Edit: Hey Everybody – this post seems to be getting around – and as a result I really need to credit all my images. So in the meantime: I took all the photos out. I encourage all of you to imagine pictures of skins and bottles of glue in wildly incongruous settings.
Last post – we talked about the plush. For those of you who don’t have experience with these things, that’s the “fur” on the bottom of the skins that sticks to the snow as you climb. While there is a lot of discussion about the various types – they all more or less work. Assuming you’re out and about with SOME kind of plush – you’ll get where you want to go, be that the top of your run, or, back to the truck parked at the trail-head.
This is potentially NOT the case with glue. Its certainly unsexy, and it can be difficult to pin down clear differences between glue (or adhesion) types. They often look the same, and there is not much to “feel” when you evaluate them – they either stick, or they don’t. Add to all this the fact that different glues (we have to use this term loosely as some of the glues available today are not actually glues at all) age very differently, perform wildly differently depending on small differences in temperature and humidity – AND – sometimes, a really great glue is so sticky that trying to actually use them (ie: putting them on, storing them, taking them off) is such a pain in the ass that you’ll actually wish for a crappy glue next time.
Glue is important – and it’ll take longer for you to develop a clear preference for a certain kind than for plush types. You’re going to need to live with a glue for a while to really get to know it.
The good news is – as long as you stick with the basics, tried and true glue systems and types – you’re going to be hard pressed to really make a horrible decision. Glues today are pretty good all around.
Before we get into the nitty-gritty – we should talk a little bit about skin and glue maintenance. Its important because even a great glue can be rendered useless in short order if you don’t know how to treat it. In addition – many of the newer glue types (non-glues) are good precisely because they allow you to be a little free-er in your skin and glue maintenance routines. Talking about them without knowing what skin maintenance is about wouldn’t give you any understanding about how great they are…..so, here goes:
First and foremost, taking care of your skins and their glue is about keeping them clean and dry. Seeing as how the glue is often über-sticky and you are commonly engaged in futsing with them in an exposed, high-wind environment surrounded by nature (read: dirt) – this can be quite a task.
Don’t go stomping over cow-shit or applying your skins to dirty skis. Keeping a clean rag in your kit to wipe your bases down before applying your skins is a good idea. When you rip your skins (take them off) you’ll want to carefully fold them over onto themselves sticky side to sticky side, making sure as much of the sticky surface is protected by the other half as you can.
Note here that many skin users have “cheat sheets” – these are sheets of plastic that are applied to the sticky side of the skins to protect them. These are generally easier to remove later than sticky side to sticky side contact but I don’t use them. Opinions differ – but some people believe that the plastic removes some of the glue every time you use it – and that’s not a good thing. In my opinion – I’ve already got 5280 things to carry on a tour, and jacking around with plastic foil in hurricane force winds is trouble I don’t need. I stick ’em back to back and that’s it. Do what you like.
In any case – once you’ve done this – you’ll need to find a place to stash those skins. Many many a tour has been ruined by sticking skins in your pack! – Don’t do it! No matter how good your glue is, the colder it is, the less sticky it will be. Skins in your pack will freeze up, and will not stick worth a damn, and it can be tough to warm them out in the wild. The place for those skins is down the front of your jacket – possibly inside your second layer depending on the temperature. Be sure when you do this however that your skins are secure – I’ve seen skins slip out the bottom of a jacket more than once during a run. Note: this is why some ski-touring specific jackets have those gigantic mesh pockets on the inside of them. I like these a lot – but the truth is, most of them are not big enough for all but my race skins (small and skinny)…..
if you do this – you’ll be able to skin and win all day in even cold temperatures without too much trouble. As a side note: two or three voile straps should always be in every skier’s kit – if all else fails, these things can strap your skins to your boards with brute force to get you home. Once you do get home – get those skins out immediately – unstick them, and hang them up in a well-ventilated area to dry. On multi-day tours, this can be really important, as your skins will soak up some moisture during the day. If you don’t get it out at night – you’re likely to get trouble by day three or so.
Keep in mind that while warm air dries better, your glue doesn’t like heat. It breaks the chemical bonds in the glue, and can make them less sticky, or in some cases, just kind of ickey…. so put them in the house, but not near a heater. Never dry them over the stove or something like that in a hut.
When you do put them away for a longer period of time, make sure they are entirely dry, and use the cheat sheets. Store them cold in the bag they came in a dry, clean spot.
Stick em types
This is by far the most common type of stickum out there. Its basically a paste or gel glue that the manufacturer applies to the underside of the skis. These generally offer the highest level of stickiness – but they also are kind of a pain in the ass to deal with. They can break down quickly, get dirty fast, be so sticky that non-he-man-woman-haters can’t pull them apart without dislocating a shoulder, and in some cases – they’ve got downright toxic ingredients that might be bad for you or the environment. (although this is getting better)
Every manufacturer has their own formulations – and each has its fans. For beginners – reality dictates that your stickum choice is dictated by your skin purchase – but you CAN buy glue from some manufacturers separately to apply on older skins. This is not for the faint of heart – so get some miles under your belt before you try it.
