It doesn’t take long before you notice some folks have an easier time dealing with their climbing skins than others. Part of that is knowing the proper care and feeding of your skins. Part is the genetic make up of the skins themselves — the type of plush, the glue, and the tip ‘n’ tail hardware.
By and large the differences in grip and glide between brands, or even various models from the same brand, are pretty minor. Their contrasts are certainly noticeable, but the variation is only significant to experienced users, and usually only over time. They all climb well, with differences in grip apparent only in adverse conditions, or for lack of technique. The distinctions in glide are more readily noticed but rarely appreciated except on long tours with fat skis and extended flat sections or by rando racers.
With glue it seems no one has the recipe perfected. Some batches are better than others, with some brands typically stickier than others, but never forever, and never completely reliably. In addition, a glue that is perfect for spring tours may be inadequate mid-winter, contrarily a glue that is strong enough for severe cold or narrow skis may be so sticky they are difficult to remove from wide skis, especially on warm days and require special handling like the use of a plastic mesh on the glue so the skins can be peeled apart after storing them glue-to-mesh-to-glue since glue-to-glue requires vice grips and unusual strength to separate.
Tip and tail kits on the other hand, are consistent in their performance over time and varying snow conditions regardless of the plush or glue. They make attaching and removing climbing skins easier. The good ones make it noticeably easier AND add security by providing enough tension along the length of the ski to help overcome the limits of weak glue – the bane of modern climbing skins.
Tip ‘n’ Tail Systems: European vs AmericanThere are two basic versions of tip ‘n’ tail systems. The traditional European system, popularized in the Alps, uses a solid, riveted metal tail hook with an elastic tip loop. If you have trouble twisting your leg so you can rip your skins from the tail, this may be the best system for you. Snow doesn’t always, but can bunch up under the rubber piece which increases drag when you’re breaking trail in deep snow. If you’re skinning on the surface of firm snow, there’s no disadvantage. With proper tension on the rubberized tip loop this system provides excellent longitudinal tension.
The biggest problem with this system is the tendency for the tip loops to be relatively small compared to the loops available for skins with an elastic tail. This results in the tip loops being accidentally kicked off. If you have a narrow ski tip, these work great. Dynafit has come up with an elastic tip system that eliminates the drag from the typical rectangular hunk of rubber at the tip, by making it a low surface area cord of rubber that slips into a slot at the tip of the ski. This means they only work with Dynafit skis, but with them it works very well yielding strong tension along the length of the ski. Removal from the tip still requires practice, but yanking the rubber cord from the slot appears easier when watching well practiced rando racers do it.
In North America a solid, non-elastic tip loop with a tensioning tail piece has become the popular choice, largely due to the popularity of telemark bindings (before free pivots were available or their value understood) that made it difficult to yank from the toe, which made peeling from the tail the standard procedure. This system provides elasticity at the tail, where a stretchy skin will need the slack taken up, and they’re easy to remove with your skis on as long as you can kick your tail up behind your shoulder to grab the tail to rip the hide. For some folks, this requires more agility than their joints will allow. In that case, try the Euro system.
Climbing Skin Tips: Loops, hooks & wires
With a solid, non-elastic tip loop at the shovel of your ski the skin plush is the primary source of drag, which is acceptable. How much this drag is enhanced or minimized varies with the actual loop design by manufacturer.
Simple Tip LoopsThe simplest incarnation is to use a solid wire, or a loop of braided wire cable with the skin attached with the skin overlapped around one side, and bonded to itself. This allows the overall length of the skin to be adjusted. The overlap creates a fairly blunt leading edge to the skin which increases drag a bit in deep snow, and provides a place for snow to begin creeping under the skin. The latter phenomenon is only an issue if your skin glue is on the weak side of tackiness. These sorts of tip loops have been around forever, but my favorite incarnation is the flexible, braided cable loop first introduced by G3 in 2002 and still available on their Expedition skins, or nearly every other manufacturer’s economy model.
To reduce drag with a simple D-loop it is better to have it sewn to the leading edge with a piece of durable fabric. The only issue with this method is you’re pretty much stuck with whatever loop you select you why buy it, which is inevitably too small for many ski tips. But it delivers a smooth leading edge. As long as the loop is big enough to not get accidentally kicked off, these are an excellent choice for a tip loop.
Black Diamond’s Adjustable Tip LoopOne of the more ingenious skin tip designs is Black Diamond’s adjustable tip loop. This provides the ability to adjust size – but only once – with the benefits of a flexible tip loop to accommodate odd shapes, and wide ski shovels. There are very few tips that this can’t be made to loop over, and those few probably aren’t good skis for earning turns anyway.
My only issue with it is the time it takes to set up. If you’re having a shop do this for you, by all means, let ‘em do it. Without a bit of practice assembling this loop requires more mechanical ability, or tricks than you are likely to possess the first time you do it. The mechanically inclined may even enjoy the process, and the final result is unquestionably worth some extra effort. It eliminates the bulk of an overlap attachment, for a smooth, low drag leading edge. Since you only get to adjust it once, I’d recommend erring on the side of too wide versus too small.
G3′s Tip HooksG3 came out with a unique take on tip loops a few years back that uses two hooks that swivel and grab your ski tip on either side, making them adaptable to almost any ski tip that isn’t thicker than 8mm. This does eliminate a fair number of modern skis with plastic blobs at the tips, but works with most skis made for backcountry skiing. These hooks attach to a plastic plate that the skin is also bonded to, providing a very thin leading edge. Combined with these low profile hooks there is less drag at the leading edge of G3’s alpinist skins.
