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Skin Maintenance

With a new season upon us, back country skiers everywhere are digging through their closets and bringing season-appropriate gear back to the front and getting stuff like mountain bike equipment out of the way. Seems like we forget where we put the beacon, shovel, repair kit, etc. Of course, skins are part of the search and, once found, a quick inspection often reveals crappy skin glue that you can no longer ignore.

Climbing skins are an important part of the back country skiing package. We can't live without them. The industry answers this need with lots of product and innovation, some good, some bad, some basically unnecessary. I've been hiking for my turns well over 20 years and have purchased my share of this stuff. Some I celebrate, some I eventually discard. 

One item I have no use for are tail hooks. I look at them simply as excuses for people to ignore their skin glue for as long as possible. And why not? Hooks cover a whole host of ills. But after watching partners blow their shoulders apart trying to separate skins that have glue on them well past it's prime, I feel compelled to share another way.

Now, I will admit that tail hooks add a level of security when conditions suck. I will also argue that most of this suckiness is self-imposed. Lack of glue maintenance and lack of care while skiing are the typical culprits in skin failure. Aside from a brief stint with hooks on a pair of Verdicts a few years ago, I have never used them and have never had a significant skin failure while skiing.

So, why don't I use them? Bulk, weight, simplicity and convenience. It's just that simple. You all know I'm one those light weight freaks. Hooks and related hardware are heavy. Remember this photo?This stuff was cleaved off the previously mentioned Verdict skins. Fatter skins will yield even more heft. 

Ripping skins from the front via a skimo race bungee set-up is faster and easier. All that yoga-like gymnastic maneuvering to pull from the back of the ski is kinda awkward. I also carry my skins in my jacket so having shorter, less bulky skins makes sense.

But all these benefits require some investment in skin maintenance. Done regularly, maybe twice a season, it's not that big of a deal. Put off for a few seasons and the job gets bigger but, once done, you are back on track.

Getting skin glue off and down to fresh canvas has been covered elsewhere. It's messy and time consuming. With old, neglected skins, it's necessary but I prefer doing little jobs along the way which often eliminate the need for a full strip down. 

Skin failure typically occurs at the tail, hence the hook fetish preferred by many. The glue fails here primarily because we contaminate the glue every time we put on the skins. I put mine on before leaving the house and try to do so with gloves on. This keeps oil from hands off the glue. When I rip the skin at the top of climbs, I take a moment to clean any loose snow from the tip of the skin where the tail will meet after folding and off the tail if some has sneaked under while climbing. 

Eventually, however, the glue needs to be touched up. This is the twice seasonal maintenance I refer to. I usually do a few inches of the tip and about 8 inches of the tail.

One or two passes with newspaper and a hot iron remove bad glue, old wax and other contaminants. Sometimes, this is enough. Just freshen it up. Skins from Black Diamond come with thick glue out of the box and are amenable to this technique. Euro brands seem to have less glue and most of us feel that the glue is not as good as BD's Gold Label.

So, I take them down a layer or two and apply a single, thin layer of Gold Label. I try to let this cure at least 24 hours, 48 is better. This takes less than 20 minutes for the pair and I'm good for a few months of daily skiing.I know, I know, some of you will scoff at the hassle and continue to use the gloppy, balled-up skins you've been using for years. The transition to hateful skins is slow and most skiers fail to notice until they have to start asking friends for help separating their skins. This is the "rock bottom" alcoholics refer to when they realize they have a problem. Don't' be that guy. - Brian

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Reader Comments (2)

ever tried recharging gooey, old glue by ironing over it with parchment paper, or ideally the backing paper the skins came with?

rumors are that it removes water that has become embedded in the glue. it also smooths it out. you can also use the corner of the iron directly on the glue to smear it around if you have some spots where the glue has peeled off.

i've seen skin glue fail in the front part of the skin a lot when snow creeps in between the ski and skin, especially on skis with more shape to them or with early rise/rocker tips, when you are plowing through soft snow for a long time.

how you finish-cut the longer skin tips can make a difference.

November 27, 2011 | Unregistered Commenterrandosteve

Great post Brian.
I appreciate the labor of love that you have put into keeping the blog going. I have really benefited from your insight on training, rest, and equipment. I am a newbie skimo racer and looking for as much guidance as possible.


What are your thoughts on total length of the skin? Do you like to trim it back a few cm from the tail? The Dynafit speedskins run the length of the ski and have that little metal hook...do you trim all this stuff off

November 28, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterTyler B

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