European skins return to the U.S.
Written by Calen Orlowski
When it comes to ski touring gear, I am a big fan of durability. After breaking gear in numerous strange places, I have often dealt with the extra bulk and weight of gear made with stronger (heavier) materials in order to avoid potential bad situations. Although this mentality may be practical, it may be lacking in efficiency to keep up with the speed of the sport.
The times are changing fast, and my friends are getting faster in part due to the vast improvements in ski touring gear over the last decade. So in order to keep up with the times (and the friends), I tried out Kohla’s new Fiber Seal skins this winter. I have almost always preferred sturdy, nylon skins that grip on steep slopes and seem to last forever. However, as time goes on and I find myself wanting to explore the farther reaches of my zones, the need for a more efficient climbing skin is increasingly apparent.
Despite being one of the biggest skin brands in Europe, Kohla has had very little presence in North America after a failed launch of poorly performing vacuum style skins years ago. Karakoram, the Washington based splitboard binding brand, was looking for a skin to rebrand and came across Kohla’s new Fiber Seal with Smart-Glue technology. They are not only re-branding it for split skins, but are now bringing in the entire lineup as the North American distributors.
On the snow testing
Early spring in Colorado is a great time to try new skins, as you will encounter just about every type of snow in a given day. This year we have been graced with plenty of cold spring powder, but there have been variable snow conditions from hot powder to corn-ish snow that are ideal for testing the limits of a climbing skin. So far the Kohla Freeride model has been an upgrade from all of my previous skins. From increased pack-ability, excellent grip, and smooth gliding, these skins have made ski touring even more enjoyable and allow me to stay a little closer to my fast friends.
The Freeride is the 135mm wide, 65/35 mohair-nylon, offering of Kohla’s new Fiber Seal line up. The fiber sealing technology cements the skin’s layers in a vulcanized rubber matrix to make a completely waterproof, more flexible, and less bulky skin.
What does this mean in the field? These skins shed water and snow very efficiently. When skiing multiple laps in a day in powder conditions, I have yet to have these skins fail on me like other lighter mixed blend skins. I have had snow creep between glue and base when I take them off at the top, and then at the bottom when putting them back on the glue has restored itself and shed the moisture well, allowing for a solid bond on the ski base for the next climb. The Smart-Glue technology is what makes all the difference here as Kohla uses 50% less total adhesive in the Fiber Seal models, allowing them to bond to ski bases like hot melt glue but peel smoothly like a vacuum style skin.
The plush is tapered at the tip of the skin. This prevents pushing extra carpet up the hill, and accounts for the early rise in modern-day skis that don’t contact the snow anyway. When applying the skin to the ski base from tip to tail, one must really push down on the skin with direct pressure at the tip to ensure the bond is solid, otherwise a half-assed attempt at this will likely result in separation further up the track.
I have yet to have the Kohla Freerides glop up on me, and have not applied any skin wax. With the variable snow conditions of touring through hot and cold snow on the same tour, the Freerides have excelled in preventing ice build up that inevitably results in the dreaded glop up. Compared to a standard laminate skin, the Kohla Fiber Seal technology has layers encapsulated with rubber making a rubber foil that only the plush is outside of. This prevents water from seeping into the layers of the skin like a standard laminate that absorbs water into the plush and backing material.
I have been impressed with the packed size of these skins relative to the grip they provide. Many of my previous bulkier nylon skins take up a lot of room in my pack or in my jacket. The Kohla Freeride easily fit in the chest and/or hand pockets in my ski jackets. In comparison to my Pomoca Pro S-Glides that are cut for the same ski, they are thinner and less rigid, so they are able to pack down into a smaller overall package. This is a nice feature that goes a long way in my book, especially as I continue to accept the minimalist mentality and my pack sizes decrease.
Though reduced in size, the grip is on par with my trusty Climbing Skins Direct Chipmunks, and the glide is similar to the Pomoca Pro S-Glide. I have found that they strike a really nice balance in the fact that they grip almost as well as nylon and glide almost as well as some of the more glide oriented skins I have tried. For a guy like me, balance in those realms is key as I do not have multiple pairs of skins to match the tour or conditions, and instead look to invest in one skin that can meet many expectations. So far, the Kohla Freeride is just that.
They come with two tip sizes (85/110mm) made of thin steel for a solid tip attachment, and a hand-adjustable plastic tail clip that is sleek and compact. The tip and tail attachments come pre-attached to the skin and the edges are easy to trim with the provided tool due to the fact that the overall material is so thin. The Fiber Seal line up comes in lengths with 6cm ranges, and allows the user to adjust the length within that range by just moving the tail clip.
With the combination of all of these features on the Kohla Freeride, you have a space and travel efficient skin that performs well in a wide variety of conditions. For a guy stuck in his old ways with ski touring gear, this is one item I will gladly change my mentality for.
Khola Skins will be available to purchase from U.S. distributors in Fall 2020.
Cal lives in Eagle County, CO and prefers to spend the majority of his available time sliding on snow. He serves as an ambassador for public lands as a winter recreation ranger, and is a connoisseur of deep powder and steep skiing wherever the snow may fall.