If you want to ski uphill, you’re going to need climbing skins. One of the essential pieces of an alpine touring kit, climbing skins provide directional grip on the snow, allowing you to slide your skis forward without losing progress on uphill terrain.
If you’re new to alpine touring, climbing skins can hold their fair share of mystery when it comes to choosing the right material, size and connection type. They also require a little bit of initial setup and maintenance.
Although this article is focused on climbing skins for skis, splitboard skins feature the same technology as those made for touring skis, but have a slightly different shape to sufficiently cover a splitboard’s base. Several brands make split-specific skins, which are sized simply by the length of the board.
The three material options you’ll encounter when shopping for skins are nylon, mohair, or a mix of the two. When deciding which material you should choose, you should consider weight, packability, durability, grip and glide.
In general, less experienced skiers should start out with nylon skins. Since they provide the most grip, they will definitely perform best while developing your skinning technique. Nylon skins are a great choice while touring up hard, slick skin tracks.
Nylon/mohair mix skins are a great choice for experienced skiers with good skinning technique. Once solid technique is developed less grip is required to skin up steep terrain. Additionally, a skin’s gliding property, as well as weight and packability come more into play as efficiency increases.
Expert mountaineers and competitive skimo racers may choose pure mohair skins. Good technique once again makes up for mohair’s lesser grip, while glide and weight savings are extremely sought after for speed and efficiency. These are also generally the least durable skins.
Besides the few ski manufacturers like Dynafit who use a proprietary skin attachment system, most skins come with universal attachments.
All skins use a tacky glue to make them stick to the base of the ski. In general, climbing skins will also come with either hooks or a loop that go over the tip of the ski, and an adjustable strap with a clip at the tail. This tried-and-true design offers a solid attachment on dedicated touring skis that have flat or notched tails.
Black Diamond’s loop tip attachment (Left), G3′s hook tip attachment (Right)
If you plan on touring on a more general twin-tip ski with a rounded tail profile, or a ski with considerable tail rocker, I highly recommend picking up a set of G3’s Twin-Tip Connectors. They work with both G3 and Black Diamond climbing skins and resolve the problem of the skins sliding off the tails of twin tip, rounded tail skis.
Size may be the most confusing factor when choosing skins. Sizing callouts vary by manufacturer—brands like G3 and Pomoca come in specific lengths and widths, while brands like Black Diamond and Montana generally have options for width (Black Diamond also sells “Custom” skins that arrive in pre-cut lengths). Brands like K2, Dynafit and La Sportiva make proprietary skins for certain ski models, so ski length is the only factor.
When choosing a length (on brands like G3 and Pomoca) you want to pick a size range that that encompasses your ski’s length. For example, as per G3’s size chart, if your ski is 176cm, you should choose the Alpinist skin in a medium length. If your ski is closer to the higher or lower limit of a certain size, it’s really up to you whether you should size up or down—the smaller size will be lighter, but the larger size will provide more coverage which directly relates to increased grip.
When selecting the skin’s width, you must look up your ski’s dimensions. The idea is to pick a skin width that’s a few millimeters less than or any amount more than the widest part of your ski (generally near the tip). If the widest part of your ski is 130mm you could pick a 130mm or wider climbing skin.
If you are getting skins for Dynafit, La Sportiva, K2 or any other brand with special, ski-specific skins, simply choose the length that equals that of your skis.
Kicker skins are typically only used for skimo racing or extremely fast & light setups. They are shorter than normal skins and therefore do not provide the grip of a full-length skin. This short length does allow them to be removed extremely fast, and keeps them extremely light. When selecting a kicker size, select a width equal to or over the waist width of the ski and trim to fit. It’s also recommended to trim the tail corners into a rounded shape to increase skin retention.
Unless you purchase a set of skins made especially for your skis, you’ll need to do some trimming to make them fit properly. Many climbing skins like those from G3 and Black Diamond come with a small skin-trimming tool, but if the skins you bought do not have one, you can use a normal box-cutter, Xacto-knife or razor blade (carefully!).
The point of trimming your skins is to make them follow the contour of your ski’s shape, extending to but not over the edge of the ski. You want the ski’s steel edge to remain exposed so you can maintain solid edge-hold on icy and off-camber terrain.
A properly trimmed climbing skin should extend to, but not over the edges of the ski to provide the most grip.
If you’re trimming G3 skins, the included trim tool easily cuts into the skin several millimeters over the base of the ski, exposing the edges. If one of your touring partners uses G3 skins, try to get your hands on that trimming tool, regardless of what brand skins you have. If a G3 trimmer is nowhere to be found, you can still use something simpler like Black Diamond’s trim tool or a box cutter, although a little extra work is required to properly trim your skins.
