The Climbing Skins

It’s not easy to find detailed information about climbing skins, and although they seem to be considered as an accessory, in fact they’re a key element in splitboarding. Splitboarders usually spend 4 times as much skinning up than riding down, and a bad skin (not gluing well, glopping or not gliding) can make the uphill very uncomfortable, even impossible.

Indeed, skins are a crucial element in our equipment to be able to progress efficiently and safely on the mountain. The transmission we apply on our edges is inferior to that applied by a skiing boot + binding system, unless you are using AT boots. If you add to that a larger waist width, security can become an issue when progressing on hard snow. This is why choosing the adequate skin for the specific terrain and snow conditions you are touring on is really important.

climbing skins

But, what are skins made of? A skin is a velvet that is woven in a special way, so that the hairs are oriented: they have a glide and a grip direction. This velvet goes through several treatments, as colouring, hair aligning and specially waterproofing, which will avoid the glopping (snow sticking on the board base).

Once the velvet is treated, it needs a lining, which is a water-resistant layer that will separate the velvet (or plush) from the glue, in order to keep the glue as dry as possible. On top of the lining there is the glue, which has to work as good as possible in wet and cold environments, and that is not obvious at all.

The quality of a skin therefore depends on several features:

The weaving technique (length and density of hair, binding knots, etc.): this may influence in the glide/grip performance.

There are usually 3 different options regarding the quality of the hair: 100% nylon, blend (70% mohair/30% nylon) or 100% mohair, which is the wool of the Angora goat. This influences the glide/grip (the more mohair in it, the better it glides, especially in cold temperatures), but it also affects the glopping (mohair has natural fat, which naturally avoids the glopping better than nylon skins).

Waterproofing treatments are the major influencer to avoid glopping. A good treatment will prevent the snow/ice from sticking on the skin better and longer. It can also influence the glide, since waterproof products are not so far from waxes in their chemical behaviour.

climbing skins

The lining/glue: a good lining will make the skin more tear resistant, as well as more water-resistant. If the lining is 100% waterproof, as it happens with rubber membrane skins (instead of the classical textile lining), the glue has a better dry surface to work on, thus it can perform better thanks to the low humidity. Don’t be fooled by the sticky feeling of a skin when gluing it to the board for the first time. All skins perform well when they’re brand new, and the one performing better will not necessarily remain the best after having glued the skins on and off 4-5 times on a cold and humid day. Choosing the right skin is a difficult and wide choice. There are about 9 manufacturers in the world, and at least 5 of them make splitboard skins. Board brands such as K2 Snowboards, Jones Snowboards, etc. produce their skins with one of these manufacturers. To feel the quality of a skin, you should use it for several days in different conditions. For instance, glopping only becomes evident in spring; it’s hard to appreciate the difference in winter.

Here are some basic tips:

  • If your board brand also proposes a skin, it’s probably your best choice, since the skin is already trimmed to the board, its attachment systems are adapted to it and it is 100% ready to use. And you have the warranty of the broad brand.
  • Unless you’re on a minimum budget, avoid 100% nylon skins. You might not be pleased with their bad gliding performance. Think that between the best and the worst gliding skins, you can save up to 125 Kcal/h, which is quite a lot. Learn to
    glide and enjoy the climb with fast skins.
  • Choosing well known skins brands  is always a sure bet.
  • Try to gather information about the different skins through friends, forums, product tests, etc. before buying. Don’t just rely on a single source of information. Skins are complex products and it’s better to get at least 2-3 different opinions before purchasing them.