Climbing skin glue works great most of the time, but has its problems. The stuff doesn’t perform well in extreme cold, and you have to be fanatically careful to keep foreign material from sticking to it. More, no matter what you do and how finicky you are, it is one of the mysteries of the universe how skin glue can still attract all sorts of material and wear out. The stuff is like, well, a dirt magnet.
Before glue, skins used a system of straps for ski attachment. They were funky, came off unexpectedly, and made any sort of side hill steeper than my driveway a death defying endeavor (or so I’m told by people old enough to actually use the things).
Enter Clipskins, which are similar in concept to the old strap skins, but completely different in execution. They have tiny metal clips along the side that snap onto the edges of a ski and a tail cam that holds it onto the tail. The clips are durable, and small enough to not interfere with the edges of the skis.
Clipskins come with a big bag of stuff to use in the setup. The procedure is more complicated than preparing a pair of traditional glued skins. I’ve setup a few pairs of Clipskins. My first setup took a few hours, and now I can get it done in about an hour. The clips are glued to the skin with rubber-toughened cynoacrylate, while the first beta test pair I got came with off-the-shelf superglue (cynoacrylate). The rubber toughened stuff is incredibly resilient. I got it on my hands when I was trimming the skins and it didn’t come off for weeks. I made the clips so they are fairly tight on the ski, which makes the skins stay on well. It’s important to get the length of the skins just right, but you can rip off the glue used to apply the tip loop and adjust the fit. The guys at Clipskins are still tweaking the design a bit, mostly to make the trimming process easier.
I’ve been using the current version of the Clipskins for more than a month of backcountry skiing, and I’m impressed. It sure is nice to not have to worry about letting your skins get fouled up by dirt or snow. I’ve learned to live with the hassles of glued skins, but it really hit home one unusually cold day touring behind Whistler when the glued skins of almost every person in my party failed at one point or another, while mine stayed on. Of course, the Clipskins have their disadvantages. The biggest is that if the tail clip pops off, you get at most two steps before the skin slides off quicker than Bode down the Streif, something glued skins don’t do. This has only happened to me a few times when I was “mixed” skinning, over rocks and roots. I readjusted the length of the skin slightly and it hasn’t happened since. Since I trimmed the skins so the clips are tight, a few of them have to be manually unclipped, so I can’t rip the skins off in one motion. It doesn’t take much effort, and I can still easily take off the skins with my skis on, perhaps even easier than before since it doesn’t matter if they touch the snow. The one thing I was worried about before using the skins was the edging power.
Over the weekend of the OR Trade Show I got a few turns in Big Cottonwood Canyon. Expecting the greatest snow on earth, I was greeted with a few inches of wind buff on a rock hard rain crust. While I wouldn’t use the term graceful, or even respectable, I felt like I wasn’t struggling to get a grip more than anyone else in the group. I’ve used Clipskins on some slightly less rock hard snow as well, and the metal clips actually helped if I utilized the “scoring” technique to get some purchase as they act almost like little cutters. The Clipskins are almost identical in weight to my G3 Alpinist skins cut for the same skis. One thing to note is that sometimes I’ve noticed a small amount of snow ends up between the skin and the ski while I’m hiking up. It’s never been thicker than a millimeter or two, and it hasn’t been an issue, just thought I’d make a note of it.
I’m satisfied with the Clipskins, and they are most definitely a viable alternative to their traditional glued relatives. They take a bit more time to set up than glued skins, but doing so isn’t really much more difficult for the committed backcountry skier with some hand skills (though those seeking to quickly shop for gear and use it that day will of course still want pre-cut glued skins as the most convenient option.). The reliability of the clips is great, and I don’t think they will wear out anytime soon. It seems everyone is going gluten free, fat free, meat free, or dairy free these days. Well, I’m going glue free!
(Editor’s note: Some readers may wonder why we took so long to get a review of these up (they’ve been available for a while). Answer is that prior design iterations of Clipskins were in our opinion just beta test products. Thus, we didn’t feel like reviewing something that was in development and undergoing rapid improvements that changed things we would have mentioned in the review. The skins we used for this review appear to be a more stable, retail ready product, though we suspect small improvements will continue.)
Louie Dawson earned his Bachelor Degree in Industrial Design from Western Washington University in 2014. When he’s not skiing Mount Baker or somewhere equally as snowy, he’s thinking about new products to make ski mountaineering more fun and safe.