Skins always compromise between glide and grip. The two factors seem inversely linked by some mysterious law. Hair length, stiffness, and quantity are minutely tweaked to achieve the best balance.
G3′s Alpinist skins have always tended slightly toward the side of more glide, less grip, although still staying comfortably in the middle ground occupied by most popular skins. While most find the snow-stick adequate, some yearn for more. This year G3 is adding a new skin to their line, dubbed the “High Traction”, which is nearly identical to the Alpinist skins, with the addition of more traction: roughly a 20% increase in grip, coupled with a slightly smaller decrease in glide.
I tend to prefer skins with more glide than grip, hoping to reap the benefits of efficiency, while overcoming the grip deficiency with careful technique. Sometimes the snow is simply too icy or steep for your skins, and after a few awkward slips the energy you save by easy gliding starts to become moot. I was interested to check out the new High Traction skins, so I opted to take a pair of them with me to South America this summer, along with a pair of normal G3 skins, as a sort of “control.”
Upon first inspection the High Traction skins feel different compared to their Alpinist brothers, with noticeably longer hairs. They of course feature the ingenious G3 tip attachment, as well as their new tail attachment, which I hadn’t yet tried.
South American volcanoes seem to be the perfect place for skin testing, as the lower slopes often consist of low angled, wind hardened ice. It’s next to impossible to hold an edge to switchback, so the only option is to go straight. As the ice gets steeper, the longer you can keep skins on the better, avoiding resorting to inefficient booting. Of course, there’s also lots of low angled approaches, with lots of up and down, so skin glide is important as well.
Skyler, my partner in Southern ski adventures, and I both have the same size skis. To start off the comparison, we both donned one High Traction skin, and one standard skin. The difference wasn’t immediately apparent, but became obvious as the day progressed. Intermittently, while skinning up the ice, one ski would slip, while the other would hold–always the high traction ski. Inversely, on the low angled sections, the difference in glide was immediately apparent, depending on the type of snow. We kept up the experiment for a few weeks, and the difference was hardly noticeable on some types of snow, and obvious on others.
For the next stage of experimentation, one of us took the high traction skins, the other the Alpinist skins. Of course this is less accurate and more subjective, given the possible difference in techniques or skin track quality. It’s been my experience that whoever is breaking trail tends to get the best traction, at least in deep snow. The opposite can be true in spring snow. There were a few occasions where the High Traction skins would hold, while the guy on the Alpinist skins would be slipping. However, for the most part, when the snow got slippery, it was bad enough that no kind of skin could hold on, and we both resorted to booting.
The other features of the skin worked great, with no discernible difference between the types. The new tail attachment works great, one of the few I’ve found to match the standard Dawson “rat tail”. I’ve only had it slip off once or twice, and it’s easy to cam on and off, the weakness of the old G3 tail attachments.
It’s of course quite hard to explain or compare the minutiae of skin grip differences, and a bigger factor is probably the technique of the skinner. However, I would say that the High Traction skins are noticeably grippier (as well as less glide-ey), than G3 Alpinist skins. They probably come close to the grippiness of the gold standard of grippy skins, Black Diamond Ascensions, while having perhaps a bit more glide.
I think I still prefer the original G3 skins, with their slightly better glide. However, the High Traction skins are great if you want to use the versatile tip clips and secure tail clips on G3 skins, and have a bit more traction.
Weight (per individual skin, trimmed to a 175 K2 Coomback):
High Traction skins:
Skin #1: 10.8 oz 305 g
Skin #2: 10.5 oz 299 g
Skin #1: 10.2 oz 290 g
Skin#2: 10.1 oz 286 g