To trim your skins with the G3 trim tool, simply attach the skin to the base of the ski like you would if going out for a tour (the un-trimmed skin should extend past the edges of the ski at its waist). Be sure to line the skin up so it is completely centered vertically over the ski. Then, using the trim tool, simply run it down the length of the ski, following its contour. Do this on both sides of the skin without removing it from the ski, and your skins should have a symmetrical shape that mimics that of your ski’s sidecut.
If using a simple blade or Black Diamond’s trim tool, place the skin on the ski so there is an approximate 2mm offset to one side (2mm of skin extending past the ski’s edge). Run the blade down that side of the ski, cutting it flush with the ski’s edge. Now, remove the skin and re-apply it so the side you just trimmed is showing roughly 2mm of exposed ski base / edge. Trim the other un-cut side of the skin flush to the ski’s sidewall. Once finished, remove the skin and re-attach it so it’s centered on the ski. The ski’s edges should both be exposed and the skin should now have a shape that mimics your ski’s sidecut.
A solid attachment to your skis is essential to efficiency and mitigating headaches on the skin track. Depending on the brand, you’ll generally see a looped cable or set of hooks that grab the tip of the ski, and something that looks similar to a ski strap on the tail. Some ski brands like Dynafit, however, have their own proprietary attachment systems that are designed to work specifically with certain skis.
No matter what climbing skin you choose, the typical hook/loop/strap system tends to work best on flat-tailed skis. When skinning on a rounded tail, twin-tip or heavily tail-rockered ski, it’s common to have the tail of skin slide off the side of the ski. As previously noted, if you’re not using a flat-tailed touring ski, I highly recommend picking up a pair of G3’s Twin-Tip Connectors. They work on both G3 and Black Diamond skins, all skis and splitboards, and virtually eliminate the risk of dropping the tail of your skin while touring.
To attach your skins, start out by placing this skin’s tip connector on the ski. Then press the skin onto the base of your ski, working down towards the tail. Do this slowly, ensuring that the edges of the skins are properly lined up with the edges of the skins. Once you make it to the tail, run your hand down the length of the ski, removing any air pockets between the skin and base. Then clip the tail attachment and you’re ready to go.
When the uphill is over, you’ve decided where you’re going to drop in and you’re gearing up of the descent, it’s time to peel those skins off and pack them away. The best way to store your skins for skiing is to fold each one in half, glue-to-glue, then either fold them into thirds, quarters, or roll them to fit in your pack. Some people prefer to put the skins in front jacket or bib pockets but this is only typically done with mohair skins, which are less bulky than nylon.
When you’re done skiing, it’s really time to care for your skins.
After you get home, the skins need to be dried. Leaving them folded and wet can deteriorate the glue and create headaches later on. The best way to dry skins is simply hang them vertically until dry. When they’re dry, fold or roll them like you did while skiing, and store them away. Mine always go directly back into my touring pack. When the last of the snow has melted, I toss them in my ski gear bin for the summer. Especially for prolonged periods of time and the off-season, I like the store my skins in a cool, dark and dry place.
Many skins will come with “Skin-Savers“, which are simply plastic sheets that you apply to the glue-side of the skin prior to folding. They are designed to preserve the glue and make peeling your skins apart a lot easier. They work well when the skins are new, especially with the super sticky G3 glue, but after using the skins a few times Skin-Savers aren’t really needed to make peeling easier.
If you end up neglecting your skins or the inevitable layer of pine needles and dog hair gets too thick, you may need to renew the glue to keep them sufficiently sticky. Skin glue either comes in an adhesive tube, or as tape sheets. The tube glue is great for repairing small blemishes in the glue. If you need to replace large sections, the tape is the best option.
I also like to wax my skins with Black Diamond’s Glop Stopper Wax. If you’ve ever toured on a sunny, open slope then made your way into the shade of some trees, you’ve probably experienced the day-wrecker that is glopping. The transition between warm and colder conditions causes snow to stick to your skins, which really sucks when you’re already having a time schlepping yourself up the hill.
To stop this, bring along a small piece of the Glop Stopper Wax when you head out on a tour. If you start to pick up snow, remove your skis and thoroughly scrape all of the snow and water out of the skin’s hairs (a credit card or small wax scraper works best). Then take the wax and vigorously rub it back and forth, covering the whole skin. Click back in and enjoy being glop-free.
It should go without saying that the world’s best product is an essential to any touring kit. One of the many uses of a Voile Ski Strap is to reattach a climbing skin with a busted tail clip. This seems to happen an awful lot, usually at the worst possible time, but a simple Voile strap around the skin and ski is a super quick fix that stops the whole trip from being ruined. I recommend getting several straps in different sizes, because these things have a host of other uses besides fixing skins.
If you have any other questions about climbing skins or AT gear, feel free to reach out to one of our Expert Gearheads. I’ll see you on the skin track!