As we approach the spring season, it’s good to be reminded of ways to keep climbing skins happy. Here are a few tips from the archives to ensure you get the most out of your skins this spring season.
Skins hit the fan? Here’s what to do
Your connection to Mother Earth on the up: your magic carpets to get the goods, your beloved climbing skins. You spent good cash on them and they do so much for you, so let’s commit to keeping them happy and healthy in the field this season. And while we’re at it, let’s consider how to revive them in the event of drama.
Skin performance starts in the days and weeks headed up to your backcountry mission, so I encourage you to rewind and reread Doug’s musings on TLC for your touring hides. Read on for what to do when things get epic.
First, a recap on skin basics. Which ones?
Nylon, mohair, traditional glue or new-fangled “glueless.” We’ve covered this recently on WildSnow, but my preference over the years has been a nylon-mohair blend for most days. Recall that I’ve been a Colorado-based skier for most of my life, with forays to Canuckistan and Europe. In a refrozen spring skintrack, I’ll opt for a pure nylon skin if I have it. Racing with the manorexics in the dark at A-Basin? Pure mohair. But day in and day out, I like the enhanced glide and acceptable climbing prowess of a 70/30 skin, like the Pomoca Climb Pro-S Glide.
As for glue? I tried one of the original “glueless” models, the Geckos, way back when, and a few others since. The newer Contour offering, “Hybrid Mix,” blends mohair and nylon and one of these miraculous non-glue adhesives to weld the things to the ski’s bases — and I had 20 successful days on them last year. Worth looking into.
My takeaway from the glue debate boils down to this: glueless skins still require care, just in a different way, and old-school still works fine. My experience has been that Euro glue doesn’t like super-low humidity (Colorado, yo!) and single-digit temps. I supplement with Black Diamond glue on the tip and tail of Euro skins. The glueless options are getting better and better, but they’re not care-free.
But I digress! We are here for skin revivals and in-field performance! Onward!
Preventing full climbing skin failure
Leave the trailhead with happy skins. Good glue, adhered to a clean ski base, trimmed to fit, pre-waxed if you’re worried at all about moisture in the snow.
Once on the up, keep an eye on your skin hygiene. Are you clumping? Did you plunge a tail on a turn and force snow between skin and ski? Ideally we avoid problems in the first place, but error-correcting early will prevent Full Skin Failure (FSF).
Kick turns in particular can invite carnage if you’re plunging your tail in the snow. Without a tail clip and very good glue, you are asking to peel your skin tail up. Kick turns, being one-hundred-percent evil, should be avoided if possible (more on this another time, but expert terrain selection ending in a rounded walking turn is faster and easier!), but when the time comes, demonstrate your loose and supple hips and avoiding plunging your tail. If you do plunge the tail, glance to make sure you didn’t just take the first step towards FSF.
Failure detected: first steps to deal
Because you are so fit, relaxed, and have panoramic awareness at all times, you immediately notice slight drama developing (SDD) with one or both skins. Your first decision is: stop now, or wait ‘til your next transition? On a warm-ish day (20-31.8F), with dry snow, you can probably get away with some housekeeping at your next transition. If though, your SDD threatens to become FSF, stop immediately. Tell your Lycra-clad, uber-skinny touring partner to sit down and have a no-cal popcorn cake and diet water while you fix your skin. A moment of attention now will save cursing and frustration later.
You might first just pop off your ski, brush the adhesive base gently, and clear any snow from the ski base, then remount. How’s it look, good? Your buddy will still be munching his satisfying treat by the time you’re on the move. Attack while he has popcorn lodged in his throat; he would do the same to you.
OK, so the remount didn’t work and you’re now at defcon 3, nearing FSF. Time to get aggressive. Stop, remove the offending ski/skin. Separate the skin from the ski, mutter an incantation. In the toe of the boot of Italy, I have heard grandmothers threaten to make a broth from the bones of their enemies’ dead ancestors. Something along these lines.
Now, plunge the ski upright into the snow, with the base facing away from you. Make sure it’s stable. Hold the skin tip with one hand, the tail with the other, with the glue side facing you. Loop it over the ski, so you now have the skin’s glue side facing the base of the ski. Tension the skin around the ski, then saw the skin back and forth. You’re dragging the skin’s glue along the skis’s edges, scraping any ice or snow from the skin.
Do this back and forth repeatedly, until the skin is snow/ice-free. Remount and see how it works. On the next descent, I would strongly recommend stashing the skin inside your jacket to rewarm it. If the skin is in FSF mode, you might even have to sit down and rewarm the skin to keep climbing. On a sub-zero (F) day with no humidity in the air, you might have to do this just to finish the climb.
