Posted on September 13 2013
Whether for telemark, alpine touring, or splitboarding, climbing skins may be the most crucial tool for getting uphill. The material can be made from nylon, mohair or a mixture of the two. All climbing skins work by situating tiny hairs on the bottom to grip the snow when pushed backwards and glide across the snow when pulled forward, coupled with an adhesive side to keep it on your ski.
Climbing skins have come a long way since animal skins to attach to the bottom of your ski. Or have they? In my experience the best skins all contain some percentage of mohair, a silk like fabric made from the fur of the Angora goat. When nylon burst on the skin scene it was a cheaper more durable alternative to its natural counterpart. However mohair has a few huge advantages. It is more packable, lighter weight, and glides much better.
Nylon: Cheaper and the most durable, but very slow on the glide, heavy and rigid when packing
Nylon Mohair Blend: The best of both worlds, glides better, grips well and packs small.
Pure Mohair: The best glide, light and supple, but watch for durability.
Choosing between pure mohair and mohair nylon mix:
In cold snow conditions a pure mohair skin will always be lighter and faster. However, if the snow is wet mohair skins take on a lot more water and will therefore take on more weight. Throw in some jagged rocks in spring conditions (especially the volcanic rock of the Pacific North West) and you better take your skis off or risk tearing your skins to shreds. Basically, if you want to go fast go 100% mohair, if you want to add durability and reduce moisture then get a 70% mohair 30% Nylon mix.
Keep Your Skins Close: If the glue gets cold it doesn’t work as well. Don’t put your skins on before you leave the house in the morning, especially if you're gonna throw them on the roof rack. 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 there is nothing worse than getting to the bottom and seeing your skin 500 feet up a run!
Cutting 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 a bevelled edge. Why the edge bevel? If you had wall-to-wall carpeting (skins) on the bottom of your ski 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 glidie for long tours.
Tail Clips: They sure are great when your glue is failing in cold weather, but people have done without them for years and SkiMo racers still rarely use them.