Colltex’ Deep Wire LoopAlthough BD’s adjustable tip loop addresses nearly all the limitations of the ubiquitous but popular D-shaped or flexible tip loops, there is a solid wire tip loop made by Colltex that provides the same functionality as BD’s, but with no assembly required. Well, maybe a bit. It does require you to trim the tip of your skin so it fits inside the width of the tip loop. Of necessity this then means that the leading edge of your skin will be overlapped and not as streamlined as a sewn loop, or even G3’s hand hooks. That may make a difference in a rando race, but for everyday turn earning it’s good enough. While it isn’t adjustable, I’ve yet to find a ski tip it won’t work on and if I do, I’ll bet it would be on a ski I’d only use under the lifts. What is it?
There is no obvious model name for it and Colltex hasn’t bothered to respond to my email inquiry, so I’m calling it the Colltex Deep Wire, for how deeply the skin is ‘submerged’ from the ski tip where it attaches to the wire.
It is solid wire tip loop, bend into an asymmetric shape that will accomodate a ski tip with 15mm of thickness, and a deep length to hold the skin at least a full 37mm below the ski tip, a sure cure to prevent it ever getting kicked off. And it’s solid steel; it won’t be wearing through anytime soon. In short, it rocks!
There is one problem with it. Almost nobody carries it and since it isn’t visible online or in the Colltex catalog I can only say good luck finding a pair. Tell ‘em Dostie sent you and reference this webpage. Maybe together we can make ‘em more readily available.
Emergency Tip LoopIt would be irresponsible of me to not include reference to an emergency tip loop — the ubiquitous Voile ski strap. You should always have a spare pair of these in your pack because you just never know. And they’re good for a zillion other things too.
One thing the K2 climbing skin tip and tail kit require is a pair of holes at the tip AND tail of your skis. The easiest way to get this is to simply buy K2 or La Sportiva skis. You can use your existing skis, but that’ll require drilling holes yourself. The pre-installed versions come with metal rings to prevent the hole from reaming out.However you obtain them, the beauty of the K2 system is it presents hardware at the tip of the ski with a very low profile, and thus a lower coefficient of friction, a valuable asset when breaking trail. At the tail, a hook is connected to a rubber strap that doubles back on itself in the hole at the tail, for a very secure connection that allows you to jam the tails of your skis in the snow on a switchback without fear of them prying off. Then, when it’s time to de-skin, the tail provides an easy strap to grab and rip the hide from tail to tip without taking your skis off.
One quirk that is intrinsic to this system is how the tip hook, as loose as it feels when routed through the tip hole, hangs on and won’t let go without being guided back through the hole. Thus, when ripping tail to tip, you can’t expect the skin to fly off at the tip as happens with a tip loop. Instead, you just need to modify your expectations and when you get to the tip, stop pulling on the skin and simply let the tip hook fall through the hole, freeing the skin to then be stored in your pack for the next lap. That trick took me awhile to adapt to.
end update 15apr14
Climbing Skin Tails: solid & elastic tail hooks
It should be stated that with good glue, a tail strap or hook is not necessary. Back in the day when Ascension skins were purple and founder Paul Hebert cooked his glue from a magical recipe that no one, but NO ONE has been able to replicate we didn’t need tail hooks. Even then, however, the magic formula was bound to get contaminated somewhere along the line. So even if you luck out with a good batch of glue on your new skins, eventually you’ll want/need to add a tail. Adding one early just makes you better prepared for the inevitable.
Genuine Guide Gear – Adjustable and Cammed Tail hooksG3’s original, game changing tail used a modified rubber Voile strap that was secured to the tail of your ski with a riveted clamp and a metal clip that was bent around the tail of your ski. To cinch it tight, you just pulled down on the rubber tail to the desired tension. To remove, you grab the rubber tail and yank it back to pop the metal clip off, and then rip the hide. This is a great system except it requires you to set the tension every time you put your skins on. With cammed tail hooks, you set the position of the tab once and just hook it on or take it off.
For next year G3 has revised the metal hook on the tail to eliminate the need to adjust the tension every time you put the skins on (see image of alpinist skins above). Now you can set it for a pair of skis and pretty much forget it. A nice, overdue improvement.
The idea of using camming action to secure skins at the tail was first introduced with Black Diamond’s Clip-Fix tail kit, pioneered by Andrew McLean. Unfortunately the solid metal nature of the Clip-Fix doesn’t allow it to take up very much slack when climbing skins get wet and stretch, which they inevitably do in maritime climates, especially on spring tours. A good idea, but one whose ultimate goal is better achieved by the STS tail kit.
Black Diamond’s STS Tail KitBlack Diamond’s STS tail kit uses the same concept of attaching a Voile strap to the tail, but in this instance the hook is shaped to provide camming action for attaching the hook to the tail of your ski. When properly adjusted the amount of elastic tension is about equal to the length of the metal hook. For most days, even soggy wet spring days you can set the position of the hook on the rubberized tail once for a pair of skis and leave it. I do find that on wet spring tours it is usually worth tightening up the position of the hook a notch or two, but otherwise, I leave it be. Hands down my favorite tail hook and easy to install on any brand of climbing skin.