Climbing Skin Cutter Shoot Out

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

Are climbing skin cutters are as controversial as ski helmets? I kind of hope not but who knows. So, with trembling keyboard and hesitant finger tips I file this report:

Climbing skin cutters for backcountry skiing.

Climbing skin cutters for backcountry skiing. From left to right, trad razor blade, BD's old school but still effective trimmer, G3 trimmer was the first to cut without moving skin around, K2's new offering also has built-in offset.

Cutting skins to fit ski sidecut used to be a hassle. It still is unless you get everything right. Trad style was you did a simple sounding process of offsetting the skin to one side on the ski, cutting, then moving to the other side, cutting, and so on. In theory it worked, but moving the skin from one side of ski base to the other tends to get tedious, and the skin can end up uncentered or with a built-in curve once it’s cut. Key to making things easier is leaving the skin stuck to the ski and using a cutter that “automatically” offsets your cut from the ski edge. G3 was the first to come up with such a cutter. Now K2 will sell one as well.

For my test, I acquired a nice fresh pair of Black Diamond 100% mohair furs for my sweet new pair of k2 Coombacks. Not thinking through past experience, I ordered a fairly skinny pair of skins, my mistake but a good way to see the limits of skin trimmers. In their stock width, the skins were slightly narrower than the ski at tip and tail, while overhanging more and more towards the middle. Using the traditional razor method of trimming the skin, I easily got a good cut in this configuration.

But problems arose with the G3 and K2 cutters in that they have trouble starting a cut on the edge of the skin, rather than coming in from the end. In other words, because my skins were already narrow enough at tip and tail, the cut needed to be started on the edge of the skin, away from the ends. Turned out, the only way I could do this with G3 and K2 was to start the cut by first hacking in with a razor blade to make a start notch. Not ideal, as this resulted in a less than smooth curve to my cut.

So first lesson here is when you order skins, get them a centimeter or so wider than your skis AT BOTH TIP AND TAIL so you can start your skin cutter cuts at the end of the skin, and have plenty of off-cut material to work with.

G3 backcountry skiing skin cutter.

The G3 cutter is intuitive to use, but because the cutting guide slides between skin and ski, it can be difficult to slide accurately due to it sticking to the glue and jerking around. Partial solution to this was to spray water on the skin and cutter just before the cut. The cutter can be cleaned for re-use by soaking in paint thinner or any other solvent that doesn't eat plastic.

Climbing skins backcountry skiing.

Ah, but this is Wildsnow.com and everything shall be modified. To make the G3 cutter slide smoother and less grabby on the skin glue, I cut a crude void in the part that slides between skin and ski, so less surface area grabbed the glue. Combined with water this slid MUCH easier and is perhaps a change G3 might consider in some form.

K2 backcountry skiing skin cutter.

K2 backcountry skiing skin cutter is less intuitive than the G3 (read the instructions) and pretty much requires the ski to be in a ski vise as it has to be held very steady. But other than a very small offset guide the K2 rides outside the skin and away from the skin glue. Thus, when you get it cutting correctly it is very smooth and easy. More, it makes a cut that exposes less ski base at the edges. Some skiers prefer a skin that's cut that way is it sidehills better. Leaving more base exposed, as with the G3 cutter, can be better if you prefer to side-step up steep-hard sections or encounter short downhills you do with skins still on, and need more exposed edge for snowplowing or side slipping. Personally, I prefer less exposed edge and more skin, so the K2 result was my favorite. Advantage with the old way of cutting (offsetting the skin) is you can pick your own base exposure dimension.

Skin cutting for backcountry skiing.

A single edge razor still works for the old style method, and was used to make starter notches in my too-narrow skins so the G3 and K2 would work.

Winner of the skin cutter street duel? I’ll take the G3 for kitchen counter work, k2 when I’ve got a ski vise available or want less base exposed — and I’ll still keep a razor blade handy. Again, remember it’s easiest to purchase skins that are around a centimeter wider than your ski at tip and tail, so you can start the G3 or K2 cutter at the front or rear end of the skin. But with stiffer skin backing, as with most nylon skins, you’ll get a smoother starting cut than you will with fabric backed mohair skins, so starting with nylon skins wider than the ski is not as important as with mohair.

