We’ll start this guide off with your holding a brand new pair of climbing skins for your touring skis. You’re excited for your upcoming tour, but in order for you to enjoy your ski skins on as many tours as possible and to ensure that they can do their job, you need to care for them properly.
You may have opted for a ready-made model in the right dimensions for your skis or have chosen skins you need to trim yourself.
For the time being, we will only deal with the current standard of adhesive skins. We will come back to the relatively new, adhesive-free adhesive skins at the end of the article.
Almost all skins are delivered with instructions in the packaging, although these are not always as clear as they could be. When it comes to care products such as waterproofing agents and adhesives, there is sometimes only a tube, spray can or wax bar on the shelf or in the box without any further information beyond the “ingredients list” and toxicity warnings. So it’s high time for an all-in-one overview.
We will follow the typical “life cycle” of the ski skins beginning with the purchasing, then with the preparation before the first tour, the treatment during the tour and we will end with the correct aftercare and storage.
Before the tour
If you will be using newly purchased skins, you may be asking yourself whether you need to do anything before putting on the skin for the first time. The answer is not really. As is the case with most mountain sports equipment, they can be used straight away and there is no need to coat ski skins before the first tour. The material is normally already waterproofed and ready for use at the factory. The glue is also applied at the factory.
However, you should learn to mount and remove the skins before going on your tour. If you haven’t yet mastered different variations in your sleep, you should practice a little at home, ideally on your snow-covered garden rather than in the living room.
In principle, installing the skins is quite simple, provided that the tensioning system supplied fits the existing ski. Depending on the manufacturer, there are brackets, claws, hooks, eyelets, clips and clamps at the ends of the skins. The most common is probably the rectangular clip at the front, with which the skin is placed over the ski tip. Especially with trimmed skins you should look carefully. To be on the safe side with ready-made skins, use skis and skins from the same manufacturer.
Unpacking and putting on skins
Putting on the skins is done before and during the tour. You simply need to attach it to the front, stretch the skin briefly in order to glue it carefully and piece by piece from the front to the back of the ski, clipping it on at the back, and that’s it. The short pre-stretching only serves to glue the skins neatly to the ski; the adhesion of the skins to the ski is not provided by tension, but solely by the adhesive force. Accordingly, new skins are only fixed at the back without creating tension. Sounds quite simple, doesn’t it?
Possible errors when putting on the skins
You can certainly make some mistakes here, especially if you don’t know how to hold the skis or how to handle the protective plastic or mesh skins that come with them. You may also realise at this moment that the best tensioning system is useless if the adhesive side of the skin does not adhere properly..
To try to explain the most skilful postures and hand movements in the right order for this would be rather impractical and would also go beyond the scope of this article. Instead, I have selected a series of videos that, in my opinion, clearly explain all the relevant variations.
Methods of putting on skins
Basically, one can distinguish between these variants according to whether the skis are unbuckled when they are put on or not and whether protective foils or stockings are used or not. There are many various and sometimes even opposing opinions as to which is the best method. It’s important that the skins and especially their adhesive sides get as little dirt and moisture on them as possible. The adhesive should not be “plucked” more brutally than absolutely necessary. If you want to use protective foils, you will need to buy them separately.
- Putting on skins without the protective foil: the first sample video shows you how to put on skins in detail, with good explanations, repeated shots and is a method that is easier in windy and “easy terrain”.
- Putting on skins without the protective foil: the second example video is much shorter and does not have any verbal explanations. It shows an efficient and fluid movement.
- Putting on skins with the protective foil: in the previous videos, the skins are simply glued together, no foil or protective foils are used. There seem to be very few videos for skinning with foil, but here is one.
Without the protective foils, the folded skins have to be pulled apart quite roughly, which is not only more difficult to control, but is not great for the glue in the long run. Many experts therefore advise against folding the skins without a protective cover. However, you may fumble around when using foil in harsher weather conditions, which could be another reason for the imminent breakthrough of adhesive skins. Protective stockings are a good choice for adhesive skins as you will have less problems with sticking and handling in windy and wet conditions.
During the tour
As already mentioned, as little dirt, wax residue or moisture as possible should get on the skins during the tour. So, it’s a good idea to take a dry and clean cotton cloth or towel with you. If the skins have to be put on and taken off several times during a tour, they should be stored as close to the body as possible because of the temperature sensitivity of the glue. The extra-large chest pockets on functional jackets suitable for ski touring are intended for precisely this purpose.
You can protect the skins, adhesive and waterproofing by being careful when you’re on the move. The most important thing is to use the skins exclusively for the surface for which they are intended – i.e. no grass, no soil, no puddles and no slush. This can be quite a challenge in forest or when you are pressed on time or exhausted.
Taking off the skins and packing them away
Sooner or later, the skins will need to be taken off. Usually this is done at the summit, when you are getting ready for the descent. After the tour, you should store them away.
- Taking off skins without foils: this easier method requires you to take off the skis and set them up parallel. The video clearly demonstrates the method.
- Taking off skins with and without foils: the first part of the videos shows you how to take off the skins without protective foils and the second part with foils. The video is in German.
- Taking off the skins without taking off the skis: this method lets you quickly remove the skins.
