How to Choose Climbing Skins

Ever wondered how to go about buying climbing skins for your skis? Ski expert Matt Wood does a deep dive to get you all the information you need.

Two skiers climb up a snowy mountain

Photo by Flo Maderebner

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Climbing skins are simple. The concept of attaching fibers to the bottom of your skis to ascend steep slopes has been around since the inception of the ski itself. While at one point the climbing skin was made of animal hide, the skins of today are a far cry from such primitive methods. Using advanced fibers, glues, and attachment methods add considerable complication to the system, and purchasing the perfect set of skins is more complex than ever.

To cut through the clutter, I had a chat with Eric Haferman, skier extraordinaire and partner in Big Sky Mountain Products, a Bozeman, Montana-based ski skin company, about some of the finer points of climbing skins.

A skier examines the bottom of their ski

Photo by Matt Wood

MW: Hey Eric! How's it going? So tell me a bit about yourself. EH: I’m a lifelong skier and a partner at Big Sky Mountain Products. We are an independent climbing skin company that specializes in the world's most durable and reliable climbing skins.

MW: So, let's start with basics. How do skins work? On a basic level what do they do to provide traction for the uphill skier? EH: Climbing skins are strips of fabric that are trimmed down to fit your skis. One side of a skin has glue which adheres to the base of your ski, while the other side is made of fibers similar to a carpet and contacts the snow. The carpet fibers are angled directionally, which allows the skin to glide forward but not backward, enabling glide and grip.

MW: So does a person need skins specific to their skis? How do I pick ones that fit? EH: Skins must have the correct basic dimensions, but are trimmed to fit your specific ski. At BSMP, we sell skins in three different widths. We recommend using your ski tail width as a reference and purchasing skins which meet or exceed that width. By following this rule of thumb, your skins will always be wide enough to provide sufficient grip without weighing yourself down with extra, unnecessary material in the tip.

MW: What material should a person be looking for when getting skins? Which material is best? How does the design of the skin affect performance? EH: The material that is on the bottom of the skin is called plush. Skin plush materials come down to a choice between nylon, mohair, or a mix of the two. Nylon is the grippiest, most durable, and most affordable of the options. If you buy nylon skins, you'll save some money and will be able to climb the steepest slopes for years of use. Mohair skins are lighter and have better glide. If you buy mohair skins, you'll be spending more to glide faster on the flats.

When choosing climbing skins you need to weigh your priorities and experience level. If you are often climbing steep slopes or prioritize durability in your gear, nylon is definitely the choice. Since nylon skins are much grippier, they are also easier to use and an ideal option for beginner and intermediate skinners. If you often find yourself tackling long, flat approaches and/or are a super experienced skinner with dialed form, mohair skins might be the call for you.

You also have a few different options when it comes to the adhesive that connects your skins to your skis. There are strong glues, weak glues, and even glueless skins. The idea behind weaker glues or glueless skins is that they are easier to pull apart and to pull off of your skis. BSMP uses a much stronger glue than other companies because we prioritize reliability. Glue losing its stick in the backcountry could render your skins useless, and you can imagine the trouble you might face if you are unable to get back to civilization before the sun sets in winter. The tradeoff is that our skins have a short break-in period during which they are a bit tougher to pull apart than other options.

A skier performs a flip

Photo by Henrik Albrigtsen

MW: How should a person care for and store skins? EH: Caring for your BSMP skins is fairly simple. After using them, peel them apart and hang them to dry, away from a heat source such as a wood stove. When storing them for the summer simply fold them glue side to glue side and put them in your closet. As long as they are not stored in your 100-degree attic, you should be fine.

Other manufacturers may have different, or more complex storage strategies but we design our skins to be user friendly and tough to destroy.

MW: So let's bring it back around to basics. What should a first time skin buyer look for in their new set of skins? EH: I would suggest grip and reliability. As previously mentioned, grippier skins are much easier to learn on and will save a new backcountry enthusiast a lot of frustration. While learning the ropes, a reliable option will give you a higher margin of safety, as well as a better experience in the backcountry.

Climbing skins are a complicated purchase, but with good expert advice and following the advice of Eric and other experts, you can have some great success with purchasing a set of skins that will keep you backcountry skiing for years. Skins can make or break your day, so make sure to do your research and reach out to a Curated expert for advice. You can rest assured that we’ve used every brand, and every style so that you get the perfect set from the get-go.

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Written By
Matt M
Matt M
Ski Expert
I have been skiing since 2 years old, I grew up skiing in Colorado at Eldora Mountain Resort. There I joined the race team, where I learned to make proper turns. I persued racing until the age of 18 when I moved to Montana and began my career as a big mountain freeskier. I currently represent a numb...
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