How To Choose And Trim Ski Skins
Everything You Need To Know About Skins
Just like car tires, gaining traction while heading upslope is a key part of the backcountry experience. We all love sharing mile-wide smiles on the skintrack, but the real hero behind those grins are well-fitted climbing skins with good adhesion. We’re breaking down how to pick the right skins for your skis, as well as how to fit and trim them to help you get to the top faster.
Let’s start with the basics: Climbing skins have a sticky glue applied to one side to adhere to the bottom of your skis or splitboard, and a material that provides traction over the snow on the other side, allowing you to move forward, onward, and upward.
First: Determine Your Skiing Interest
Are you planning multi-day backcountry tours with a heavy pack? Then you want to make sure to get a climbing skin that’s not only pre-fitted to your entire ski surface, but also offers as much traction as possible. Try one with plush nylon fur like the Black Diamond Ascension Nylon Climbing Skins, or the G3 Escapist Universal Climbing Skin.
If you like shorter, faster tours or typically climb more mellow skintracks, try a climbing skin like the G3 Alpinist Plus Universal Climbing Skin that does not cover the entire base of the ski. This will leave ski surface on the front and back of the skis to assist with glide on flatter sections or short spurts of downhill during the ascent.
Gearhead Tip: Pay extra attention to how you handle your ski skins—don’t drop them in the snow while you’re out and don’t let your dog get near them. Keeping your skins as dry and clean as possible will help keep the glue sticky, extending the life of your skins.
Determining Which Features You Need
Of the two common skin materials, nylon has better climb capabilities and is more durable than mohair, but mohair does have a somewhat better glide experience. If you’re just starting out in the backcountry, we recommend going with nylon, as the durability means you don’t need to be as gentle on the skins.
For successful backcountry trips, you’ll want skins that have a strong hold on your ski tip and a tight latch on the tail that pops off easily. The tail is the portion that adjusts if you have 10cm of room in your climbing skins. Note that skins are specific to the dimensions of your ski or splitboard. Both the G3 and Black Diamond skins provide solid tip and tail hardware that are easy to adjust and adhere the skin securely to the ski or board.
Gearhead Tip: Heat and moisture are the enemies of climbing skins. When you’re done skiing, hang your skins in a cool room to air dry. Store your skins with the glue side folded over the mesh sheet that comes with most skins.
Always err on the side of having too much climbing skin coverage on the base of your ski. To find out which size skins are right for you, start by measuring the width of your skis at the widest point in millimeters (or check with the manufacturer, which usually has these dimensions available). Then find skins with a width that matches or is as close to your ski width as possible.
For example, if your ski measures 122mm at its widest point, then you could go with 120mm skins. If your ski measures 127mm at the largest width, then you could go with 130mm skins. Some skins are also sold in a size range (i.e., 169-180mm) rather than a single size, making this decision easier.
It’s better to find skins that are a little wider (rather than narrower) than your skis, because you can trim the extra width. But if you get skins that are too narrow, you’ll have too much exposed surface on the bottom of your skis, which will make it difficult to gain traction, especially on steep skintracks or with tricky maneuvers, like tight kickturns. That said, a few millimeters of wiggle room is usually okay, and you will want to leave the metal edges of your skis exposed.
While some skins also give you sizing in terms of length (usually small through large), you’ll also want to double-check that you’re purchasing skins that are long enough to accommodate your skis or splitboard. Look at the manufacturer length of your skis (or measure them), then check the length of the skins in the tech specs. Again, better to size up, not down, since you can always trim extra length.
Buying Used Skins
Secondhand backcountry skins are an option but beware of their condition, as they have most likely seen their best snow days already. With used skins, you can inherit issues, from improper fit to reduced traction. Of course, if you find a pair of unused, still-uncut skins for sale on your local classifieds, you’ve stumbled upon a rare find and should be stoked! Lightly used skins that happen to be cut to the same ski dimensions are also a great option.
This do-it-yourself project can be a bit time-consuming, but make sure to take your time and line-up twice, cut once: you can always cut away more, but you can’t add back material once it’s gone. Your local ski touring shop can also cut skins for you for a small fee.
The first step is to trim the skin to the length of your ski (you can use scissors for this step). Then using scissors, cut to match the tip shape of your ski. Then attach the provided tip hardware.
Now, attach the tip of the skins to the ski—this will make it easier to hold your skin in place as you trim the width of the skins to fit your ski. Then affix the skin to your ski as snugly as possible (work out any folds or pockets so it’s totally flush with the base of your ski).
You’re ready to cut! Look for the small cutter tool in a box—almost all skins come with this tool. Black Diamond’s cutter is in-line with a plastic guide, while G3’s Trim Tool is offset by a few millimeters, and helps save a step of overlapping on either side.
Cut the skins from tip to tail, working as smoothly as possible to avoid kinks or jagged edges. Be sure to leave the metal edges of your skis exposed.
Check out our latest tutorial on cutting skins (using the Black Diamond tool) for a thorough look at the process:
Need a hand finding the right pair of skins for your setup?
Chat with a Gearhead online or by calling 1-855-485-8180.
Based in Powder Highway, British Columbia, Matt Mosteller is an adventurer, lifelong ski bum, and outdoor enthusiast. When not escaping Grizzly Bear attacks, running wild rivers in Northern BC, or getting lost in the Arctic in a mid-winter expedition, he can be found sipping craft coffee in Kimberley, BC. Follow along @PowderMatt and read his work at www.powdermatt.com.