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Oct 31 2011

Review: Clip-Skins (look Ma’, no glue!)

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.

No need to worry about dropping these skins in the snow, dirt, pine needles, or on a hot dashboard.

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.

 

Field Performance

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.

Tension on the clips may relax over time underfoot, but not enough to come off.

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 can Clip Skins hold? How steep do ya wanna go? Geoff Clarke matches the pace with an easy 22° ascent, then ups the ante. Neither Clip Skins, nor their driver, ever waivered.

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.

Clip-Skins
MSRP: $170
Weight:
Preparation time: ~ 2-3 hours

Other Clip Skin Reviews
:
Beta Version – EarnYourTurns.com
WildSnow.com
TelemarkTips.com
BackcountryMagazine.com.

© 2011

 

  • snowy

    Great review Craig. I was reading with a list of things in mind and you touched on almost everything. Very intriguing stuff.

    One thing left blank was weight. You say light but left the line blank. How many grams are these things in the end? And how do they stack up with other popular skins?

    I’m also curious about how delicate you need to be with them. Glue sucks, but you don’t have to worry about crushing it. Those little tabs look like they could get bent if they got squashed in a pack or hit a rock while on skis. Any thoughts there?

    Thanks,
    Joe

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    That’s a great question. I left the weight blank because it is so dependent upon the size of ski they are mated to. However, here’s a quick comparison that may suggest Clip Skins are not necessarily lighter.

    Weight = 10¼ oz. (295 g)/ single Clip-Skin (RT-86, 180cm long)
    VS
    Weight = 9¼ oz. (260 g)/ single Pomoca glued skin w/K2 tip & tail (similar trim dimensions)

    There are a lot of variables so it is hard to say if it is actually heavier, but it doesn’t look like it is lighter.

    Re: Durability of the Clips
    The clips are made of spring steel. Very tough and not easily bent. I suspect that you’re more likely to tear them from the backing material than ever bend them which might occur if you nick a rock while descending…but you could shred the skin plush in the same conditions so that’s not necessarily a flaw with the product as bad luck. As for bending ‘em in your pack…hats off to ya if you pull that one off.

  • snowy

    Thanks. And those clips…?

    On a scale of ‘fragile as eggs’ to ‘hard as Lou’s resolve against tele?’

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    About as hard as Lou Dawson’s resolve not to tele. ;)

    I’m pretty certain Lou has no axe to grind with tele as a discipline of backcountry skiing (except in jest), but I do know he has zero interest in making a telemark turn or using that sort of gear for himself.

  • snowy

    I think you put it better than I did. I’m a big Lou fan and his work certainly informs all the down hill arts.

  • http://www.thompsonpass.com Valdez Telehead

    The method for trimming skins shown by Kaj in the video is very good. He aligns the skin edge and then holds it in place with clamps for a perfect knife trim. Better than BD’s directions.
    After that, things get intense as any mistake would be an issue. The video helped me understand the process and I could nail it.

    It’s a good idea for most backcountry applications, but I like recycling skins to my next set of new skis.

  • wilcox510

    Off topic, but has anyone tried the BCA Magic Carpet skins? I heard a rumor that they might just be Climbing Skins Direct skins, anyone know?

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    I do have a pair waiting to begin testing. Once I have 3-4 tours on them I’ll post a report on out-of-the-box performance. One thing that jumps out immediately compared to the old skins is that the plush lays flatter than the old BCA skins. That IS a feature of Climbing Skins Direct which comes from the design of the fibers on the classic purple plush Ascension skins. And BCA did change their source vendor for skins last year, so you may be on to something there.

  • wilcox510

    While on that topic…. Do you think the CSD skins climb as well as the orange Ascensions? I hear people complaining about the CSD glue, any thoughts?

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    I believe the Ascensions might hold a little bit steeper than CSD’s, but for normal skin tracks (in the 20°-25° incline range) there is no discernable difference.

    Heard about bad batches of glue with CSD two years ago. That’s why K2 dropped them as their OEM source for K2 skins. K2 is now using Pomoca as their source. Pomoca has good grip, but glide is inferior to CSD, CollTex or GlideLite (now mohair). The lack of glide is what makes me think the old Low-Fat skins from BCA were sourced by Pomoca. ’tis a moot point now.