Ski Skins: Choosing and Maintenance: the Basics.

Ski touring skins are essential for uphill progression. Here, we are going to talk about how to choose the most suitable type, as well as the fit and attachment system. We also look at how to maintain skins, to ensure they stay in perfect condition for many seasons to come.

Skinning uphill. Photo: Ángel Moraga

If you are reading this article, it could be that you are eager to start this activity or just curious about the wonderful world of ski touring. We presume you already have some experience alpine skiing and therefore know a bit about boots, bindings and skis. Skins are one of the main accessories that differentiate ski touring from alpine skiing.

Before we continue, here are some links to other articles about ski touring equipment, in our blog:

Originally made of seal skin, as this material would glide on the snow well in one direction and provide a good grip in the other, providing a means of getting uphill. Nowadays, skins are made of synthetic materials, but the performance is similar.

The backing fabric of skins has to be coated in an adhesive to make them stick to the base of the skis.

Once firmly attached to the base of the skis, skins provide a good grip as well as a good glide on snow, even when it is hard and compact. This is an essential piece of equipment for progressing on mountain terrain quickly and safely.

While grip and glide are the two most essential features of skins, weight is also important for the more experienced skier. This is measured in grams per square metre, but the difference in weight is only really noticeable when comparing skins designed for competition.

  • Glide: This is the ability of a skin to progress on snow without resistance. It is measured in energy consumed per unit of time, more precisely in kilocalories per hour. The lower the number of kilocalories, the easier and simpler it is to move.
  • Grip: this is the ability of a skin to stay still on a snow slope without slipping while applying force. It is measured in weight per unit area, usually in kilograms per square centimetre. The higher the number, the greater the gripping capacity.
Pomoca mixed skins: Glide - 235 kcal/h. Grip - 46 g/cm².

Both the grip and glide are opposing forces and this is achieved thanks to the direction of the hairs, which allow it to glide easily when moving forward and to offer great resistance when gravity pushes you back.

Which Type of Skins Suit my Style of Skiing?

The choice can be complex if you are a newcomer to ski touring and unsure of your technical abilities and skills. Skins are made either of mohair, synthetic or a combination of the two and these are referred to as mixed. Mohair is recommended for experienced skiers, capable of skinning uphill fast, while synthetic skins are recommend for less experienced ski tourers.

Contour mixed skins: 35% mohair / 65% synthetic

If you ask: will a beginner notice the difference between these 3 types of skins? The answer is no, in terms of glide, but yes and very much so, in terms of grip. For long tours, competition or vertical ascents, the more energy efficient skins are required. However, the efficiency of the glide will not be appreciated by beginners, yet they will certainly appreciate a good grip.

Mohair is a type of wool obtained from the hair of the Angora goat. Mohair wool is soft, light and strong and is often used for the production of high quality winter clothing, as well as for carpets, curtains and other textile products, due to its durability and strength.

Traditionally, mohair skins were recommended for the most experienced ski tourers and for competition or high level training. Mohair offers excellent glide, but very poor grip and durability, so it is only used by those whose technical skills allow them to prioritise glide over grip. Mohair fibres are usually slightly longer than those used for synthetic skins.

Synthetic skins offer an exceptional grip on snow, so they are highly recommended for newcomers to ski touring. They have short hairs and are made of nylon (polyamide). The glide is much less efficient than mohair, so they are not the best choice when speed is a priority and they are also not recommended for wide skis as the larger surface area causes too much friction. Synthetic skins are no longer as popular as mixed skins, which offer a better glide and enough grip for beginners.

If you already have some skinning experience and you are not particularly interested in competing or timing your ascents, you probably need mixed skins, which combine synthetic and mohair. The usual ratio is 30/70, although there are other ratios which either increase the synthetic fibres for a greater grip or increase the mohair for improved glide.

How Skins are Attached to Skis

Nowadays, skins are glued to the ski base. Glue is usually applied in the factory and you may need to re-apply if the glue loses its sticking capacity. Some of the latest skins have glue-free attachment systems.

Glue-less skins use molecular fusion or suction. This consists of a special type of silicone that attaches to the ski base without the need of a sticky additive. The advantages are clear: easy to attach and remove, eternal durability, practically no maintenance... the only disadvantage is the higher price, but the pros outweigh the cons for many.

Whether using a traditional glue or molecular fusion, the adhesive has to be strong enough to withstand the skier''s weight and movement on the snow, but it also needs to be easy to remove the from the ski, without leaving any residue on the ski base. Over time, frequent use combined with accumulated dirt reduces the sticking capacity of the adhesive and maintenance is required.

Nowadays, you can choose made-to-measure skins for specific models of skis or choose skins that fit most skis and need to be cut to size. It is relatively simple to trim skins, so that they are tailored to the sidecuts of your skis and cover the entire base, except the edges, to ensure maximum skinning surface.

Another clever solution, especially for wider freeride skis, is the split skin. In this case, the skins are split lengthwise and placed next to the ski edges, leaving a skin-free section in the center of the base for greater gliding surface. Split skins reduce friction, improve glide, have a good grip and lighten the weight. On the downside, they are a bit more cumbersome to put on.

Mixed skins with Contour split design

In addition to sticking the skin to the base of the ski, they also have to be attached to the ski at the tip and often at the tail. Fix systems have to be compatible with your skis, so it is important to check which system you require.

Dynafit quick fix tip and tail system

Skin Care and Maintenance

Skins are a hard-wearing accessory, but they require proper care to keep them in good condition. Here are some tips on how to care for your skins:

  • Clean the skins after each use. This will prevent dirt or sand from accumulating on the base of the ski, which can damage the glue.
  • Store your skins in a cool, dry place when not in use. Moisture can damage the glue and reduce adhesion, so it is important to avoid storing them in damp places or in snow
  • Avoid folding or rolling skins to store them. This can damage the glue and reduce its adhesion capacity.
  • If the skins get wet, allow them to dry out completelybefore storing to prevent moisture from damaging the glue and reducing adhesion capacity.
  • Occasionally, glopping occurs, which is when lumps of snow stick to the skins. This usually happens when the skins get wet (e.g. from spring snow, crossing a stream) and then, when you get to powder snow, it starts to stick. This is easily avoided by applying wax or a non-stick liquid before you start skinning.

By following these tips, you will be able to keep your skins in good condition and make them longer lasting.

We include some videos explaining the process of re-gluing so that your skins remain in good condition.

Removing old glue from your skins. Part 1

Preparing your skins for applying fresh glue. Part 2

We hope we have cleared up any doubts regarding ski touring skins. Still not clear? Don''t worry, come to our shops or visit our website where we will be happy to answer any queries you may have!

On-line store: www.barrabes.com/en-gb/

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