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 some huge advantages. It is more packable, lighter weight, and glides much better.
Pure Nylon Plushes
Cheaper and the most durable, but very slow on the glide, 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 skind 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 are also seeing these used in wider widths for fat powder specific skis in winter temperatures. 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.
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 wherever you stow them, there is nothing worse than getting to the bottom and seeing your skin 500 feet up a run!
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.
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!
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 still rarely use them. Some sort of rubber in the tip or tail attachment to keep tension iff and 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.