Comments

46 Responses to “Climbing Skin Cutter Shoot Out”

  1. kevin March 30th, 2011 10:20 am

    I vote for the G3. That is for the skin cutter. I am still addicted to BD nylon ascension skins. I have found with the G3 cutter that if I pull up on the skin, as I approach it with the cutter, that the sticking issue is minimal. So, first center and stick the skin to the ski, then as you cut down the edge, give the edge of the skin to be cut, a tug to loosen the glue and allow the tool to slide between the skin and the ski base. If you do not pre-loosen the skin edge, then it is a fight to pull the tool down the edge. I have had no problem getting smooth cuts with this method.

  2. Lou March 30th, 2011 10:26 am

    Thanks Kevin!

  3. Robert M. March 30th, 2011 10:55 am

    With the G3 I actually pull looking from the top-sheet side so that I can make sure that the cutter is flush against the edge. This seems to result in a much truer cut.

  4. Tim March 30th, 2011 10:57 am

    Can’t say I see anything here that makes me wish for anything better than the old BD cutters. And with a magnet glued to them they can be recycled as milk bag cutters.
    I guess I just wish I had enough skins to trim that these things could save me more than 5 minutes a year!

  5. Tony c March 30th, 2011 10:59 am

    G3 for sure.

    Tip: Cut the wax paper that comes on the new skins into 1.5″ strips (the long way). Place these on the edges of the uncut skins. Put the skin on the ski and cut away. The wax paper allows the g3 skin cutter to glide along without getting hung up on the glue.

  6. slave.to.turns March 30th, 2011 12:08 pm

    As a former tech that cut over 200 pairs of skins a year for 5 years, if you can’t get it done with the BD skin cutter…let a tech do it. The G3 cutter is literally the equivalent of training wheels.

  7. Jonathan Shefftz March 30th, 2011 12:17 pm

    “Again, remember to get your skins around a centimeter wider than your ski at tip and tail, so you can start the G3 or K2 cutter at the front or rear end of the skin.”
    - Spend more $ on needlessly wide skins, all to allow use of the G3 or K2 cutter so as to avoid having to reposition the skin while using the BD skin cutter: if a skier can’t reposition the ski a few times while trimming, how is that skier going to get through the various manipulations involved in actually skiing…?

  8. Lou March 30th, 2011 12:22 pm

    To be fair, some skins might be easier to start a cut on the edge of than the mohairs I was working with, but I’ve had the same problem before so it’s valid. As for more money vs time, I guess that’s a choice…

  9. dan.b March 30th, 2011 12:44 pm

    I’ve used both the BD and G3 trimmers extensively (I work in a gear shop) and the G3 is by far the better trimmer. Just glue the skin on and peel up the edges to break the glue’s attachment a little all the way down the edge before you trim. After the first couple of uses the tool gobs up a bit, but you can just clean it off with some base cleaner. Make sure you let it dry completely before you use it again.
    Also, Lou said to buy skins wide so you don’t have to start trimming part way down from the tip, but in my experience if you just start sliding the cutter above where the skin starts to overlap the edge it starts a cut perfectly almost every time. And when it doesn’t start smoothly I just move the cutter back up and start again above the overlap and it usually goes smoothly the second try. As long as the tool is flush with the edge you can’t cut too far in. I recommend going with up to 5mm narrower than your tip width to save money and wasted material. 5mm narrower just shows the edge at the tip anyway.

  10. Steve March 30th, 2011 12:53 pm

    Lou,

    I think Gecko in Austria has the best skin trimming tool out there, though I think it costs about $50 USD. The blades can be replaced so the thing doesn’t eventually gunk up and become unusable. The issue is that they are extremely hard to find, if not impossible, in North America. I checked out their web site and though it’s not offered for sale, you can watch it in a video here:

    http://www.gecko.co.at/Gecko_Home_ENG.html

    The same fellow in the video trimmed up a pair of skins for me at ISPO last year in about two minutes.

    Steve

  11. Billy March 30th, 2011 1:02 pm

    The use of a straight edge razor for trimming of skins is irresponsible in light of the fact that the much safer shielded blades are available in the G3 or K2.

  12. Jonathan Shefftz March 30th, 2011 1:05 pm

    “As for more money vs time, I guess that’s a choice…”
    – The skin repositioning using a BD cutter takes a minute or two at most.

