When it comes to backcountry ski gear, climbing skins might be the the least exciting things to buy. But think of them as unsung heroes. They don't look sexy, but hell, if they get gunked up with snow or don't stick, they'll ruin your day. A little care in choosing the right kind and maintaining them can go a long way.
This season, Black Diamond debuted a snazzy new line of climbing skins, including lightweight mohair, mohair-synthetic blends, and split skins, which are designed to lighten the load on fatter powder boards. I spoke with Tor Brown, the product line manager for ski accessories for Black Diamond, for a few quick tips. Here's the word:
1. Pick out the right skin. If you have skis wider than 115 underfoot, consider the split skins, which consist of two narrower strips of skin, making them lighter. What's good about the mohair is it's lighter weight than nylon and it packs down quite a bit smaller. They fit in your jacket pocket. Mohair is really good in that it has a natural oil that has its own water repellency. They also glide really well, and the hollow-core fiber isn't as susceptible to getting rigid in cold temperatures. Nylon climbs steep slopes a touch better, so go with those when you're climbing steeper stuff on day tours. The mohair blend is the best of all worlds. It climbs really close to nylon but is lighter and glides better. It's also a little more durable than pure mohair.
2. Use Glop Stopper Wax with the nylon skins in wet, humid spring conditions to prevent the wet snow from sticking. There's mixed debate on whether you need it on mohair, which has a denser weave of fiber and doesn't glop up as badly.
3. Dry them well and keep them clean. I usually just peel the whole skin open and hang it up on a closet door so that both sides dry. The glue side gets saturated with water as well, so it's good to open them all up. Be careful not to get them too dirty. Keeping the glue clean is probably one of the biggest maintenaince things. You're just taking away the stickiness with all the dog fur and dirt.
4. Re-waterproof them. Skins are DWR-coated, and DWR is activated with heat. One thing you can do if your skins are losing their water repellency is to heat them up. Just run a really cool iron over them, keeping the iron moving quickly so you don't melt them. Keep the iron away from the glue side. Just one pass-over quickly can help reactivate the DWR.
5. Store them properly over the summer. I don't use skin savers while skiing, but I may put one in there to make it easier to pull them apart in the fall. Over that long of a time, the glue has a tendency to build up the bond and stick. The skin savers help preserve the glue. Also, keep them out of sunlight and in a dry place.