Jan 07 2013

Review: Skin Glue Confessions

Over the past three years I’ve had the opportunity to use two versions of BD Ascensions (Nylon), G3′s Alpinist (nylon), BCA’s Magic Carpet skins (nylon), GlideLite (nylon), Gecko (mohair), Clip-Skins (synthetic), Colltex (65/35 nylon/mohair), Pomoca (nylon), K2 (nylon), and La Sportiva (nylon). All were new within the last 3 years. Plus I’ve mixed in old skins from the same companies so I have a lot of years observing various versions of glue. Here’s my notes on the relative differences between the glues.

Heading up on the heels of a fresh storm, thanks to gumption,
free heels and climbing skins with good glue.

During the past decade I’ve developed a preference for European glues. They do not always inspire as much confidence out of the box as glues from North American companies like Ascension, Glide-Lite, BCA, G3, or Climbing Skins Direct. However, over time my experience with Pomoca and Colltex is their glues get better, or simply decay slower. They do lose a bit of tackiness over the first ten days, and then they seem to just hang on to it. I have a pair of Colltex mohair skins that are 8 years old and the glue is still excellent. Admittedly the Euro glues don’t always get better. Sometimes they just wither and dry up, steadily losing their tackiness. When they wither, the change in tackiness is slow, but relentless. That’s the minority case though.

An old pair of Expedition skins gets frosted on the edges of the glue.

Another part that I like about the Euro glues is that they are tacky, but not too tacky. This makes them much easier to manage, whether peeling them apart, ripping from your skis, or folding ‘em up for storage. It’s hard to rip the hide quickly when you have to fight the glue to let go of your skis, let alone glue-to-glue.

For skins less than 90mm wide you don’t even need those stupid mesh strips that come standard with wide skins. Above 100mm it is hard to avoid the need to reduce stickiness when storing glue-to-glue.

By comparison, most of the American glues tend to hold on to their excessive tackiness for longer, then suddenly go slimey after 5 or 6 years, even with cool storage over the summer. Usually it is sooner. Depending on how warm they get when you store them, much sooner.

Climbing Skins direct had batch issues in recent years, yet I had a pair from 2003 that lasted a solid 5 years before gooing out. G3 skins definitely get gooey, but it is a slower process — a pair of gray Expedition skins didn’t become unbearable until after 6 years. For my taste G3 glue is too sticky but that can be a good thing in very cold temperatures. In spite of a obvious tackiness, snow regularly creeps in on the edges, even with a one year old pair of Alpinist skins.

Total skin glue failure. Yes, the glue failed, but only because the bungeed tip popped off.

Can you replace the glue? Absotively. Do I recommend it? Only if you’re bored, broke, or both. It’s a messy, toxic process I can’t recommend, but it can yield new life to old skins. Once armed with the knowledge of how to do it, your skins could theoretically last a few decades – provided your taste in skis remains constant.

Black Diamond modified their glue for this season and the glue appears to fit the hype. It is clearly easier to manage out of the box. After a year in various tracks and stored cool over the summer the glue has mellowed to a tackiness that lacks inspiration and perhaps confidence, but it does hold on once applied. I did have snow creep in one time but have learned that simply rubbing the skin by hand to create a temporary pressure bond helps seal the skin to the base. And when it’s time to rip the hide, they won’t separate your shoulder in the process. It remains to be seen if it ages equal to or better than Colltex, my reigning fave.

One year old glue from Ascension appears subject to snow creep. I must’ve been careless.
Next lap I rubbed the skin flat onto the ski base and it held well, although without an STS tail kit it would not have.

There is another new formulation to consider: the silicone based glues that are now coming from Europe. Colltex tried this concept 5 years ago but their formula didn’t allow storing the skins glue to glue, but required that stupid skin saver mesh.

Gecko is offering a version that works superbly when it works, but apparently has some quality control issues to overcome (don’t they all?) before they can be given a strong vote of confidence. The pair that I’ve been testing for a year now worked flawlessly until the last two tours when they started to leave a bit of residue on the ski bases. Although the tail strap it came with was quickly cut from the team and put in the trash the adhesion of the glue has been superb until just recently. I’ve been able to jam the tail of one ski under the other when switchbacking without the tail even hinting of separating from the base. Last time it started to though, so it may be time to add an STS tail. Others have had the glue blister and fall off in chunks. However, when it works, this glue is a dream, especially for fatties. The tackiness resembles a dried out climbing skin, only with a moist, rubbery feel. It just doesn’t stick that strongly to the touch. However, when under pressure it forms a seal and snow doesn’t creep in on the sides like it can do with “traditional” adhesives.

Dostie field testing a mismatched pair of skins.

Keep in mind that I’m pretty fastidious about caring for my skins and your results will vary depending on how well you take care of them. By and large I’ve found that if I store my skins cool and dry, the glue lasts longer. If I let them get warm, the glue begins to either dry out, or turn slimy. Either way, at that point they’re headed for the replacement rack.

Oh, lest I forget, I decided to resurrect an old pair of original Ascension purple plush formula that only Paul Hebert, the founder, knew how to create. I think his magic potion was to steep the sticky broth in ganja smoke and no one has been willing or able to add the magic ingredient to make it work so well and last so long. After 14 years even that old glue is finally starting to show some aging, but they still hold as good as my Colltex or G3 skins do. Although they still work great I must admit they would be too sticky as fat skins.

Actually, my fave skins are Clip-Skins and I would certainly use them more but that would mean another hour long set up process, probably more since just clearing the workbench will take an hour, let alone trimming and gluing the clips on. If I just had one or two pair of skis to go to, that might be done already. As a product tester, I’m constantly switching skis so Clip-Skins just don’t make sense for me. They do for my wife, and they might for you, but not me. Keep in mind, when I was on my own clock and skied across the Sierra I used Clip-Skins – a virgin, unproved pair built the day before the trip and I didn’t regret that decision at all.

Not having to deal with glue is a serious advantage. Not being able to obtain them, or the process of having to build a pair is their Achilles Heel. Hopefully the plans Kaj Gyr has to overcome that will come to fruition, but that will require a bit of faith on the part of a manufacturer to get behind the concept and it will require a massive marketing campaign of eduction to sway opinion and the market isn’t necessarily big enough to justify that sort of investment.

Or is it?

© 2013

  • http://ThompsonPass.Com/ Matt Kinney

    The new Ascension glue is weird but works better than the old glue when it gets wet. Ditto on the need for a tail hook, but it still works  better.   It also doesn’t have the spruce needle magnet chemical or the carpet hair attractants that mucked up my previous Asc. skins.   Since I change ski with skins to fit (1 quiver skier) every two or three season, my skins rarely last long before being relegated to a huge pile of used skins to be use at in some artistic endeavor as yet to be determined.  
    For flailing or failing skins I carry a roll of 1″ athletic cloth tape for quickly wrapping the skin to the ski at the tip, tail and mid-ski forward of the binding.

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