What are Climbing Skins?

We huffed and puffed and slipped and slid and laughed and cursed and finally said “that’s it.” The next day we went out and bought climbing skins.

That was more than 20 years ago; we still have those skins, hanging in bags above our outdoor gear shelves. When you start climbing hills and exploring the backcountry beyond groomed trails, you quickly realise that you need good equipment.

Climbing skins are strips of material that attach to the bottom of your skis to provide traction for climbing hills. Wax allows you climb hills to on most groomed trails, but once you head off the beaten paths onto steeper terrain, skins are requisite equipment (along with avalanche beacon, shovel, and probe).

Skins are requisite equipment for backcountry skiing

Three mains types of climbing skins:

  1. nylon
  2. mohair
  3. mixed nylon and mohair 

Mohair versus nylon

I’ve heard tales of original climbing skins being made of sealskin – but I’ve seen any. Mohair is the closest to an animal pelt that I’ve seen. Mohair comes from the Angora goat. These skins are light and fast, but apparently more expensive and not as long-lasting as nylon skins.

How do they work?

The outer surface of the skin has hairs that grab the snow and stop the ski from sliding backwards. When you move forward, the hairs bend down and allow the ski to glide a bit. Most skins attach to the tip and tail of your skin and have a sticky glue surface to attach to the body of your ski.

Before the trail starts to climb, usually in the parking lot, we put on our skins. When you reach the summit, you simply peel off the skins, tuck them neatly folded back in your pack (or inside your jacket if you plan to make repeat ascents), and head off for a few well-earned turns.

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