Choosing Climbing Skins

| October 20, 2009

There are many variations on the skin theme available nowadays – nylon, mohair, mixed, hybrids, domestic, European, tip catchers, tail rippers, no tails and everything in between.  I’m partial and opinionated about what I like for the Wasatch, but am the first to admit that the best skin for the job is probably whatever the locals use in a given area.  First off, the locals are bound to know their snowpack and what skins work best on it, and secondly, their skin tracks are going to reflect that.  When Europeans bring narrow mohair skins to the Wasatch with no tip or tail loop, they inevitably get frustrated with the steep skin tracks and then the cold, dry air causes their glue to fail and their skins fall off.  Conversely, bringing a pair of burly nylon skins to Europe would be like walking around with sandpaper on your skis as the snow pack and skin track favor the gliding properties of mohair.

Deep, dry, fine grained snow with steepish skin tracks favor nylon skins.

Deep, dry, fine grained snow with steepish skin tracks favor nylon skins.

That said, it is possible to make almost any skin work in almost any condition.  The reason I like nylon skins with a tip & tail kit for the Wasatch is that we often have fine grained, dry snow which the courser nylon material tends to bite well in.  We also don’t have very long approaches compared to other places and they tend to be steep, so glide (like you get with mohair) isn’t a big issue.

For cruising on sticky snow with lower angle tracks, mohair can't be beat.

For cruising on sticky snow with lower angle tracks, mohair can't be beat.

On the mohair/nylon hybrids, I’ve tried two different brands of them and while they are billed as “the best of both worlds” I personally thought they were the worst of both worlds.  They don’t climb very well compared to nylons or glide well compared to mohair, which is frustrating.  Personally, I’d rather use a skin which is really good at one thing or another (like climbing or gliding) rather than one that merely doesn’t suck too much in most conditions.

An excellent little technical skin primer can be found here.

Help support and ascent through the fluff with Black Diamond Ascension Nylon STS Skins from Click on the photo below…


Category: 05 Uphill

About the Author ()

Andrew McLean lives in Park City, Utah and is a gear designer, writer, photographer, ski mountaineer, climber, Mountain Unicycle rider and father of two very loud little girls.

Comments (16)

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  1. mc says:

    Hey Andrew. Just wondering what you average for an ascent speed is on an hourly basis. All others feel free to chime in. Haven’t found anything better than the Ascension’s either and that includes the Glidelites (climbed like crap) and G3(major glue problems even after the company said they were resolved).

  2. Andrew says:

    Hi mc – it totally depends on a few hundred variables like snow depth, heat, terrain, etc., but in a general sense, I’d say 2,000′ per hour is average with 500 fph being slow going and 4,000 being tops.

    I like the classic Ascenscions as they are so durable and they last forever, but they don’t fold up very well. Whenever I trim up a pair of those, I sew the tips on to reduce any weight and bulk and trim off any extra stuff. In a short skin (174cm) they can be pretty packable. I also like the GlideLites, although I have to be a bit more careful with them. I used a pair of the G3’s a while ago and they seemed fine as well.

    From my experience at Black Diamond and hearing other tales, getting the glue just right is almost a Black Magic art as heat, humidity and a million other things can affect it. Taking the exact same equipment and supplies, but moving it to another state causes all sorts of problems. I’ve also heard this about the rafting industry – if you are using glue in a production environment, some states are better than others.

    On a related note, when the PowderKeg was a world cup event a few years ago, some racers asked me about buying some Gold Label glue for their skins. I thought they wanted a single can, but they were looking for an entire case! They explained that the chemicals in Gold Label were illegal in Europe (at least to your average consumer) which is why the Euro made skin glue was so tame.

  3. Jim R. says:

    BD Ascension skins work great here in Colorado. I, too, just wish they were not quite as stiff and would fold up easier. Andrew, have you tried the new Ascension split skins that have the lightweight webbing in the center? I am wondering if the grip is sacrificed for weight and packability, or if this is really the best of both worlds.

    Jim R.
    Golden, CO

  4. Andrew says:

    Jim – I haven’t used the Ascension split skins, but was just fondling a pair a few hours ago and they looked nice and light. I’d imagine like with skinning itself, they might take some getting use to. ?

  5. Stan says:

    For the best glide and fast climbing I haven’t had better skins than Coltex in full mohair, the racing model. For my fat skis I use BD skins with the tractor like pattern (sorry, forgot the model name) and they work quite well, and they seem quite to be quite durable – using them for like a 4th season.

    The glue on Coltex, being European skins, is somewhat finicky in cold Canadian conditions, but with some care when putting them on they work. It is worth to note that I don’t use the back hook on my fast skins, that plays a big role how they handle the cold too.