  13. Jonathan Shefftz March 30th, 2011 1:06 pm

    “The same fellow in the video trimmed up a pair of skins for me at ISPO last year in about two minutes.”
    – Which is about how long trimming takes with a BD cutter.

  14. kevin March 30th, 2011 3:08 pm

    Dan, nice description/technique. Jonathon, have you used the G3 tool?

  15. Jonathan Shefftz March 30th, 2011 3:13 pm

    I just got a couple G3 tools recently (thanks you STP for crazy off-season deals on skins!), but looks like all the trimming is finished for this season. Seems like it could work well, but I don’t see how it saves more than a minute or so of time.

  16. Jonathan Shefftz March 30th, 2011 3:51 pm

    Just to clarify, I’m not criticizing the G3 tool, but rather just questioning whether any trim tool can somehow significantly improve a process that already takes only a few minutes so much that it justifies paying more for an otherwise needlessly wide skin.

  17. Joe March 30th, 2011 5:31 pm

    Oh Lou!

    After the beating you took on the helmet stuff, did you have to counter with the non-issue of the year?

    I’m more interested in the Gecko skins mentioned above.
    http://www.gecko.co.at/GECKO_Skifell_ENG.html .

    Any one have experience with them?

  18. stephen March 30th, 2011 5:50 pm

    I sure hope Billy was trying to be funny, although I guess it would be harder to slash one’s wrists with a G3 trim tool. Not so much fun for shaving with though…

  19. Lou March 30th, 2011 5:55 pm

    Joe, LOL!

    And yes we covered the Gecko quite a bit when they first came out, even went and met with the developer in Europe, but have not received any recent test samples though we did contact them a while ago. We always liked the adhesive, but the skin material they used was inferior. Word is that’s been changed, would love to review and say yes from experience.

  20. Harry March 30th, 2011 6:14 pm

    I find it easier to get good looking results with the G3 tool. I have never had a customer complain either way, but I think customers are looking for skins that are consistent side to side, with no irish pennants. The offset on the G3 tool makes that easier.

    I don’t know if it dulls more quickly or if I just like using it more than others, but they get noticbly dull more quickly than I can replace them by selling G3 skins, folks just love those ascensions. Ifyou are buying skins I wouldn’t include the trimming device in my final decision.

    What kind of saftey googles do you guys wear when trimming skins?

    //shows self out

  21. Mark March 30th, 2011 7:00 pm

    It’s not that it’s faster. It’s that for less than five bucks the G3 cutter delivers a PERFECT cut in one swipe that follows the edge exactly. Skins cost 150 bucks or more. You get one chance to cut them perfectly. Why not?

  22. Louie March 30th, 2011 8:39 pm

    I know quite a few people who did horrible jobs cutting their first pair of skins. I think they would have loved to have a offset skin trimmer to use.

  23. Thom Mackris March 30th, 2011 9:36 pm

    As far as a first skin cut, I think that the person using the G3 has to worry about the grabby-ness due to the glue.

    When I cut my wife’s skins last month, I was constantly worried about controlling the cutter, due to the stickiness. I didn’t think far enough ahead (as did the Wildsnow crew) to try to mitigate this.

    Thinking back to my first cutting experience (with a BD), the security of having the ski edge guide the cutter is a big plus – at least in the manner that I relate to tools.

    Of course, the poor fellow who is “dimensionally challenged” would argue this point by saying that repositioning the skin is confusing and error prone.

    Different strokes …

    Lou – you’ve inspired me. Next pair, I think I’ll dig into my stash of single edged razors … after shaving that is :mrgreen:

    Cheers,
    Thom

  24. Andrew March 30th, 2011 9:57 pm

    I recently used the new K2 trimmer and it delivered the best trim I’ve ever had and did it in about two minutes. I’ll never use anything else.

  25. John Gloor March 30th, 2011 10:03 pm

    For the first time this winter I had trouble cutting skins with the Ascension tool. I had a lot of trouble getting the blade to contact the ski edge, no matter how I positioned or flexed it. I went to a local shop at the Highlands, and they GAVE me two G3 cutters left over from their used stock. They work so much better.

