It is now year two for Clip Skins, the climbing skin that you can attach to your ski without glue. No glue to go bad over time, or get contaminated if you drop them in the dirt, or the need for Herculean strength to pull them apart after storing glue-to-glue, or the hassle of trying to apply that stupid skin-saver netting on top of a windy ridge.The question of whether or not they work has been fairly well documented here and elsewhere (see below). My two biggest concerns when I first tried them were that they wouldn’t edge very well and snow would creep in between the skin backing and the base of the ski.
Within the context of a half dozen short day tours with the beta version those problems never occurred. So I took a calculated risk and fabbed a pair the night before a six day crossing of the Sierra High Route, West to East. It was that or reglue my fave pair of Glidelite skins that began showing symptoms of a malignant glue cancer only a week after posting a favorable review.
Some Assembly Required
Nothing is perfect and the biggest con to these skins is preparing them for your skis, but it is way easier than striping and regluing skins. Kaj Gyr, the genius behind Clip Skins has made significant improvements to the process of trimming and attaching the clips for a particular pair of skis. It is still a tedious procedure, but one that will deliver excellent results as long as you are careful to pay attention to the details, especially those which are shown but not belabored on his video tutorial.
By it’s very nature the tutorial shows the correct way to trim and attach the clips but it also shows the procedure without any mistakes. If you are as practiced as Kaj is with preparing Clip Skins you can prepare a pair in just twice the time it takes to watch the video. However, if you’ve never done this before it will still take you at least two hours, probably more.
If this concept of glueless climbing skins catches on it will be because a ski manufacturer recognizes the added value a pair of pre-trimmed, glueless skins could add to a backcountry ski package. In that case, it would be worthwhile to weld the clips and tail hook to the skin, yielding a perfect trim-to-fit shape with tight tolerances.
Do the clips work?
Absolutely! On a six day, 58 mile traverse of the Sierra Nevada they never once let go, even while traversing some pretty steep slopes.
Does snow creep in between the skin and your ski?
Yes it does. In six days of breaking trail in light and sticky powder (multiple separate trips from the SHR referenced above) the most snow that ever crept in was in thin, 1mm thick patches near the tip and tail.
It is worth noting that at the tips and tails the tension on the clips remained taut, while underfoot the clips lost some of their tension. Not enough to let go, but enough to see an increase in the available gap between skin and ski. Yet the snow manage to creep in at the tip and tail, but not underfoot.This suggests that the increased pressure underfoot squeezed the snow out, but also caused the skin material to stretch. This experience of the skin stretching and the clip tension relaxing is echoed in other user experiences.
Over the course of skinning up three-thousand vert in spring conditions, five days in a row on the SHR, the amount of snow that occasionally crept in was definitely more, around 2-3mm near the tips, but never to the point that it affected climbing grip.
It is worth noting that a new tail hook has been developed for twin-tip skis.
Did the clips prevent holding an edge on an icy traverse?
Never. While traversing a 38°, frozen glazed slope the skins held as well as any glued skin. My concern quickly ceased to be whether the clips would prevent holding an edge and concentrated on the skins simply holding a grip on glazed snow with minimal surface contact. Having over 25 years experience in combat skinning didn’t hurt, and the plush delivered solid grip.How steep do they hold?
In a competitive skin contest with my buddy Geoff Clarke the skins never let go. It was excellent, grippy corn snow that afternoon and I made the mistake of starting out the ascent in neanderthal mode because the grip was so good and I could. That turned into a friendly contest of “how steep can you go” track setting on a 1500 foot climb with several climbing pitches in the sustained 28° range, and a few moves above 30°, just to prove we could. Average track pitch was about 22°. The Wasangeles and Tahoe crowds would feel right at home.
Glide was as good as I’ve ever experienced with a nylon skin. Part of the reason is the fibers on this plush are woven in such a way that they lay flat. Some manufacturers use a weave where the fibers stick straight up from the backing material, requiring them to be ironed flat. It should be intuitive this reduces glide. Not so with Clip-Skins. They allowed momentum to perpetuate on a gliding downhill, and let you slide on the stride. The clips didn’t appear to have any effect on glide either.
Taking them on and off is a snap, all puns intended. If you abandoned the concept of removing your skins with your skis on because the glue is so strong that you simply can’t do this maneuver, you’ll love how easy Clip-Skins pop off. Unsnap the tail and flick your wrist away from the tail and the clips will unzip to the tip of the ski. It’s too easy.
What remains not-so-easy is trimming the skins and attaching the clips. Each pair of skins must be custom trimmed and built to your pair of skis. This means they only work for one pair of skis.
This level of required preparation is enough to dissuade most backcountry skiers, at least until this concept is accepted on a greater level. For those who understand the limitations and compromises required of glued skins, it is not so much a compromise as a worthy investment for a pair of lighter, low maintenance, good climbing, good gliding, longer lasting climbing skins.
Overall I’m impressed. It is time to prep a pair for Deb. They’re certainly strong enough, reliable enough, and deliver great grip and glide without the hassles of glue. I know she’ll appreciate how clean the system is to use, and how forgiving. Glued skins require proper maintenance. Clip-Skins need configuring, but not the constant attention to careful handling.