Dysfunctional climbing skins are frustrating at best and can put an early end to a day of backcountry skiing at worst. Fortunately, most climbing skin problems can be overcome in the field or, better yet, avoided through proper care and use. The following climbing skin care tips will help keep your skins doing what they do best – sliding uphill.
1. Dry/clean skin glue is happy skin glue. It’s the most basic rule of climbing skin care, keep the glue side of your climbing skins off of snow, dirt, carpet, hut floors, etc.
2. If your glue becomes covered with snow, you can clean it in the field. The most effective method to clean snow from your skin glue (while in the field) is to run the glue side of the skin across the edge of your ski – Hold one end of the skin in each hand and pull it across the ski edge with the ski standing upright. If the skins are really bad, you’ll need to warm them up by putting them inside your layers – as close to your warm body as you can tolerate. Be sure to let your skins fully dry out overnight (glue and plush sides) after a day of icing problems.
3. Extreme cold requires extra effort to keep climbing skins sticking to your skis. When the temp is consistently below -15 C / 0 F, keep skins warm on the descent by stuffing them between your jacket layers to keep glue working and to reduce ice/snow buildup.
4. Routine maintenance is the key to keeping your skins functioning properly all day long. Normally, it is the tips or tails of the skin that first develop snow buildup. Check your skins during transitions, and clean snow from the glue as needed before the buildup becomes a problem. If the glue becomes iced to the point that the skin fails, scrape snow/ice off as described in tip number two and stuff your skins inside your jacket layers during the descent to help melt any remaining snow/ice as described in tip three.
5. Given significant glue problems, a few wraps of athletic tape or a couple Voile straps can be used to hold the skin against the ski to get you back to the trailhead or hut. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, stuffing skins between jacket layers to warm them up often serves to revive the glue.
6. Dry skin plush is happy skin plush. In wet snow conditions and on warm spring tours, skins can/will absorb water causing snow to clump on the plush. Sticking snow makes for a tough day on the skin track. Treat your skins with skin wax – a skin-specific waterproofing treatment like Black Diamond Glop Stopper, Nikwax Ski Skin Care (apply the night before) or Eco-Wax Skin Wax. We recommend refreshing your skin plush with something like the Nikwax or Eco-Wax product at the start of each season, before the start of a week-long trip, and even daily during the spring season. Treating skins with one of the liquid waxes makes them glide better and saves you energy with every step.
7. If your skins are clumping with snow, use a pocket-sized ski scraper to remove snow and ice. Leave skins attached to ski and scrape from tip to tail with scraper. Don’t be shy, scrape hard to expunge moisture (root of the problem). Once scraped clean, leave your skins exposed to the sun during a snack break to help dry out the moisture that is causing them to ice and collect snow. Apply Glop Stopper if you have some. If not, get some when you return to hut or home. Or apply liquid skin wax before next tour.
8. Always hang and dry climbing skins at the end of a ski day. Just like your clothing layers and boot liners, skins need to be dried out at the end of a day. Be sure to hang them in a dust free area and away from direct heat. Pet hair, pine needles, dirt and hot wood stoves will shorten the life of your skin glue. If drying skins near a direct heat source, take them down as soon as they are dry and put them away. If your skin glue was wet or icing during the day, start them drying with the glue side exposed to the air. But to be safe, do not leave them glue side exposed in high traffic areas or for extended periods of time.
9. Store your skins properly between use. Proper storage between runs means folded glue to glue and tucked into your pack or jacket. For longer term storage – more than a few days – use the “glue saver” sheets that generally come with the skins. The glue saver sheets are unnecessary in the field. Over the summer, store your skins in a cool, dry place away from direct heat.
10. Skins climb best if they run almost edge to edge, called wall-to-wall carpeting. However, it is important to leave at least the width of your edge exposed to allow for edging in firm snow conditions. With today’s wide skis, you can get away with wall-to-wall underfoot and less width in the tip and tail. A general guideline for buying skins is to purchase skins that are approximately 10mm narrower than your tip dimensions. Trim the skins to reveal at least the width of your metal edge, if not twice the width. G3 makes a great trimming tool that sets the ideal margin when trimming skins- check out the G3 Trim Tool at REI