Here are some of the glues I’ve worked with and have an opinion about:
Black Diamond Gold Label adhesive: For a lot of people, this is the gold standard. I find it super-sticky, and it has an iron-like hold even in the coldest of temperatures. It does not appear to be poorly affected by a little moisture. All that is the good. The downside: it is so sticky, I can hardly get them apart in anything above -25 degrees C. I can’t strip them from my skis without taking them off and pulling with both hands – and I don’t like that. Keep in mind that the formulation in the North American market is apparently different than the one in Europe (it smell different) and this NA version is stickier still than the Euro kind. It is also (rumored) to require a different Euro formulation because the NA version is considered toxic! (don’t know if this is true – but going by smell….)
G3 adhesive: Middle of the road sticky. Good for all but the coldest temps – but also susceptible to moisture and break-down. They pill up and get rubbery when exposed to water and heat. Since 2015- certified non-toxic by G3, both in use and manufacture. I quite like these. They work.
Pomoca adhesive: This stuff is geared towards the light a fast crowd. (as are the skins themselves) The tack is much below that of the other brands – but is enough for a one-and-done for sure. The lack of tack makes ripping them without taking your skis off (jedi-master trick essential for racing) a breeze, and the handling is really good. I’d have my doubts about super cold North American weather though or multi-day trips or laps. You can use these for this, no doubt – but you better take care of those skins. I view these as skins for pros.
Colltex adhesive: Colltex makes their own skins, but they also make a bunch of skins for K2, older Dynafit skins, and some other house brands. Their adhesive is more Euro-geared, being less tacky than G3 or Black Diamond – but more tacky than Pomoca. I’ve found them to be positive in their handling, but they react badly to dirt, water and contamination. More so than others. On the positive side – “refreshing” them with a hot iron (put a sheet of wax paper wax side towards the iron on the glue) does wonders for a tired pair of Colltex skins.
Really nice Contour Hybrids….
Contour adhesive: Contour has got a nice idea going – their stickum is a traditional glue, but its applied a little differently than other types. it has two layers. The one side is super-sticky, impossible to pull apart super-glue, and the other is less tacky stuff that makes the skins easier to deal with. Contour puts the super sticky stuff on the side of the skin, and the less tacky side towards the base of the ski. The result is supposed to be that you have easy to use skins that don’t pull off all their glue every time you use them. I find them really easy to use – by far the easiest to pull apart and fold up – but you have to be really careful when putting them on. Even the smallest amount of wetness will make them unstickable. You’ll need to dry them well at every application – so be sure to have a dry cloth with you. Yes – you CAN run a cloth over them – you can’t do this with other skins. An added benefit – if you do find a family of gerbils has nested in your skins overnight – you can wash the fur-balls off with soapy water. I like these skins for one and done trips, and for mid-winter riding. Due to their water-susceptibility – I don’t take them on spring or summer tours. Still – one of my favorites due to usability.
(EDIT: Werner Koch – (the guy that MAKES these things!) let me know that an earlier picture included here showed TRADITIONAL glue – so I swapped this one in instead. See the comments for his take and a link to a video showing more about this glue innovation. Thanks Werner!
Kohla: Kohla has traditional and non traditional adhesive – I believe the Kohla traditional adhesive is manufactured by Colltex – and performs accordingly. More interesting is Kohla’s non-traditional adhesive, which uses a polymer of some type that is adherent to ski bases – all without glue! The bottom of the skin is covered in two separate areas of this stuff, with the edges being more adhesive to ensure they don’t peel up, and the middle being less so, in order to make ripping them a bit easier. It works! The benefit is that you can pull these apart with no trouble at all – they barely stick to each other! – which is also kind of a downside! But – you can through them in the dirt, BRUSH THEM OFF and stick them to your skis! Works! Downside – extreme sensitivity to moisture – any drops, and they won’t stick, and every pair I’ve seen seems to have broken down pretty badly after one year of use. I don’t how durable they will turn out to be.
Gecko: Another type of polymer adhesive. The first to market, and unfortunately – a loser. They do all the things a Kohla skin does, but they also peel off their backing and generally do not last even one year. I only mention them because I still see these being dumped on Ebay for low prices to unsuspecting neophytes. Stay away from them. Caveat: The company still exists – and claims their new formulation takes care of all these old issues. Time will tell.
Since most of you will only have one set of skins, and the adhesive will be determined by the manufacturer – its likely that your choice will need to be a compromise between plush, adhesive, availability, weight (not to be ignored) and price.
Although alternative adhesives are making inroads and have a lot to offer – I still think they are best for pros, or for a second set of skins. In a few years time, that may well be a different story – but for now – taking care of your glue and a refresh every two years or so, should keep you stuck on and on your way.
Next up – cutting strategies!