Edge scraping typically works for mid-winter/cold-dry skin problems. The technique usually solves ice build up and dry pow problems. Skin saturation/spring problems, now that’s a different beast. More on this in a moment.
Like a hypothermic human, iced-up skins require immediate rewarming. In severe cases, too much snow between the skin and ski, or just ice build up, will demand time inside the jacket. On your next descent, clean the skin as much as you can, removing ice and snow, then fold it glue-on-glue, and wrap around your mid-section as many layers deep as is practicable. Zip up, ski, and hopefully the radiating warmth of your chiseled abs will have rehabilitated the skins by the time you’ve concluded your run.
If you attempt the abdominal rewarm, remember, your skins can slide out the bottom of your jacket. Want to never get invited touring again? Yeah, you feel me. Stash your skins and tighten your pack’s waist belt. Losing both your iced-up skins on a pow day and post-holing six miles back to the car is not desirable.
Send the gnar, dry your ski bases as best you can, remount the skins, and you’re back on the uptrain to Radville.
What if…? Triage steps for full skin failure
What if you can’t finish the climb, even after rewarming, and casting a most-foul spell upon the skin? You are now officially into Atomic Full Skin Failure (AFSF). Way to go, again, dude. Anyway, you must now deploy any of several unsavory strategies to continue the climb. Most of them involve denying yourself any glide whatsoever.
First, take one or two ski straps and lash your skin to your ski. Often our skin problems start from the tail forward, so put one ski strap somewhere on your ski tail, then one near your heel piece. Hopefully you have a heel clip you can tighten a smidge, just to lock the skin in place. Do your best.
No ski straps, you say?! You are a rare breed indeed, touring without ski straps. We are an inclusive crew on the WildSnow, though, so no shame (but WTF?). Duct tape can be used to lash on a skin or two, but it’s a temporary fix and won’t work nearly as well as the ski straps you don’t have. Try anyway.
I’m sure somebody somewhere has used bailing wire, cordelette, or maybe elk tendon, but these are even worse options than duct tape, so avoid at all costs. But leave a comment if you use ‘em.
Those of you who owned a Pontiac Aztek when it debuted (2001) or attended a concert with any of the popular boy bands (‘N Sync, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, etc.) of the 1990s are simply cursed with bad judgment and even worse luck. You’re the type who might just lose a skin entirely in deep pow. Your friends will threaten to abandon you. Better know how to deal, and fast.
Five or six ski straps, all lashed around your ski will provide uphill grip, a surprising amount, actually. Do it, quick. I also heard tale of a gent who affixed several pine branches lengthwise down the base, with ski straps. Another friend once saw a guy leave the hut in Europe, get a few hundred meters down the slope, only to realize he’d forgotten his skins. He macramed one cordelette around each ski so sufficiently he could climb back to the hut. His friends eventually made a broth from the bones of his dead enemies and made him drink it through his nostrils.
Ski Scraper (and Wet Problems)
You savvy shredders all tour with a ski scraper stashed handily in a pocket, I trust. Good! You can clean your bases, and even skins, with one. Make a habit of a quick glance at your bases at each transition if you sense there might be snow or ice building up. Clean it firmly and at once with your scraper.
In the spring, skins can get mighty bitchy once soaked with water. Again, some quick work on the front end will save you much of this problem. Wax your skins before heading out and then carry a small block of skin wax with you in the field.
If you sense your skins are taking on water (they will not only get heavier, they will probably loosen up a bit — nylon stretches when wet), then at your next transition, take your ski scraper and run it down the length of the skin to “squeegee” out any water. On one of Colorado’s epic spring days, you’ll be amazed how much water you can get out of the skin.
Once you do that, it’s probably worth running your block of skin wax over the skin to dissuade more water from soaking in. In severe cases, run the wax both directions, with and against the plush. Rewax them once they’re dry, before your next tour. I prefer a warm iron with wax on it over the spray-in stuff. No clue on the “eco” waxes out there at present. I should try them.
And now, dear friends, I turn it over to you. The Comments section on WildSnow should be converted into its own reference volume(s), so I look forward to learning what all of you are doing to revive skins in the field.
Again, start the day with cared-for skins and most of this gibberish is moot. If you do, however, run into drama, I hope you’ve got a few more tools to deal.
