Gear Review: 2018 Avalanche Airbags
Whether for telemark, alpine touring, or splitboarding, climbing skins may be the most crucial tool for getting uphill.
All climbing skins work by situating tiny hairs to grip the snow when pushed backwards and to glide across the snow when pulled forward. The material can be made from nylon, mohair or a mixture of the two, coupled with an adhesive side to stick to your ski.
Climbing skins have come a long way since the original animal skin renditions were attached to the bottom of skis. Or have they? In my experience the best skins all contain some percentage of mohair, a silk like fabric made from the fur of Angora goats. When nylon burst on the skin scene it was a cheaper more durable alternative to its natural counterpart. However mohair has some huge advantages. It is more packable, lighter weight, and glides much better. So even though technology has come a long way, animal hair still plays a crucial role in the climbing skin industry.
Nylon or Mohair?
Pure Nylon Plushes
In short, Nylon skins are cheaper and the most durable, but very slow on the glide and heavy and rigid when packing. These skins will grip on the steepest of skin tracks. However, the guy setting a lower grade track next to you on blended or pure mohair skin will eventually catch up, and get another lap. The price and durability make Nylon an option for kids and those that have very short skins. For the rest of us....
This best of both worlds. Glides much better than pure Nylon, grips well and packs up reasonably small. Sheds water better than pure mohair. The industry standard for these blends is generally 70% Mohair/30% Nylon. Great for any non- ski mountaineering setups, these blended skins work in all conditions.
Pure Mohair skins
The slickest skin plush out there. Serious race setups should all have pure mohair skins underneath them. Mohair not only has the best glide capabilities but is also lighter and packs down better. We have also started to see these used in wider widths for fat powder specific skis in winter temperatures. Check out our this article to learn more about that option. Mohair is less durable than nylon and also soaks up more moisture, so they are not a great spring touring or ski mountaineering option where wet snow and rocks prevail.
For most touring applications, it is preferred to have a skin that covers the entire base of the ski leaving approximately 2mm of room on either side of the edge. This provides adequate grip while also allowing the ski to edge into the snow when side hilling.
When shopping for a skin with this coverage, it is first necessary to determine the width you would like to purchase. Most manufacturers sell their skins in incremental width options of 100, 120, and 140mm. You want to choose a skin that matches the width of the shovel of your ski- or close to it. That way when you go to trim the skin, it gives you edge to edge coverage along the entire length of the ski. If you are cutting skins for a 100mm waist ski, this typically means you will be purchasing a skin that is 120mm in width. It would even be acceptable to purchase a 140mm width skin, just expect to have some excess material when you go to trim them to size. As for length, most companies sell you a 200+cm skin that you then cut down to size when you install your tip attachment Other companies like Pomoca will skins in a specific lengths. If this is the case, be sure to purchase the appropriate length. If not, the length will be determined when install the tip attachment.
For other applications, such as racing, a touring skin might not cover the entire surface area of the ski and it also might not include a tail attachment. Race style skins are designed to be applied and removed as efficiently as possible. For this reason tail clips are excluded so you can transition in one smooth motion. If you've ever seen a race style transition, skiers will remove their skins from the tip and then rip them off and step into their binding in one motion. If you're looking to get into racing, be sure to check out some more specific articles tailored to race style skins!
Skin cutting can be done at home or can be done by a “professional” from wherever you bought them. All you need is a razor blade, but Pomoca makes a really great little tool that will make it faster and neater by providing an offset edge. Why the offset? If you had wall-to-wall carpeting (skins) on the bottom of your ski covering your edges, it would make side hilling a scary task. I like to leave a little more than 2 mm on either side so the entire metal edge and a little base is showing. That way if you are on a windy mountain getting ready for a second lap it is easier to leave each edge exposed.
Skinny skins for long approaches: Don’t throw away your old narrow skins yet. As anyone who has done the Grand Traverse knows, a skinny skin is lighter and has better glide for long tours.
They sure are great when your glue is failing in cold weather, but people have done without them for years and SkiMo racers rarely use them. Some sort of rubber in the tip or tail attachment to keep tension for when the glue does fail is a must for almost all skiers. The advantage of not having them is purely for transition time and weight, things most important to the spandex crowds.
When in the backcountry, keep your skins close to your body- they work best if kept warm. If you are doing multiple laps try to keep them close to your body and not in your pack. I like to keep them next to my base layer in the pouch that my waist belt from my pack makes inside my jacket, but be careful wherever you stow them, there is nothing worse than getting to the bottom and seeing your skin 500 feet up a run!
Don’t put your skins on before you leave the house in the morning, either, especially if you're gonna throw them on the roof rack. Some skins come with "skin savers" or perforated sheets to place between skins. We definitely like these for long term storage, but rarely use them mid season and definitely not between laps on a tour. We have had instances where glue comes off on to the saver, and would rather just have that glue go back and forth between skins.
For long term storage over the summer, or in between ski tours, be sure to air dry your skins out of direct sunlight. Once dry, you can stick them to a skin saver, and store in a cool and dry place. Heat is the enemy of skin glue, and the best way to ruin to your first ski tour of the season is to overheat your skins and have gloppy glue. Also, never use radiant heat like a fire place or heater to dry your skins.
Either way, keep in mind that skins are the most "consumable" item of your setup, along with boot liners. Don't be afraid to wear them out and replace, that mean you've been getting a lot of skiing in!
- Tags: Avalanche Education
- Randy Young