootpacks are steep and poling helps a lot. You'll get more out of your poles if you use your wrist loops.
What about skins?
You'll notice that when switching from skinning to booting, your skins stay on your skis. Even if there's a ski section immediately after the bootpack—it's common to boot up a gully and ski down the other side—your skins stay on your skis for the bootpack section.
Keeping your skins on through a bootpack section is a good idea because it makes the skis easier to manage at the next transition when putting them on the ground. With skins on, your skis are less likely to slide away from you and possibly ruin your race if they head downhill without you.
If the bootpack ends with a ski section, put your skis on as if you were going to start skinning and then immediately rip your skins as usual.
Why so much detail for something so short?
Skimo transitions are an essential skill in skimo racing. Done well, the time they take is insignificant when compared to the length of a typical skimo race. Done badly, transitions can add minutes to your race time and force you to finish well behind other racers of similar fitness. That sucks.
But there's good news. Anyone can have fast transitions. All it takes is practice.