Rob Coppolillo is WildSnow’s official Mud Season Correspondent. He recently moved to Chamonix, France, with his wife and twin punks, Dominic and Luca. His ski stuff has been sequestered on a dock in Marseille. Much emailing has done little to liberate the ski stuff. He *might* ski this season, but it’s out of his hands. He is an IFMGA-certified mountain guide and owns Vetta Mountain Guides. His next book, The Ski Guide Manual, comes out November, 2020.
Rob Coppolillo is a mountain guide and writer, based on Vashon Island, in Puget Sound. He’s the author of The Ski Guide Manual.
Another technique of last resort when you have no skin is to sprinkle some water on each ski and let it freeze. This worked for me once on low angle terrain. It helps to have a scraper.
Seems like a layer of holiday-inspired bio-identical insulation around the mid-section might be more effective than chiseled abs when it comes to re-warming climbing skins. Thermal mass and all that. Not to mention the extra girth will help prevent the skins from falling out of your jacket. That extra round of sweet potato casserole is just enhancing your body’s ability to re-warm climbing skins, and fill out that mohair cummerbund.
This speaks to me.
Aaron—This is the sanest advice I’ve seen on WS in years. I’m headed to the bakery. Merci!
Try this to “reactivate” glue: put skins glue side to glue side (as for storage) but pull apart and stick together repeatedly. From my experience this can help get the glue sticky again.
I fondly recall the early-80s when we waxed up the slope.
Start of each season, we’d iron on a base-binder wax. On the mountain, we’d wax for the weather. Quite often, in the Selkirks of Canuckistan, temps are consistent (unlike continental temps). So, I’d rub on a Buddhist blue wax that would (on occasion) last for days. Mellow up-tracks, easy breathing, very few kick-turns.
One (flyweight) Montana friend was so skilled with his waxing, he could go up in other folks’ skin tracks.
This is Jedi stuff right here…not being a “classic” nordy skier, my competence with kick waxes is exactly zero. More stuff to learn!
Ironically, more and more Nordic skis are using (built in) skins
sounds like you are not into the spray-on stuff but once or twice a season really keeps the skins from wetting out
What brand are you using? I’ve got a little bottle of the BD stuff somewhere….maybe worth another look. As an aside, I find the wash-and-rinse DWR refreshers for apparel pretty lame, too. Lemme know thoughts!
I’ve gotten really good at reviving skin glue after making the mistake of purchasing Contour Hybrids. If you want practice at skin failure, Contours will give it to you…they started failing on the third day I used and have only gotten worse
Great article, didn‘t know reading about skins still can make laugh ?…
Regarding how to solve glue failure issues (FSF) it’s important to differentiate between the types of glue: hot-melt, glueless and hybrid glue. Your tips and tricks are mostly relevant for hot melt skins. For glueless skins scraping off snow from the skin base needs to be done with care, otherwise the soft silicone layer can easily be damaged. With our hybrid skins new for this season is the cleaning wipe that comes with the skins and can reactivate the tack within a few minutes by effectively removing not only dust and dirt but also wax residues.
Most important, check the tack before heading into the backcountry and reglue (hot melt) or clean/reactivate (hybrid) in time before there is SDD. Enjoy the early season, Werner Koch – contour skins
Ah, Werner, thanks and this is great insight! To be honest, I blew off (this is American English for “arrogantly dismissed”) the “wipes” that come with your skins — and I’ve been gently brushing them with my hand. So, chalk up this up to “pilot error,” once again. I will try your reactivator wipe things. Thus far, though, I’ve had excellent success with that newer hybrid skin — cut it for my Blizzard ZeroG 105s, which arrive from the US today!
One thing I should’ve mentioned was inadequately scraping/brushing wax from the ski base—I often see skis shed wax back to the skin when removing the skin….ack, this kills the glue! Thanks for mentioning that.
Italian side of Mont Blanc has had a bang-up early season, Chamonix doing well. You’re in Austria?! If the Dolomites get consistent snow, I’ll come meet you for a few days in spring!
A tiny bit of sunscreen can prevent glopping. I’ve done this multiple times with great success. After applying sunscreen to your face, neck, whatever, your hands will be slightly greasy feeling. Wipe them on your skins and you’ll get great traction and no glopping.
Woh, gotta try this. At the risk of sounding like an ultimate dork, are you talking creamy “chemical” sunscreen, or the pastier/white “mineral” stuff? I’d hate to try this and monkeyf*&k my skins! Thanks man!
plus one on this one….I’ve done it a bunch. I wiped my hands of casually on my skins one spring and noticed that that was the only spot without glopping later. Now, I kinda do it as a matter of course. It helps.
a bit of stick wax, stacked on an old credit card, and wrapped with two voile straps is always in the bottom of my pack and is all I’ve ever needed to handle skin problems…that said, Euroland is way warmer than Freedomville.
