Ski touring has undoubtedly benefited from the trickle down effect from downhill skiing. These days you would be hard-pressed to find touring skis that are not shaped. New, larger designs make skiing in difficult conditions much easier and have undoubtedly contributed to the boom in backcountry skiing. However there is a price to pay when climbing. To climb slopes ski tourers fix “skins” to the bottom of their skis. Made from either Mohair, Mohair/Nylon mix or Nylon these skins have glue on one side that sticks to the base of the ski and fine bristles on the other that grip the surface of the snow. Skins enable skiers to climb slopes up to 30 degrees, steeper pitches can be tackled in a series of traverses.
Black Diamond G3 Climbing Skins
As ski mountaineers moved to shaped skis they noticed some disagreeable tendencies when traversing. The spatula and tail of the ski were not covered with the climbing skin to the edge but when traversing on shaped skis these are exactly the parts that are in most contact with the snow. As a result the skis would either slide away down the slope or slip backwards. In the worst case this could be downright dangerous.
The solution seems to be a skin shaped for the ski. For some of the more popular touring skis, the Dynastar 4x4 for example, manufacturers produced special tailor made skins. But for the vast majority of skis it was too expensive to make many limited runs of climbing skins, instead manufacturers started producing ultra wide skins that could be cut to shape, either in the shop or at home.
The main disadvantage of these oversized skins is price. The Black Diamond/Ascension G3 skin is one of the most reasonable with a street price of around 120 € or 135 € with tail clips. It is possible to get the shop to cut your skins, as long as they have your skis and you can expect to pay around 20 Euros for this service.
Climbing Skin Ready for Trimming
However doing it yourself is not that hard. Mount the skin on the ski, making sure that any kinks from packing are smoothed out. The skin should be mounted offset by a couple of millimeters. Throw away any cutter supplied with your skins and instead use a large DIY/craft knife with a fresh blade to cut the excess material from the wider edge. You can do this by lying the ski skin down on a wood surface (not the parquet floor in your house!) or by just cutting down the ski with the ski vertical. With a sharp knife the skin is not difficult to cut. Now move the skin sideways 3-4 mm and trim the other side. The aim is to have a shaped skin that finishes around 1mm away from the inside metal edge. This will allow edges to bite when traversing and will help prevent wear and fraying.
Carefully Trimming the Skin
How you finish off the tail depends on whether you have tail clips. If not you probably want to cut straight across the ski about 10cm from the tail. If you leave the tail too close to the end of the ski it will not stick properly. Electrician’s or Duct tape is a good backup system if your tails become unstuck during a ski tour.
The Finished Skin
Fixing G3 tail clips is a moderately fiddly process as they are held on by rivets. You need to make sure the skin is cut to the correct length. Then cut a small rectangled recess for the red rubber strap and drill three holes to take the rivets. It is then a question of hitting the rivets to secure the fixing plate. The strap is an advantage but unless you get it very tight it will often come lose after 1500 meters of climbing – especially if the skis get knocked together making conversion type turns.
Mohair climbing skins have the best sliding capabilities but as a consequence do not grip as well, they also wear quickly and are expensive. Some ski mountaineers keep a pair of Mohair skins for routes that have long, flattish sections. Pure nylon skins last well but are more tiring to climb with. Nylon/Mohair mix probably presents the best compromise for the majority of ski tourers.
Our G3 skins worked flawlessly for their 10,000 meter test with no wear. Black diamond use a special glue that is guaranteed for 3 years. It sticks well but you must remember to dry skins if you are doing a multi-day tour.