Think of them as tread for your skis; climbing skins are adhesive-backed pieces of fabric that attach to your ski tips and tails and stick to your ski bases. They allow you to ascend snowy terrain quickly and gracefully. Held on by a combination of glue and mechanical hardware, they have tiny fibers pointing rearward to prevent sliding backward while allowing you to glide forward. Picture a dog’s fur that can only be stroked one way smoothly but stands up when you run your hand the other way.
With the right snow conditions and technique, properly prepared skins will get you up most slopes in the backcountry and open up a new world of skiable terrain.
Things to consider:
Back in the day, skins were actually made of seal skin (hence the name) but now are composed of nylon, mohair (a natural fiber from Angora goats, not “mo”s), or a mixture of the two.
The differences are subtle, and once you learn basic skinning technique, you’ll be able to make any of them work in most conditions. If in doubt, it’s safer to err on the side of more grip – you might be slightly slower, but you’ll still get there.
There are many styles of tip and tail hardware. Some skins include hardware that adapts to fit a variety of tip and tail shapes, while other brands (K2 for example) come with hardware that is designed to fit only their own skis. Some people use a stretchy tip attachment with no tail hardware at all - this is common in Europe and with randonnée racers (think people wearing Spandex). For general touring (Spandex optional) we recommend tail hardware of some kind - it can save your day if your skin glue fails.
It’s important to pick the right width, which is listed in millimeters in the product description.
To go full coverage (wall-to-wall), find the widest part of your skis - usually this is at the tip - then subtract 5-6 millimeters to arrive at the desired skin width. If the width isn't printed on the ski, measure with a ruler or calipers. Your goal is to cover all of the plastic base material on the bottom of your skis, but leave the metal edges bare. This gives you maximum grip going uphill, but still lets you to edge on hard snow.
Example: You have 185 cm length Blizzard Zero G 108 skis with dimensions of 136-108-122 mm and you want to use G3 Alpinist Climbing Skins. You’d pick the 180-190 cm length and the 130 mm width. When trimmed, this will give you complete coverage over the entire base of the ski. If your skis are between sizes or you can't locate the ideal width skin, it's usually fine to go down a size, but make sure you have enough skin width to completely cover your ski bases leaving about 2 mm to expose the edges from just in front of your toepiece to about a foot or so behind your heel - this is where the majority of your traction comes from when you're ascending. More ski base exposed at the tips and tails won't affect grip very much but bare base material underfoot definitely will. This is especially true for skis with a lot of rocker in the tips and tails, where the majority of the contact with the snow will occur underfoot.
Some people, mostly rando racers, choose a straight skin when they are worried more about speed than grip. Find the width that comes closest to matching the waist dimension of your ski without covering the edges – this will leave some base showing at both the tip and tail of the ski.
Some skins are cut to a specific length, but require that you trim the sides to match your skis’ sidecut. Skins that are pre-cut to length will often have tip and tail hardware already installed, which can save you some time. If not, you will normally have to cut the skin to the proper length and attach either the tip or tail hardware before you trim the width.
Custom cutting your own skins is easy, just take your time and read the instructions. A cutter is almost always provided in the box with the basic directions. A single-edged razor blade also works well.
Learn how to cut your climbing skins with our How to Trim / Cut Ski Climbing Skins guide.
A number of manufacturers make pre-cut skins with hardware to match their own skis - if you choose this option, simply make sure you order the right model and length. Many Dynafit and some K2 skis offer a skin that is pre-cut to fit each model exactly.
Skin maintenance is simple:
Storing your skins properly will add to their longevity.
There are commercial rub-on and spray products (like Nikwax Ski Skin Proof) that are meant to keep snow from sticking to the bottom of your skins, and which are best applied while the skins are warm and dry. Use these products at home, before you leave on your trip. Experienced backcountry skiers and rando racers often hot wax and brush their skins much like waxing their skis.
Think seriously about a set of ski crampons, too – they’re sort of an insurance policy for icy and crusty conditions. Ski crampons are aluminum devices with teeth like a rake that attach to your touring bindings (or sometimes directly to your ski) and give you grip on icy sidehills when the combination of skins and ski edges won't hold. Ski crampons are specific to each brand of binding and must fit the width of the ski you intend to use.
We recommend that backcountry travelers take an AIARE Level One class or equivalent and practice the skills they learn there regularly with their partners. Here are some great resources for avalanche safety education:
— American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education
— American Avalanche Association
— Northwest Weather and Avalanche Center
You should carry an avalanche beacon, shovel and probe when travelling in avalanche terrain and know how to use them. Backcountry travel requires an acceptance of the risks involved (avalanches are not the only danger) and implies a willingness to take responsibility for educating oneself about these dangers and ways to mitigate them.
This is evo. We are a ski, snowboard, wake, skate, bike, surf and clothing online retailer with physical stores in Seattle and Portland. Our goal is to provide you with great information to make your purchase easy.
Still have questions? Please give our customer care team a call at 866-386-1590, Customer Care Hours. They can help you find the right skis to fit your needs.