Climbing skins: if you ski the backcountry you gotta have ’em. As nifty as fishscales are, and as good as kickwax can be under the right conditions, if you’re off in the woods you will find hills steep enough to require skins. So, what to get?
Skins are not cheap. They’re also one of those peculiar bits of gear that is profoundly imperfect, fundamentally flawed, yet quite remarkable in its utility. Not so much the plush of the skin itself, which is no longer the most significant part of the skin. The reason skins are both a marvel of science and a serious nuisance is skin glue. (I’m aware of clipskins, but the in-field fiddle factor and lack of flexibility w/r/t ski shape doesn’t appeal to me, yet.)
Skin glue sticks to your skis (and most everything else), yet stays on the skin, time after time. Remarkable, when you stop to think about it. Of course, the glue wears out, gets pine needles, dirt, dog hair, etc in it, looses its hold in cold temps and after multiple laps, and so forth. Skin glue is high maintenance.
Skin plush, on the other hand, has to do three things: resist sliding backwards (grip), slide forwards (glide), and not fall apart when subjected to logs, patches of dirt and rocks, ice, and all the indignities of backcountry skiing in places (the lower 48) not blessed with easy access to vast alpine terrain and vast snowpacks. So long as durability is good and neither grip nor glide is too atrocious, skin plush is not something to worry over.
I have three sets of full length skins at the moment: BD Ascensions bought in 1/2009 for K2 Summit Superlights, CSD skins bought in 3/2010 for Karhu Guides, and CSD skins bought in 12/2010 for Marquette BC skis. Even though they were too narrow, I used the BDs on the Guides for a good while until I got them their own carpets.
The BD skins probably have the most use, though I’ve been skiing so much this year that the number of days and miles on all three pairs is rapidly approaching equality. My findings are as follows:
-CSD skins have significantly better glide.
-BD skins have marginally better grip.
-The BD plush is much thicker and stiffer when new. It has a very boardy feeling which softens up after a lot of use. The CSD plush is supple out of the box. The corollary here is that the CSD skins are much, much more compact when folded.
-I’ve noticed no functional difference in durability.
-The BD glue is a lot stickier then the CSD glue when new, maintains this level better, and seems to last longer. I say seems to because my sample size is so small. My Guide skins need to be reglued. The glue is still serviceable, but is becoming patchy (ie some areas have almost no glue). This does not seem to be the case (yet) with my Marquette skins, which though new, have a lot of days on them. The glue on my BDs is noticeably degraded with age (which in many ways makes them easier to use), but with no functional deterioration.
This would seem to make the Ascensions a no-brainer, until another factor is introduced: cost. 130mm CSD simple skins (no tail attachment) retails for 99 bucks. 125mm STD Ascensions (no tail attachment), retail for 144 bucks, though they are on sale right now. I use a rat tail on all my skins, which has the dual advantage of being secure and easy to remove with skis still on, and lets you buy the cheapest skins.
So, is the seemingly better glue worth the almost 50% premium? That’s for you to decide. I have a new pair of (free!) skis on the way, and in contemplating skins for them, I have a hard time deciding.