Note: in all the videos, the skins are always taken out of a jacket pocket or inner pocket, i.e. stored close to the body. Ideally, the skins should also be stored at normal room temperature during overnight stays in huts. However, the temperature should not be too hot, otherwise the glue can melt. Do not place them on the heater or in direct sunlight.
It happens to the best of us: mishaps on tour
Despite all the precautions and prudence, problems can occur in certain conditions. Probably the most common is snow pockets that form under the skin. In rare cases, the skin comes off in individual places or frays at the sides, so that the edges no longer offer a secure grip. You should have a few emergency materials with you and know how to use them.
Mishap 1: clogging / loss of slipperiness
The snow sticks to the skins because their underside absorbs too much moisture. This is not necessarily a “material failure”, but can also happen when you are out in higher temperatures with damp snow and the temperature drops as the altitude rises.
Solution: re-wax or re-coat. The best way to do this is with a wax pencil, although normal ski wax will also work. Before applying the wax, the underside of the skin must be as dry and clean as possible (wipe with a cloth). The wax stick should be pulled quickly and with a little pressure in the sliding direction over the skin to get enough wax into the coat fibres. Then wait a few minutes for the coating to be absorbed. As a preventive measure, it is best to check the waterproofing of the coat surface at home by running a little water over it. If it runs off mainly in small drops, the waterproofing is OK. Otherwise, it should be re-waxed.
Mishap 2: loss of adhesiveness
Moisture, dirt and ageing can cause individual areas of the skin to peel off during the tour. This is very unpleasant in steep terrain.
Solution: If you are lucky, it may be sufficient to remove snow, ice and any dirt from the ski and glued surface. If this does not help, then you can use the liquid or spray glue you packed. If you don’t have any glue or the glue you have doesn’t have enough adhesion, you will have to use strong tape, insulating tape, cable ties or string. As a makeshift solution to finish the tour without an accident, such tinkering is certainly useful. However, you should not expect a great performance. Cable ties can also help with the fortunately rather rare defects of the tensioning mechanisms.
And what do we learn from this? The longer the tour and the larger the group, the more complete the emergency kit of wax, glue, adhesive tape and cable ties should be.
After the tour
After the tour, the logical first step is to clean the skins. Everything that hangs or sticks somewhere should be removed to avoid cracks and holes. The best way to do this is with a dry and clean cotton cloth. For more stubborn residues, you may have to apply more force or be very careful with tweezers or a sharp knife blade. Cleaning agents should only be used if mechanical cleaning is not possible. It is better to try to make the cloth moist first. If the skin manufacturer explicitly recommends certain cleaning agents in the instructions or advises against cleaning with damp cloths, exceptions can be made.
When it comes to drying the skins, the same rules apply as during the tour: if possible, not much warmer or colder than room temperature, otherwise the glue may melt or harden. The cleaned adhesive sides are completely covered with the foils or protective stockings immediately after cleaning.
Sealing and waterproofing
Back home or before your next tour, the waterproofing should be checked with the “water bead test” just mentioned. If the test is negative, you need to re-wax. Spray is recommended here because it penetrates the coat a little better, especially if you brush it on lightly against the grain.
In the course of many tours with many crossings, the edges of the coat, which are sealed when new, can fray. You can try to remove the fringes from the edges of the coat, for example with scissors. The cut surface should then be carefully sealed with a lighter without getting too close to the coat fibres or the glue. To seal, use a small flame on the lighter and move it slowly and carefully along the “open” cut edges of the coat so that all the frayed areas melt together. Always keep just enough distance so that the flame never touches the coat directly!
Now it’s time for storage. The cleaned and, if necessary, waterproofed skins are folded in the middle instead of rolled after the adhesive protection foils have been applied and then folded so that they can be easily packed in the bag. It is not advisable to glue the adhesive surfaces directly to each other, especially if the skins are to be stored for a longer period of time or if they are trimmed skins. To prevent the edges and the glue from drying out, no gluing area should be left uncovered. The skins are stored in a dry place with temperatures around 10-20°C away from light. The packaging should not be completely airtight, otherwise mould may develop in case of residual moisture.
Renewing the adhesive layer
You will often read statements such as “up to 100 tours” or “several seasons”. Without a more precise context, however, this makes little sense, as the length and material stress of tours can vary greatly, and other factors, including the weight of the tour rider, also play a role. Let’s put it this way: a Munich resident who tours the Bavarian mountains every weekend between December and April (if there is enough snow) can get through the season with a glue if it is properly cared for. In any case, it is certain that the glue will wear off and be lost at some point simply by being put on and taken off the skins.
While the glue has stopped working, the adhesive layer and fibres of the skin side are often still in good shape. It would be a waste to replace the skins completely. But replacing the glue is time-consuming, energy-intensive and requires some skills.
This applies to both steps: removing the old glue without leaving any residue and applying the new one evenly. The old glue has to be softened by heating and then peeled off and/or smoothed off. Depending on the method, a more or less extensive arsenal of sometimes modified aids and tools is used. For a first overview, here are two videos showing the two standard methods of gluing:
- Removal and re-coating of the adhesive with linen cloths, iron, steel blade and transfer tape/transfer roller (in German)
- Recoating with glue from the tube (in German)
The videos may make the process look easy, but unless you are a ski touring expert with a well-equipped workshop or have been taught the process in a course, it is better to leave this to a specialist. The time, energy and nerves you save will make up for the costs.