    And I too like the Gold Label for the Euro skins, works good, but can stink up your motel room the night before a race very much :)

  6. Mark says:

    After years of using nylon skins I’m now addicted to Trab’s mixed 70% mohair / 30% nylon skins. They grip every bit as well as the purple ascensions I’ve had in the past, even here in the Wasatch with our legendary steep skin tracks (slippage is rare and confined to the same circumstances as I experienced with the nylon skins). The glide is noticeably better than nylon skins, so much so that on a typical relatively flat approach I have to make sure to start out in front of a group to avoid running up the back of someone’s skis (this include podium place finishers in the Pkeg who otherwise kick my slightly overwieght ass on the ascent). The only downside is they wear out quicker than all nylon skins (about 200 days vs. 400 days for the nylon, then again the nylon skins are just getting broken in with decent glide around 400 days). Mohair also tends to absorb more water than the nylon skins, negating some of the light weight characteristics of the skins, however clumping in the spring is no different.

    I’ve also used Trab’s split mohair skins (same as Colltex, however much sexier as they’re the only tiger striped skins around – gotta luv the Italians) with good success as well, however you do have to prepare for minor slippage on micro obstacles such as boulders, deadfall and cornices. Easy enough to prevent, just plant your poles strategically behind you when you start up a short steep pitch. One nice thing about the split skins is clumping is a non issue since they’re too narrow for large clumps to develop. The skins “self clean” themselves as you drag them along the climbing track, allowing only dime to half golf ball size clumps to develop which are barely noticeable. Folding split skins is easy (providing there’s no webbing between the skins), just stick them together side to side instead of end to end using 3 fingers as a guide (pull the skins longitudinally through the gaps between your fingers). Works good even in windy conditions + you can roll them up into a small ball that easily fits into a coat pocket (remember when skins were narrow enough to do so easily?).

    I’ve heard euro skin glue sucks because enviro regs prohibit the use of toluene in skin glue. As such the glue manufacturer’s aren’t able to dissolve as sticky of substances to formulate the glue. Maybe this is just hearsay however it seems to make sense as toluene is a relatively strong solvent.

  7. Dostie says:

    Good beta Andrew. Been skinning with mixed skins (different skins on each ski to detect subtle if any differences) for about three years now to find the ones I like best. It’s pretty much a tie between Climbing Skins Direct and GlideLite. I rig every skin with a STS tip and tail. Reliable, secure, and the easiest to use.

    I find the Ascension skins are rather boardy compared to anything else, and the glue of the GlideLites is equal. G3 glue, although one of the stickiest out of the box is prone to “leaking” on the edges or at the tip. CSD’s have great glue, it lasts a long time, and they’re easy to handle. Same for GlideLites.

    On powder days Colltex Mohair’s rule. The glue isn’t very strong, but with an STS tip and tail kit, is adequate for warmer Sierra temps so they rip off fast, and their suppleness makes ’em easy to fold.

    As a matter of course, unless it’s a cold powder day (more common than the Sierra reputation would admit) I find it worthwhile to wax my skins at the trailhead religiously to minimize icing. Do you bother with that in Wasangeles?

  8. Justin says:

    I’m pretty sure they don’t make the Glidelites everyone is referring to any more (as of this year gidelites are either all mohair or mohair nylon mix). So those are out. The orange ascensions climb great, but are so stiff they are annoying to pack, and they dont glide well at all. The glue on my couple year old climbingskinsdirect is pretty bad, maybe they’ve changed it…. But they do climb and glide well…

  9. Scruppo says:

    I agree with Dostie on waxing and with the performance of CSD skins. When new, though, the glue can make it very hard to separate the skins (last year’s batch). I’ve had great luck with the new (BD I think) liquid skin wax applied the night before as well. Gives the CSD skins about the same glide as my Dynafit mohairs. Oh – and I’m usually skiing in Summit Co, CO.

  10. pete sanford says:

    Nice article andrew. this may not be your forte but do you have any skin suggestions for the warmer, wetter snow of the PNW? I’ve been really satisfied with BD glidelites for my touring in SW BC but my skins will need replacing by next year. any suggestions?

  11. Joel says:

    Anyone use Gecko’s – – I think the company is out of Switzerland …

  12. Geoff says:

    How did the grip and glide on the Skins Direct, Glide Lite, and G3 Alpinist compare in your tests?

  13. Aaron says:

    Does anyone know how the G3 alpinist skins climb compared to other brands? Really want to know for Colorado snow. Thanks!

  14. Geoff says:

    Aaron, the grip of the G3 Alpinist skins is about as good as the Black Diamond nylon skins on a fresh packed-powder track. However, when the track becomes glazed from use or if the snow has gone through melt-freeze cycles, then the G3 skins slip more often and more unpredictably. The G3 skins have a lot more glide than the Black Diamond skins, though. That makes for much less effort climbing, unless the track is such that you are slipping a lot.

  15. Jim says:

    I have the ascension skins. Over time I’ve gotten a residual build up of the adhesive on my bases and wondered what solvent (or alternative) works best for cleaning the bases before I re-wax?

  16. joseph.szasz says:

    hey andrew,

    any sugestions on skins for the spring summer in the cascades. moving over there and want the right tool. awesome website. thanx

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