Another thing – wax your bases properly, by which I mean avoid doing so. More seriously – you need wax on your bases not so much to slide fast….they will do that well enough anyway, but more to prevent snow sticking to dry bases. Once this starts, you’ll have a hard time getting all that ice off such that your skins will stick clean. On the other hand – wax, especially excess wax, will worsen the hold your glue has on the skin once it is on….so: wax – but do so well, making sure to remove as much excess as you can.
Oh – and generally – never store your skins in your backpack. They will freeze up in a second. A proper touring jacket with skin pockets on the inside is the way to go.
Good advice, Wookie…..I’m a total fan of inside the jacket, but some folks cannot tolerate the plump look it gives in photos!
Yes, a good touring jacket with adequately sized interior pockets would be nice. Does such a thing exist?
Great article. Has anyone else noticed that skins with a thicker, stiffer backing material function longer than those with a thinner, more supple backing, given a comparable amount of glue decrepitude? Seems like the stiffer backing is more resistant to curl/peel.
I haven’t noticed that issue….I have noticed, though, the more supple, low-volume Contour “Guide Cut” skin is pretty great for its compactness….slightly longer cut in the mohair, too, so it delivers pretty good climbing prowess. My original BD Ascensions skins (purple, couple years after they started making them/took them over) are still in play in Bozeman, with my brother. Madness! Talk about a stiffer backing and durable skin!
thanks for the article, great help for a newb.
James—yeah man, happy touring this winter, keep coming back and rounding out the knowledge….readers have as many techniques/tricks/fixes as the writers around here–love it!
A skin emergency item (a couple of them, actually) I always carry around are the double-sided glue patches sold by CollTex. Basically a rectangular piece of skin-backing material with glue on both sides. Weigh next to nothing and the dozen I bought twenty years ago for about 10$ is still going strong :).
Should the skin start coming off and the usual “repair” procedures not work, you can apply one or more of the patches on the skin and get to wherever you need to. It might not work when tracking in deep powder in sub-zero (F) temperatures, but works fine in an existing track. And definitely works better than ducttape!
No way, this is phenom….I’m checking this out for sure. Being in Cham now, Colltex products will be way easier to find…I meant to suggest an article to Doug and Manasseh on “cool stuff you can find in Europe that you can’t get in the States…Colltex being one of the brands that’s less known in the US. Great tip, Lenka! RC
Very enjoyable read! And while “panoramic awareness” is a good interim step in BC self actualization, personally I always strive for Global Rotating
Prismatic Situational Awareness (GRPSA). 😉
My favorite skin failure prevention tip: Slide dem skis on the uphill. For some reason I don’t understand, it is physiologically more efficient to do so. Further, sliding ’em slows the plush icing. In some conditions, skin sliders get no icing while skin stompers get tons.
Thanks for all the great tips and comments! One more use of your scraper, similar to the squeegee. Whether skins are wet or not use the high edge pressure of the scraper to really stick the skin to the ski. I often use skins w/o the tail attachment and this really helps get ’em stuck to the ski (esp. when the everything is cold) and helps prevent those little edge pockets of low stick that collect snow and… You can also use a ski edge for this but it’s not as easy.
Mini preventive tip: I often put my skins on the skis before I leave the house in the morning and toss them in the back of the truck to head for the hills. Upon arrival at the trail head I take a moment to re-rub/press the skins firmly onto the ski bases – especially at the tips and tails – before dropping the skis on the snow, stepping in and starting the climb.
My only case of total skin failure was in the Alps on a very cold morning. Cable ties worked a treat. Luckily the route in that case was one long up to a summit and then down again, so three or four did the trick with just the one transition. I know someone who used cable ties to repair broken bindings and then skied on them for days. I’ve also used them on summer hiking boots when the sole detached. I carry a dozen plus a ski strap or two. As well as the patches, Coll-tex make a spray glue for emergencies. This stuff is best used in warmer temperatures hence the reason I had to use cable ties in the cold and dark.
