How to choose and care for your touring skins
If you’re buying your first ski touring or split-boarding setup, it can seem like there are loads of decisions to be made every step of the way. When it comes to choosing climbing skins, like everything else, there’s a baffling array of products on the market. The following guide is designed to help you choose which skins are right for you.
• Which brand of skins to choose
• Which material to choose
• How to care for your skins
Several of us in the Freeze team are ski tourers or splitboarders, so feel free to get in touch to shoot the breeze if you have any questions. We’ve used all the touring products we sell in a range of conditions across the globe so we’re confident we can find the best product for you no matter what your requirements and budget are.
Which brand of skins to choose
If you search online you’ll find endless reviews claiming one brand is better than another, that one is great and the other is rubbish – you’ll never get the same answer from two people and there’s every chance they’ll be completely different! We’ve built our offering around what we, and our friends, use (or have used in the past) and represents the brands that we feel offer the best quality product and best value for money.
The two key brands for us that offer a range to cover everything are G3 and Black Diamond. In terms of performance, we feel there’s almost nothing to call between them offering almost identical glide and grip on the same slopes when we’ve been out with groups using both brands in the same conditions. So why choose one or the other?
The Pros & Cons of Black Diamond Skins
Pro: They’re cut to length skins so you can ensure you have the maximum coverage on the base of your ski if you want to ensure no compromise grip in challenging or steep conditions
Con: It’s a lot more work to fit with them being ‘cut-to-length’ and ‘cut-to-width’. You can make it a lot easier by buying one of the G3 Trim Tools to help with the fitting as this avoids the need to cut one side, move the skin and then cut the other.
The Key Pros & Cons of G3 Skins
Pro: The skins are sized to fit specific ranges of ski / splitboard lengths which means you only need to trim their width. If it’s a first time purchase or you can’t be bothered with the faff of fitting other brand’s skins then you can have your G3 skins on and ready to ski in less than 5 minutes. This video from G3 shows how easy it is.
Con: Because the skins are a fixed length to fit a range of lengths, if your ski / board is at the longer end of the range you may find you have less coverage at the tail of your ski. In reality this does little to impact performance as it’s the skin from under your foot to the tip that provides most of the grip but some people have reported they find it disconcerting not having skin coverage all the way to the tail. The upside of a shorter skin is that you have less drag when ascending making them faster and lighter on the ups.
In addition to the cut-to-size G3 and Black Diamond skins we also stock ski-specific skins for some other brands such as Volkl, Armada and Scott. Whilst you don’t have the choice of types of skins they have the advantage of being pre-cut to the exact size meaning they’re good-to-go right out the box so if you want convenience then we’d advise to go for these. All these own brand skins are made by well-established skin manufacturers and will perform well in most conditions.
Which material to choose
Skins are usually constructed of nylon or mohair. Most of the skins we sell are nylon as they tend to offer the best value and are more durable.
On the other hand, mohair skins are a little lighter than nylon skins and tend to glide glide better. The downside of mohair is that it isn’t as durable and can be easily damaged. You’ll have to be more careful where you use them and where you set your skin track when the snow coverage is limited.
Our suggestion is that if you’re buying your first set of skins or often touring in a place with marginal conditions then go with the nylon. Nylon skins will last longer and you won’t need to be so precious about avoiding rocks and grass.
If you’re fortunate enough to tour in near-perfect conditions most of the time, are weight-conscious or going on long tours then the mohair options may be a preferable option for the energy saving benefits they offer.
G3 have introduced a couple of other variations to their range in recent years. The first is a High Traction skin which is constructed of a coarser material – designed to give you more grip on ascents when you’re in icier conditions, or if you like a steep skin track. The down side, of course, is that they don’t glide quite so well. But if you want maximum confidence when ascending, the G3 High Traction skins are a great option.
If minimising the weight of your touring set-up if your priority then check out the G3 LT skins range – not only are these lighter than the standard G3 Alpinist skins, they also pack smaller so if space is a premium as well as weight then the LT skins are a great option.
Caring for your skins
Once you’ve chosen the right skin for your ski or splitboard, there are a few pointers you should bear in mind to get the most from them…
It’s not uncommon for skins to start to absorb some moisture when you’re touring on wet snow. Usually this will only make your skins a little heavier, but if you then ascend on to cooler snow, you may find the snow starts to stick to your skins as the moisture and snow freeze together.
This can make your skis or boards get heavy and almost impossible to ascend with. To avoid this happening, we suggest treating your skis from time-to-time with Black Diamond Glop Stopper or, for an even better result, Nikwax / Black Diamond Skin Proof. Our experience is that the Skin Proof does wonders for repelling water and makes a noticeable difference to the weight and glide of your skins on wet snow.
You can also keep a block (or half a block if you’re counting the grams) of Glop Stopper in your pack in case your skins do start to ball up with snow as it will keep you moving smoothly for the rest of the day.
When you’re not using your skins we recommend storing them in a cool room – ideally a garage or similar that won’t get too warm – on the cheat sheets they came with. Avoid storing them in a room with a heat source such as a boiler or hot water tank as the glue may become tacky and wet and start to stick to your skin bag, skis etc.
When you’re first applying them after a long time in storage, take them outside or somewhere cold and give them a chance to cool down before you apply them. This will give the glue a chance to ‘dry’ and be less likely to stick on to things it shouldn’t!
Regluing skins isn’t a fun job – it’s messy and time-consuming. But if you have the patience of a saint and like to do it yourself, then go for it! We stock glue renew kits from G3 and Black Diamond.
Of course, our advice is to take care of your skins as best you can so you can avoid the glue deterioration as long as possible. If you’re getting small patches that aren’t sticking so well, try Black Diamond Gold Label to keep them working well until the time comes to re-glue.
So what are you waiting for?
BUT... don't forget that it's really important to get in the know before you go, so if you haven't done some sort of avalanche awareness training, check out our friends the Avalanche Geeks.
If you still have any questions about products or how to get into touring in general then we'd love to help, just get in touch!