    My previous method for the Ascension skin was to center the skin, and cut it wall to wall. Then I offset it 4mm or less one way and cut the excess off. Then offset it 4mm the other way and cut. By first trimming it wall to wall I guarantee a more centered non-glue strip. For me this is three ski sticks, vs just sticking the skins and cutting them once. The G3 cutter is such an obvious, common sense affordable solution that should have been invented years ago.

  26. Craig Steury March 30th, 2011 10:23 pm

    As Tony C above says, you can avoid most of the stickiness problem by putting a strip of something (1-1.5 inches) on the skin for the tool to slide on.

    Check out this link for a full-blown explanation: (the English is a bit rough but a hell of a lot better than my Czech would be!)
    http://www.mountainski.eu/13/g3-climbing-skins-troubles-with-trimming-and-storing-all-models

  27. Mark W March 30th, 2011 11:05 pm

    G3 cutter is far superior. The consistent amount of edge exposed is entirely worth the extra expense. G3 has a tip and tail kit with the cutter that our shop sells. I’ve resorted to taking the cutters from the kits (they’ll be replaced via a call to G3) as we ran out of the cutter sold alone. Great tool.

  28. Mark March 31st, 2011 6:44 am

    I only used the G3 cutters once but I don’t recall a big problem drawing the cutter along the edge or having it stick in glue. I just recall doing it forcefully so that the cutter was pressed hard against the ski edge.

  29. Joe March 31st, 2011 9:31 am

    Lou -

    Thanks for taking the ribbing in good form.

    Dropped the Gecko folks a line telling them to send you a pair of new skins to review. Their Austrian site talks about having addressed the durablity issues. (Read your posts.) Look fwd to a review perhaps.

    As for the cutter issue, I think it is a rite of passage to botch the cutting of skins a bit, but not horribly. Part of the passage into the backcountry is to be thoughtful about material and gear and fiddling. Having a gizmo do it all for you steals another one of those moments where you need to figure it out for yourself.

    Just a thought.

  30. gonzoskijohnny March 31st, 2011 10:13 am

    skin cutting tools- nice answer for a question no one asked.
    I’m waiting for a electric start 8 hp self propelled version before i toss the razor blade away.
    My biggest issue with new skins is putting them on in the right direction before trimming- I found that after a dawn start 5000′ vert deep snow trail breaking day at altitude, followed by most of a 6 pack in the shop with the new toys before dinner is NOT the best skin trimming time!

    real Q- why trim less than edge to edge for climbing?
    I find i get MUCH better climbing with full coverage skins esp. on spring crusts (time of year when trailbreaking is 80% soft, 20% ice and no time to play with harsheisen on-off-on games). Exposed metal edges don’t seem climb all that well…try to edge hard with undertrimmed skins while heading uphill on a hard crust….
    Most people i know take the skins off before descending, so plenty of edge grip when it is really needed.

  31. Lou March 31st, 2011 10:14 am

    Joe, thanks, I was emailing back and forth with them a while back and somehow nothing happened….

    Once I try their skins and they’re good in terms of durability, I’ll redact or re-work that old stuff I have on the blog as I have no intention of misleading people.

    Lou

  32. Lou March 31st, 2011 10:18 am

    Gonzo, hah! You are not the only person who’s done that, don’t ask me how I know!

    As for thinking outside the box and cutting skins out to the edge, I’ll bet for powder laps that would be fantastic. I think the main reason folks like the edge exposed is for steep icy terrain, so you can side step safely, or sideslip back down small sections that would otherwise be dangerous or terrifying if you tried to use the edge of the skin for traction, rather than steel.

    I’ve got enough test skins kicking around, I think I’ll give that a try!

    Thanks for the good comment!

  33. gonzoskijohnny March 31st, 2011 11:31 am

    lou- you too, eh?
    I think you will find that any decently sharp edge will self-trim a full width skin right up to the burr (or de-burr) after a few thousand feet of crusty and corny climbs. You still get a bit of edge for side slipping and “cutting” trail, but minimal slip when putting in a bit of edge in climb mode. Certainly not as good as a ski crampon, but a big help on crusts.

    In pow climbing (except maybe for the most gonzo wastach-type tracks -an example of which showed up at red mtn pass last weekend) +/ – a few mm doesn’t seem to matter much to me.

