Review: Climbing Skins Direct v. BD Ascension

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.

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9 thoughts on “Review: Climbing Skins Direct v. BD Ascension

  1. Dave – it sounds like you’ve been using the Marquettes quite a bit…I’ve had pair for a few weeks – are you using plastic boots with them in any/all conditions? – my Rossi BCX 875s can’t drive them too well on our currently firm snow (southern MA) — I suspect they could in powder – we need more of that…

  2. Patrick, I’ve skied my Marquettes exclusively with plastic tele boots. First some older blue T2s (two buckles) and lately some Crispi CX4s (three buckles, but quite low and with a softer, very progressive flex (fantastic boot, btw)). If you’re hunting turns and/or skiing anything very challenging (angle and/or terrain) I think a lighter plastic boot is required. Even with a boot like mine they have acute limits on hardpack. I’ve skied grommers just fine, but that was only finishing out a sidecountry day down the resort. I wouldn’t choose to ski hardpack in them.

    I’ve been thinking about adding some BCX 875s or X11s to the quiver next season (along with Glittertinds or Eons). I had some Alpina 2075s a few years ago, they did great in powder, but worked me over on harder snow.

    1. Dave: Thanks much for your reply – very helpful!…I’ll be looking into some of those CX4s asap. Patrick

      1. AFIAK, the CX4s have been discontinued. Get the boot that fits (a whole ‘nother subject). Buying used (as I did) is nice if you have a used gear shop around.

  3. Interesting review (comparison) of my skins to BD. As a former partner in Ascension before we sold the company to BD, I am very familiar with their product.
    Since our glue formulations a nearly identical, the difference is in the thickness of our glue application. The tradeoff is pretty simple-thick glue lasts longer, while a thinner application is easier to handle (and pull apart). Since I apply my glue a little thinner than BD, I was obviously responding to complaints that the glue is too hard to pull apart and too “stringy”. Also, excessive glue can cause glue to get stuck on the ski bottoms.
    I like the way my glue handles, but it is helpful to hear other opinions from the “too thin” side. As a manufacturer I have to avoid responding to the last complaint. Another thing- I will be offering a mail order reglueing service for all North American skins (BD,G3,CSD,etc.) soon. It will be around $25. I am just finishing my equipment now. I will not be reglueing European skins, since I am not sure my glue is compatible.
    I hope you don’t mind a response from a commercially interested party, but I thought you would be interested in my comments.
    You may be interested this blog post that discussed the same issues.
    http://www.larryscascaderesource.com/weird/weird_files/skins.html

    1. No bother at all Rick, I appreciate your thoughts. A re-gluing service with good quality and at that cost should be very popular. I’d use it.

  4. I’ve been climbing/skiing backcountry since 1978. Used all kinds of skins. My favorite are the old Ascension purple skins (used the 15 years with zero problems). So I bought a pair of Climbing Skins Direct skins. Noticed right away they are very stiff and heavier than older ones. The glue is very agressive. Made the mistake of following their directions and left them glue-to-glue over the summer (as I have for every other skins I’ve had). They welded them
    selves together, so I had to use a heat gun to very slowly separate them, which still resulted in a lot of glue transfer from one skin to the other. I HAVE to use “skin savers” every time I use them, which really slows transitions in the field. I’ve used them about 40 times now and no difference: they can’t be rolled up (way too stiff), and must be used with skin saver mesh. I’ve written the company and they ignore me. I do NOT recommend their product. They are NOT like the old Ascension skins, as they say.

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