As part of our Dynafit Tech Tips series, we bring you tips and how-tos to make sure you get the most out of your gear.
For a good DIY: close attention and sharp objects
I’ve cut a lot of skins. I have screwed up cutting a lot of skins. Centering them before the cut almost always challenges me. I’ll get the tip hooked, then carefully stretch, try to nudge the skin to one side or the other by eye, hook the tail (if there’s a tail fixation), and I’m still 4 millimeters to the side. A skin will function with the sidecut is off by that amount, but not nicely, because it’ll require more care and time to keep from covering up one edge when you re-apply in the field.
Some of you shop guys probably have cool tricks for centering the skin before you cut. Please share. Below is my upgraded procedure, which I’m embarrassed to say is probably method number 85 (starting with the days when skis were almost all the same width, and had so little sidecut all we did was cut the skins to length).
Step 1: cut the skin tip shape
Sometimes you’ll need to do this — while sometimes the factory cut will be okay. My method: First, I strap the skin to the ski and determine the shape I want, usually just marking with small dots as making the straight lines is easier without the skin curving over the ski tip. There are many shapes you can cut into a skin tip, I won’t get into that here. Suffice it to say I usually look for a template that’s included with the skin. And, or, draw lines with a straight edge from the sides of the tip hook out to where I think the skin should meet the skis edges. Next, and here is the important trick, I remove the skin liner and stick the skin tip to a plastic cutting board as pictured here. I then make the tip cuts with a straightedge and scalpel-sharp utility knife. Before pulling the skin off the cutting board, I brush away all the fiber scraps from the cut, so they don’t contaminate the glue. Yes, you can do this with scissors while the skin liner is attached. I never get “factory” results with scissors, but be my guest.
Step 2: secure and center the skin
Here is the deal. I am totally sick of fiddling around with trying to stretch a skin onto a ski, and stick it down nicely centered for a trim. So hearkening back to my alternate profession of carpenter, I fell back to how I used to position laminate countertops while using contact adhesive, as well as how I position prints for dry mounting. Simple, really, just a series of wooden dowels that keep the glue separated while allowing the work to scoot around. When the position is correct, you press down on the center area, stick it, then work out to the edges while pulling the dowels out. It’s helpful to wet the dowels with water, so they don’t stick too strongly to the skin glue. Remember that step. If the dowels don’t come out easily, you’ll pull the skin off-center while you remove them
That’s it for skin centering, now to the cutting.
Here are the essentials of the actual skin trimming, in a list you can paste to your shop tech’s skimo bellows chest:
1. Use a decent, sharp cutter — one that does an automatic offset for the ski edges. Most brands provide this, Black Diamond does not. We’ve found Pomoca’s to be one of the easiest to use for any skin brand.
2. Rig a support system for the ski, supported in such a way as to allow movement of your hands and the cutter. Simply leaning the ski against a truck tailgate is not what I define as “support.”
3. Stabilize the ski. A human assistant is best for this, but I’ve used carpentry clamps as well.
4. Grip the cutter with locking pliers unless you possess the hands of Hercules.
5. Keep a bowl of water handy, periodically dip cutter in the water as you make the cuts.
6. Go slow, using lots of pressure against the side of the ski to prevent the cutter from wandering. If the cutter does wander to the outside, take heart, you can fix. If the cutter gouges more than a millimeter or two to the inside, sorry, you can’t fix, so be careful.
7. If you’ve never cut skins, it’s mandatory to practice first. Use offcuts from cutting skins to length, or an old pair of skins.
Making the cut
Go slow, sometimes you’ll need to hold the off-cut out of the way so you can see what you’re doing. Cut from tip to tail, otherwise the cut won’t go a smooth as you’re working against the nap of the plush. I’ve found the right side (looking from the bottom, facing tip) is easy for my personal right-handed ergonomics, with the left side being difficult. Gripping the cutter with the pliers, and working on a stable ski are key when the cut is awkward. And what about if you do mess up? Read on.
Fixing a mess-up
If your cutter wandered out from the ski, sometimes you can just start over again. But not always. If the miss-cut is tiny, the cutter will just ride over it without fixing the cut. Trick in that case: Cut the remainder of the skin (being more careful!), remove from ski, stick to cutting board, then use a straight-edge and sharp knife to clean things up. If the cutter wandered slightly to the inside, likewise, you can usually just straighten things out and you’re good, as the skin doesn’t have to perfectly follow the ski edges and sidecut shape. That said, I’ve been in a hurry and didn’t notice the cutter tilting and climbing quite some distance in towards the center of the ski. In that case I relegated the ugly-fied skin to a narrower ski, vowed to do better, and kept my screw-up secret to preserve my fragile ego.
Climbing skins are expensive, and easy to mess up when cutting. Practice on trash. Have a backup plan in case of mistakes. Leave it to a shop employee if you’re in doubt, but inspect their work.
I’ve got a lot of respect for Werner, of the Contour Hybrid Skins. Below is his method, using a split liner.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.
I’m actually a big fan of cutting skins straight. I’ve never found them to perform any worse for doing this, cutting is easy. Just measure the width at the narrowest point of the ski, measure this distance out along several points on the skin, and cut using a straight edge and a carpet knife. I just stick the skin to my clean tabletop to do this. (I have a good surface which its OK to cut with the knife.)