  34. Mark March 31st, 2011 6:55 pm

    Buy the G3 trimmer. Trim your skins. Never think about skin trimming again.

  35. Bob March 31st, 2011 9:12 pm

    Well, as the apparent the lone voice of quality in this topic of great import, I use the classic single edge razor blade for the cleanest, straightest skin edge ever. I t takes a little longer to reset the skins, but oh, the result is so fine. I do about 30 sets a year,

    SERB, the tool of choice for the discriminating skin trimmer.

  36. Mike April 1st, 2011 12:50 pm

    Still a debate I don’t understand… I just buy the widest skins that fit the waist of my skis. If 80+ mm won’t climb well enough then there is something wrong with the skin technology evolution – my 30-year old Coltex skins that are a third the width climb just fine. I have them on my climbing approach skis (old Tua Excaliber) with Silvretta binders and have never had an issue on powder or icy conditions. The modern G3 and other skins I have used don’t climb nearly as well, take longer to dry when wet, and are MUCH bulkier and harder to stuff in a pocket. I don’t think the little sliver of base exposed at the tip and tail are going to make a difference if the 80+ mm can’t get the job done. The straight skins are easier to fold and keep clean as well since it is the same dimension for the whole length. My 2 cents…

  37. Mike April 1st, 2011 12:53 pm

    Oh – almost forgot – I do wear my helmet and safety glasses when I have used a razor blade to cut skins. One of the few places I have felt my helmet was actually protective… ;-)

  38. tobin April 1st, 2011 10:04 pm

    BD cutter work just fine – plus when your done cutting the skins – they work great as letter openers…..

  39. Brian April 3rd, 2011 8:20 pm

    They ARE letter openers. G3 rules the day, for sure. Repositioning is a waste of time. I love this battle, though. Ha!

  40. Lou April 4th, 2011 7:33 am

    The skin cutter face off! It is war!

    But stay tuned for the avalanche airbag wars, they’ll make everything else look like a hippy love-in.

  41. Ian Lamphere November 8th, 2011 11:44 am

    The Gecko knife is available in the gecko N.A. online store at http://geckoclimbingskins.com/Gecko-Store.html.

    I’m the distributor and I’ll be the first to tell you that you don’t need a fancy trimmer that costs more than a box cutter unless you are a dealer or trim ten pairs of skins a year.

    That said, I didn’t even send Lou one for review, as I didn’t think a skin trimmer review was within the realm of possibility!! Good fun!

  42. Lou November 8th, 2011 11:46 am

    Ian, actually, you did throw one of those in the box! Am working on the review, BTW, started my winter routine this week, meaning I’m in the workshop half days, then out uphilling or backcountry skiing many other half days, and writing when I have time! Getting the Geckos out is priority.

  43. Ben November 29th, 2011 12:31 am

    I know that this post is a bit dated.
    I was sold on the idea of the G3 trimmer, but the results left me frustrated. First, I think initiating the cut is ridiculous, even with a moistened base, you end up butchering the first few inches of the cut. No matter how many times you go over it again, it still looks like Sh!t. Personally, I feel the finished product leaves too much base exposed, especially for the thinner skin’s like the Mohair mix. Thicker models such as the Ascension can afford more base to be exposed. So, on my second skin of this trimming I tried the BD way, with the BD trimmer. Even a brand new trimmer from them kinda sucks, initiating the cut was only slightly better. In the end, the BD way with a fresh utility blade takes the cake. I know there is a few more minutes spent tinkering with the 2mm, but I think it is totally worth it for getting however much base you want exposed, with a perfectly clean trimmed edge.

  44. Lou November 29th, 2011 6:15 am

    Good feedback Ben, thanks!

  45. Darrin McNeice March 27th, 2012 6:40 am

    K2 Skin cutting – I want to cut K2 Sidestash Skins to fit my Hardsides? Has anyone cut those before? I assume it will be fine. Also, does anyone have a G3 or K2 Cutter they want to sell/lend me, please? email me at dmcneice atgmaildotcom, please.

  46. Joe January 20th, 2014 5:52 pm

    Lou – I poo-poo’d these skin cutters as unnecessary when this came out. Then I got the G3 cutter in the box w my new skins. In about the time it takes to write this post my skins were cut – precisely. I take it all back. Those things are are wonderful and everyone should use them.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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