First, a brief history: Ski Touring Skins got their name from the sealskins originally used to aid in ski travel across great distances, over mountain ranges, across narrow passages, and through heavily wooded areas with little or no slope. The end. See? Super brief. Nowadays touring skins are made of mohair or nylon and no seals are harmed in the creation of these skins. Technology has come along way and even though skins are one of the least sexy pieces of touring equipment, they have seen a few revamps over the decades.
Touring skins are long pieces of fabric with a sticky adhesive backing that holds securely to the base of your skis or splitboard, along with tail and tip clips for added security when skiing uphill or “climbing” ridgelines outside boundary lines. When the ski moves against the direction of the fibers (uphill travel) the fibers hold you in place on the mountain but, move in the direction of the fibers and you will glide as if cross-country skiing. Once at the summit, skins are then removed, folded, and packed away before descending downhill.
Option 1: Mohair
Mohair skins are made with 100% Angora goat hair and because of this they wear out much more quickly than fully synthetic, or mohair-mix skins. Mohair is mainly sought after by ski mountaineers and multi-day backcountry tours for its extreme lightweight and packing capabilities. So if you’re the backcountry guru, ski mountaineer, performance junkie or a self proclaimed ‘weight weenie’, then mohair skins are the choice for you.
Option 2: Nylon
Nylon skins provide serious durability and grip for the uphill battle thanks to their synthetic makeup. They don’t, however, provide much glide which can be frustrating as you find yourself on long flat sections. Nylon is great for riders who are just starting to get into backcountry travel, folks who are rough on their gear, or adrenaline junkies who primarily ski steep slopes.
Option 3: Nylon/Mohair Blend
A blend of about 30% Nylon and 70% Mohair provides an energy saving glide while also delivering real grip for steeper climbs. This blend option is a popular option among backcountry skis for its combo of performance, durability, and ability to hang in a wide variety of conditions.
The differences between these three options are subtle and as you gain experience with the sport you’ll learn your personal groove and preference. Our advice; if you're just starting out, focus on grip and don't stress the speed of the glide.
Now that you have your skin preference selected, it’s time to decide on width and length.
When selecting a width, it is crucial to select the size (listed in millimeters) that will cover as much of your ski or snowboard base as possible. It’s not necessary to completely cover the tip and tail of the ski with the skin, but try to find a skin that will cover as much of the length as possible. For example, a ski that is 178cm long should choose a skin size that fits 178cm+ lengths, as it is not recommended to size skins down.
Because there is such a wide variety of ski shapes, you’ll find the same rings true for skin options and skin hardware. Some skin brands have hardware designed to fit a wide range of tips and tails whereas others are specifically designed by a single brand to only work with their skis (we’re looking at you K2 and La Sportiva). If you have specific questions about a ski/skin combination we suggest reaching out to the manufacturer to double check before purchasing.
To maintain glue tack and longevity of your skins’ life, cheat sheets are a viable option. Cheat sheets, or skin savers, are mesh plastic strips that are placed between the glue surfaces of the skins before they are folded onto one another and packed away in their storage bag while not in use. Even between tours, we’d recommend anytime you are more than 3 days between tour missions that skins be placed back into the original storage bag that came with your purchase so as to ensure no dust particles can find a new home. Because cheat sheets are best used for long term storage, it is not recommended they find a place in your daily tour pack. The added time of transitioning and the possibility of losing a sheet while on a windy ridgeline aren’t worth the effort. It is absolutely acceptable to fold your skins glue-to-glue when touring, even for short term shortage and stash them in your pack or jacket for the ride down. However, we have witnessed buddies with new and insanely sticky skins that use their entire body weight to pull apart the skins before attaching to their skis turn to using cheat sheets to save themselves from an unnecessary battle. We’ve also been known to slap a little bit of cold clean snow on the base of our skins before storage. It keeps them from becoming aggressively stuck together and melts away promptly when you get off the mountain!
Pro Care Tip
If your skins get soaked from a day of riding, it's a good idea to let them dry out on a flat surface without sticking the glue surfaces together. An ideal space would be somewhere away from heavy foot traffic and any animal friends who could lay victim to a sticky trap if they decided to make your skins their new nap spot.