You mention supplementing Euro skin glue with BD glue at tips and tails. I’ve heard some people caution against mixing different brands of glues like this, but maybe its just superstition. Do you scrape off the Euro glue, or just add the BD on top? Any issues? I have some Pomoca Free 2.0s that I’ve actually been kinda disappointed in how much snow gets in under the tips and tails, this idea is interesting…
Hi Justin — I’ve typically cleaned up the old glue, then applying the BD on top of the remaining glue. I do this by taking a waxing iron, putting it on “warm” (not hot!), and pressing a brown paper shopping bag into the glue-side of the skin. This warms the glue and removes some of it (the paper bag absorbs it). If the glue is really gummy and “balled up,” I’ll warm it pretty well, then take a metal scraper and scrape some of the glue off. This is usually applicable for glue that’s several years old …
I’m sure others on the thread will have some good ideas. I’ve never used the full BD sheets to reapply glue — maybe somebody else has an opinion?
Hope you’re slaying, RC!
IMO a tube of glue is 15-20 $ while sheet glue costs 3 or 4 times as much, I’ve used G3 sheet glue but tube or sheet its all hot glue so you are SUPOSED to heat it in according to instructions . If you can make it work by just adding/ no heat/ mixing glues good on ya but i’m not going to thro any $ or energy at that process so i usually have a couple of tubes in my stash, I hot scrape bad glue off, reapply 1 tube per pair of skins, cover with parchment and heat glue in with high heat , do it once do it right but YMMV
I’ve had decent luck just sitting the BD glue in hot water for 20 mins prior to spreading on … used an old scraper or credit card to smooth glue around….my preference, too, is doing a bang-up job on the tip/tail and and a bit less mid-skin….makes removing skins with skis on a bit easier…..
Meta-comment: This is one of the best written/edited articles I’ve read on Wild Snow, never mind its content with which I mostly agree.
Comment: My major point of difference is that I never stash skins in jacket, only the pack’s crampon compartment. No problems, ever. Contour Hybrid Mix.
Hey Jim — First off, I completely agree that this is near-Pulitzer quality writing. The author is a genius. Manasseh, you listening?!
Ha, ok, foolish self-plug now purged from my fingers….
What generation you on with the Contours? They have consistently improved with each gen. I think I have gen-2 skins right now and I hear the third iteration is even better. I’d be psyched to get a lap on them. I somehow came home from Canada last year missing my Hybrids — dammit. I must’ve confused my skins with somebody else’s, because I have a pair of BD skins in my gear room that don’t fit any of my skis. Mmmmmm.
Anyways, indeed — the Contour Hybrid is a great option. Great glide, serviceable adhesive side, etc…..I like ’em!
I wore out a 1st gen pair of Contour Hybrids then got 2nd gen hybrids, which are noticeably better. If I can wear out the 2nd gen skins, I’ll get whatever Werner has cooked up to replace them. Werner, are you listening? I think it’d be great if my next skins weigh no more than my bindings (tiny little 145g jobs) but are at least as good as their predecessors.
And, Rob, I am definitely nominating you for a Nobel prize. Haven’t decided which one yet, but it will be one of the good ones. Stand by.
don’t ever put hot-glued skins in a plastic grocery bag, the plastic will stick to the glue, also don’t do the ironing with paper hack using newspaper after you have run out of brown paper cuz it will make a big mess
Definitely one of the points to take into account to reduce the risk of suffering FSF, is to stretching the skin. That’s what tensioners are for, either front or rear. If you don’t have to stretch well the skin when putting it on the ski, you are not doing it well and the risk of FSF increases considerably.
Ok, I have a ski glue situation: I, through a mix of poor judgement and circumstance, left a pair of skins on my Coombacks for one week. I then climbed a local area hill and, found ripping the skins off the tails *very difficult*, but from binding area to tips everything seemed normal. Eek! I now have a pair of skis with the tails quite solidly covered in skin glue (I had to walk down the hill, as I had no scraper and the skis were un-skiable). Any suggestions on how to remove ski glue from skis? Does having the skins on the skis at room temp for a couple of hours make a difference? I’m thinking that the tails may have been drier and that contributed to this. thank you.
Try GoGone. Then dispose of the skins and get a pair of Contour Hybrid skins. I leave them on the skis between ski seasons. Pro tip: GoGone cleans wax and dirt off the Contours and totally renews the adhesive.
Jim, wich product of GoGone do you use on your Contours? I does’nt remove the “silicone” of the contours?
Jim, Thanks for your suggestion. This seems like the least toxic of the alternatives. I can restore the skis after by hot waxing a couple of times. I’ll look into the Contours. I thought that I could snowplow my way down, but that was too jerk and slide… seemed like a knee injury waiting to happen.
On the pleasant side: climbing at night with Orion and the Pleiades straight ahead was beautiful.
Comments are closed.