I do get “free” edges, but the grip is not noticeably worsened by this, and I’ve never had any issue with the skins getting snow under the edges either. (except at the tips – but this is true for shaped cuts as well)
Having straight edges has the advantage of allowing me to use one set of skins on a couple different skis, but it is especially good because when I fold them up, I don’t have any sticky bits poking out. They slide nicely into my skin pockets, and they don’t give me trouble collecting gradul in my pack either. And cutting – much easier too.
I usually build my own skins getting the components from Skimo.
I prefer a straight skin tip to tail as well with just the ski edges exposed underfoot.
In fact some days I’ll run a narrower skin for even less climbing weight with usually zero problems.
The wet cutter trick sounds amazing. I’ll have to try. As to vise grips for holding cutter with pre-set edge gap, that is also a great tip I have used. Clamps to hold the ski steady make a great difference too. My top tip is to go slowly and be picky; you’ve only really got one chance to get it done really well.
Cutting skins to length can be smoother and cleaner for the cutter while the paper backing is in place.
Bad cuts, whether from imprecise cutting, or from damage while actually skiing with a skin, can sometimes be sewn back together. I once did this on an old Pomoca mohair skin.
This article is incredibly thorough and well-written, but I’m with the commenter above: Why does one need to do this? I’ve done it many times (G3 skin cutters are great though they dull quickly!), but then started using straight-cut, race-style skins. As mentioned above, they don’t grip any worse, but they glide better and allow more edge to dig in more deeply on firm sidehills. They fold up better and slide into pockets more easily, and they’re easier to apply with frozen hands in a stiff wind — no need to line up everything perfectly, just the waist. I suppose if you’re going to be walking over rocks a lot, it’s nice to 100% protect your bases, but if you walk over rocks a lot, why bother being meticulous about your skins in the first place?
The G3 Alpinist+ skins have a very effective ‘tip stiffener’ that really does prevent snow from creeping under the leading edges, whether you prefer a trimmed or straight style setup. They’ve taken that idea and incorporated a carbon backed layer in the tip zone of their latest ultralight Minimist skins for the same snow creep prevention. It really does work.
Great article!!! Thanks so much for all the tips!
What Is wrong with Black Diamond, BTW, with their “letter opener” cutter. Ridiculous that one needs to go out and buy an offset cutter from another brand. I have emailed BD several times about this, and they still have not seen the light.
Great write-up! But whats with the G3 skins? Haven’t had much luck with those. Seems like the glue goes bad after one season, difficult to get the tip-tabs to catch when putting the skins on while wearing your skis, their tail clip design is worthless, and they don’t grip well on hard/icy surfaces. I went back to the tried-and-true BD Ascensions.
Check out the excellent tips on how to treat your skins:
The Woodsman — How old were the G3 skins you had? I’ve heard they changed their glue of the past few years, which sounded like it was definitely in order considering how many people I’ve encountered with totally funk glue…
I was just at a hut trip. All 6 of us had G3 skins. Fifive of us had glue issues. We carried peanut butter to clean glutei of our bases at the top of every akin track. And yess I’ve done all the tricks to keep my glue good.
Worst part is G3 won’t warranty their failed glue issues. I’m done with G3.
Thanks for the great tips about cutting skins, can’t wait to try wetting the blade and using vice-grips. Re: straight cut skins, it all depends (as does so much in ski touring) on where you will be skiing. If you walk mostly in established skintracks, or break trail in soft snow, all of the advantages above are quite valid. If you expect to find yourself walking on any sort of sun- or wind-hardened snow without a broken in skintrack, I think having any exposed base between edge and skin within 20 or 30cm of your boot will cause a significant negative change in skinning experience . . . to some extent technique and ankle roll can account for this, but as the snow gets firmer it will become very challenging for almost any skier. So, very valid suggestions about straight skins but only considering context and expected usage.
Any sort of side hilling, particularly side hilled kick-turns, and edge to edge skins will highly outperform a straight skin cut. Shaped cambered skis with a straight cut skin are side hilling on mainly base, using edges to grip along. I often use one skin for various skis, due to gear testing. The more base I can see, the less performance in technical skin tracks or just slick spots or turns in a broken track. For my skins, will always cover as much base as possible, at least through the widest part of the tip and tail.
I’ve given up completely on all G3 skin products due to their known glue issues. I won’t be buying again and hoping that the problems have been resolved. I’ve been burned before and it won’t happen again.
Replace the adhesive with Pomoca glue, available online from Spain. A can is $21.99, enough to do 2 pairs of skins. Shipping is $8, so buy a couple cans and share with friends who have G3 skins.
I personaly find the G3 tool a little klutzy but I know it really does work, I watched a guy use the tool who skills I didnt trust, it worked but I was ready to step in.
I center the skin to start/ shift 1mm & cut/ shift 2mm the other way and cut with a new sharp olfa box cutter seems to give the cleanest job
The last set of skins I bought were Dynafit/Pomoca, lazer cut for the ski … the best way !
I’ve got very good cuts using the G3 offset cutter. Wetting the cutter sounds like a good idea. I cut the tip and tail tapers after the edges are cut. The tapers are on the rockered portions and eliminate snow insinuating between ski and skin until after many re-skinings during the ski trip.
As for centering the skin to be cut, I put the tail of the ski on carpet so it won’t slip, tilt the ski away with the top sheet facing me, hook the skin on the ski tip, then attach the skin bit by bit from the top down, eyeballing the centering. Easy!
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