Climbing skins

Climbing skins

Climbing skins are attached to the base of the ski to give grip when climbing. They have short “hairs” that point towards the tail of the ski. The hairs grip the snow and stop the ski sliding backwards, while offering minimum resistance to sliding forward. Skins were originally made from seal skin, but luckily for the seals things have moved on and while the name has stuck, modern “skins” use alternative materials. Skins now use either mohair or a synthetic plush. Mohair offers excellent glide, good grip and reasonable resistance to wear. Synthetic (nylon based) skins offer less glide but better grip, are more resistant to wear and usually cheaper.

What are the best ski skins?

Which skin is best for you depends on your priorities. A ski mountaineering racer needs a mohair skin that glides as fast as possible; if you’re looking for maximum durability then a nylon skin is the best choice. Many skins use a mixture of the two fibres to obtain an optimum balance between glide and durability, typically 65% mohair % nylon.

Skins are attached to the skis using a combination of glue and mechanical hooks and bars. Most skins use a re-usable glue that coats the upper face in contact with the base of the ski. The glue will need to be replaced from time to time and kept clean but with careful treatment gives good performance and durability. All skins are attached to the tip of the ski to keep the skin in place, using a metal bar that fits over the tip, a button that clips into a hole in the tip or metal hooks that rotate to fit exactly around the tip. Many skins also have a tail attachment for additional security. This helps keep the skin in place when traversing on hard snow or when using the skins several times during the day, when the base of the ski may be wet and the glue less effective.

Skins need to stay dry so have a water repellent treatment to prevent them absorbing water and stop snow sticking or “balling up”. Mohair skins are more susceptible than nylon to water, but both need to be treated from time to time with a solid wax or liquid “anti balling” water repellent. Skins should always be hung up to dry after use, before storing them in the stuff bag.

Skin glue needs to be kept clean, as dry as possible and is affected by temperature. Several brands now offer “glue-less” skins. These have a special coating that makes the skin adhere to the ski base without glue. These are very easy to use and less messy than glued skins, but more expensive and less durable.

Skins should cover the base of the ski leaving 2-3 mm each side so that the ski edges can still grip the snow. Edge-to-edge cover at the ski tips is not essential, but a good basis is to choose the skin width equal to, or 10 mm less, than the tip width. Skins needs to be trimmed to the shape and length of the skis and come supplied with a trimming blade.

Re-gluing skins is not difficult but does take a bit of time and patience to do it properly. The best way to remove old skin glue is using an iron and brown paper. You can also use a heated scraper which is quicker, but take care not to glaze the backing material by overheating or pushing too hard since this will reduce the adherence of the new glue to the skin.
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