Ski touring skins can be attached to the base of your skis and allow you climb up hill, they are densely packed with small fibres which are arranged to give grip and stop you sliding back down the hill. Ski skins are an essential part of your kit, without them you're not going to tour very far at all!
Choosing and Caring for Skins
In the early days ski skins were made from seal skin. Today there are more fibres to choose from and the best choice for you depends largely on where you ski. Two fibres are used in the manufacture of modern skins, mohair and nylon. Mohair is made from Angora goat skin and allows much better glide, which is less tiring for the skier, but it will wear out faster. Nylon is both cheaper and harder wearing, but it does not glide as easily and snow tends to ball up on them making Nylon skins less well suited to wetter European snow conditions. Most manufacturers are now using a mix of both these fibres, to obtain the best characteristics of each.
Proper ski skins! Made from Seal skin. c. 1950s
When choosing the width of a pair of skins, remember that the skin has to be kept clear of your edges. With skis from before the carving era, you would choose a skin 5mm narrower than the waist on your skis. With modern carving skis (both alpine and telemark), you need a shaped skin. Some skins are available pre-shaped to fit the more popular skis, the other way is to purchase wide trim-to-fit skins and tailor them for the shape of your own skis. A trimming device is often provided, but the shop can do it if you are in any doubt. Click here to see our ski-skin compatibility chart for more advice about which width to buy for particular skis.
Most skins are clipped on at the tip and tail of a ski, but rely upon glue bonded onto the base of the skin, to hold it in place along the length of the ski. The clips may need replacing occasionally, but the glue must be renewed every couple of seasons, depending upon usage. These are DIY jobs or you can always get a shop to do it professionally. Between trips, make sure that the glue on the skins is not left exposed to the air, this will dry the glue out. To check the glue, fold your skins together, then try to pull them apart. It is easy to do so, then re-glue the skins before your next trip.
These are a new innovation, designed to make putting your skins on and off much easier. Rather than folding the skins in half with the glue touching, you put a cheat strip (made of plastic mesh) in between the two halves, which make them easier to prise apart when you come to put the skins back on again. The glue also lasts a lot longer this way too, so all in all they are well worth having.
On the Hill
During a trip, try to keep your skins warm and dry. If they are going on and off your skis during the day, keep them in a pocket close to your body, or wrap them around your waist inside your clothing (especially important in cold conditions). Keeping the skins warm in this way helps the glue to bond to your ski. When you do put skins on, get moving on them as soon as possible - the pressure also helps the skins to stick. At the end of a day, in a hut, hang your skins up to dry before packing them up overnight. If you are in tents, take them into your sleeping bag at night.
If you look after your skins and use them properly, there's no reason they should ever come off - but all too often someone has a problem and it's important to know how to deal with it. First of all - make sure your skins are well stuck on by firmly smoothing them down the length of each ski, paying particular attention to the front and back where problems are most likely to occur. If a skin does start to come off, then you are advised to have some tape handy to strap it back on before things deteriorate - many folk wrap a length of duck tape around each ski pole ready for the purpose. If a skin comes off entirely, then you've got a problem - as you need to get the glue free of snow and water to stand a chance of getting it to stick again - which is no easy task. First, rub the glued side across your thigh to get as much moisture off as possible, then if possible hang it up with the glue facing the sun for a few minutes to dry. If you have a can of glue renewing colltex quick spray to hand at this point, then it's a very useful thing to carry.
On hot days and particularly after fresh snowfall, skins starting to ball up with snow in the sun can be an annoying problem. Pre treating your skins by hot waxing them with colltex skin wax (or standard ski base wax) is the best and recommended defence (it also makes them glide better - carry a small block of wax on longer tours) At the first sign of balling, try stamping you feet to unclog them with each stride - or if it all gets too much, then de ball them by rubbing a ski pole up and down the bases. If you have a block of wax, then use it now to stop the same thing happening again a short while later. Various glide sprays are available which do the same thing, but they don't tend to last as long or work as well as waxing your skins
How To Hot Wax Skins (see Alpine Guides website for a more detailed article on Hot Waxing Ski Touring Skins).
Hot waxing of skins is a trick borrowed from the world of ski mountaineering racing, where the improved glide allows competitors to go much faster. For all forms of ski touring however, it is a simple and extremely effective way of preventing water and ice particles penetrating your skins - which in turn improves glide, prevents balling and stops the skins becoming saturated with water in warm conditions (wet skins don't stick!) All you need is some colltex skin wax (or regular base wax works well too), an old domestic iron and 10 minutes to spare. If the skins are folded in half, then do each side in turn - or if you have an old pair of skis you don't use then stick the skins onto these whilst you wax (don't use your regular skis in case some warm glue transfers off the skin and onto your bases).
- Set the iron on 'Low' - about 60 degrees is ideal.
- Rub a good layer of wax onto the skin surface (either with or against the grain - it doesn't matter which direction you rub).
- Iron the wax in for about 60 seconds, always moving in the same direction as the fibres (this is very important!)
- Rub more wax onto the skins and repeat for a 2nd time (or even a 3rd if you are keen).
Your skins should now be well impregnated with wax and will perform better in all conditions. Please note that when you first go skinning the skins won't glide particularly well for the first 5 minutes, whilst excess wax rubs off the skin - but after that you should notice a distinct improvement in glide and performance.
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