Skin Skis 101 – Skin skis are basically a classic ski with strips of synthetic hair placed underfoot to replace either one’s kick wax, klister or waxless “fish scales” for grip on the snow. Skin skis are a twist on waxless classic technology that dates back further than most skiers realize. Originally, strips of animal hide with fur still attached were placed on the bottom of skis for uphill travel. The hair fibers allow forward sliding but grab the snow when pushed backward. Skins would be removed when downhill glide was needed. Humans have likely used this technique for centuries. Fast forward to modern times. Full-length skins, usually synthetic, are still used today by backcountry and alpine skiers in mountainous or hilly terrain to get off the beaten track. Skiers “skin up” to ascend to higher elevations, remove the skins, and then enjoy the gravity-aided ride down.
For the xc ski crowd, the story is a little different – Nordic ski companies have found skin materials and ultra-light ski designs that work great for waxless classic skiing for both serious racers, casual shufflers, and anyone in-between. In recent decades, skins made a brief appearance but failed due to poor performance. Today better materials and fabrication methods have completely changed the game. Short strips of artificial fur, “skins”, usually 12-18 inches in length, are secured in the ski’s kick zone. The skins bite the snow just like natural animal skins to provide forward kick with no additional kick wax or fish scales needed… and kick they do!
The benefits of waxless skis, and skin skis, specifically, are numerous:
Convenience is the biggie. Like other waxless designs, skins offer the priceless benefit of simply grabbing your skis and skiing – no fussing around with kick wax, corks, binders, etc.
The grip on ice! Skins get good grip on icy and glazed snow. This is huge for skiers that struggle with freeze/thaw cycles. High ski traffic will glaze the tracks, leaving an impervious, icy sheen. With thousands of stiff fibers to grip the ice with, skins will kick where more traditional fish scale bases won’t.
Dirty snow. Every trail has its own nemesis – pine needles, dust, grass, oak leaves, whatever. They are all poised to ruin your perfect kick wax application or turn another skier’s klister into a compost pile. Skins quietly scoot over such aberrations without drama. Extremely messy snow can make a skin ski’s glide a bit herky-jerky at times, but they will still work.
Mushy, wet snow. Skins kick well on mush as well! One caveat – wet snow can stick to the hair pattern, just as with kick wax, klister, or even fish scale bases. Easy-to-use, anti-icing products can be applied to the skins to eliminate icing. This will also improve glide. Treating the skin pattern takes only takes a minute.
Cold snow. While legions of the classic skiing faithful wouldn’t be caught dead on a waxless ski on perfect tracks at 15 degrees F, those with little time to wax find a skin ski works just fine in perfect conditions! Try it, really. This is especially good news for skiers with limited time to prep skis or few opportunities to get out. Skins glide a bit slower than your favorite waxable race skis with blue kicker, but you’ll already be 5K down the trail by the time your ski buddies get their waxing sorted out!
Speed! Yup, speed. Skin ski options are available in top-shelf, full race models. In some conditions, skin ski glide speed rivals that of their waxable kin. And, when considering the hassles of a tricky kick waxing or klister condition, skins can provide fast and competitive glide alongside consistent and predictable kick. After 10 or 20K, skins will often come out ahead.
“Is it true? Does all this mean I can have a waxless classic ski that’s race-caliber, will kick on sun-baked slush, go into the shade and still kick on an icy track, then glide right over the needles and bark by the big pine tree… then I can leave ‘em in the car and do it all over the next day?”… Well, yes you can!
Convinced? Let’s go pick some skis! This is the fun part. With several years of testing, customer and athlete feedback, and a bunch of trail and error under our belt, today’s skin ski shopper has it easy. A skier’s goals, experience, and ability will all help determine the correct skin ski model and fit.
Generally, recreational skiers with non-competitive fun and fitness goals have great success on touring skin ski models such as the Fischer Twin Skin Superlite. Easy kick and stability are the key characteristics of these models. Good grooming is not essential here – touring skin skis are at home in or out of the tracks and in a wide range of conditions. Prices here are typically in the $250-$350 ballpark.
More performance-minded classic skiers need to strike a balance between kick and glide. Lots of different skiers fall into this area: casual racers, fitness skiers, ex-racers, etc. An important design feature here is a narrow, javelin-tip to help keep the skis in the tracks where they belong and gliding efficiently. Skiers with less than perfect technique should start here – anyone that struggles with kick but still appreciates light and efficient skis will do well with mid-range skin skis. Prices range from $350-$500. Fischer’s Twin Skin Race is a great example of this type of skin ski and has been New Moon’s most popular model for several years.
For the speed at any cost crowd, you asked, and the ski companies answered! Top-tier skin skis are now available from most manufacturers. Glide speed is the primary focus here. While kick is good, skiers will need to use solid technique. Price fall into the $550 – $800 range. The Fischer Twin Skin Speedmax are sure to be big hitters this season. The well-proven and popular Fischer Twin Skin Carbon is a staff favorite at New Moon.
And let’s not forget the kids. Skins are showing up at stores in the junior departments now, too. This gives parents and coaches a break from time-consuming kick waxing. Fischer Twin Skin Race JR has proven highly successful for young racers in need of a waxless alternative. Look for JR skin skis in the $175 – $300 range.
What about bindings? Bindings are the most overlooked part of the skin ski equation. Skin ski performance on any given day can be influenced significantly by binding placement – where the binding is positioned fore or aft on a ski. Forward placement gives a skier greater leverage over the skin pattern and better kick on the uphills. Conversely, rearward placement lifts the skin pattern off the snow, favoring glide over kick. The newest generation of adjustable bindings rewards skiers willing to experiment with binding positioning with optimal kick and glide in any condition.
Not sure about skin skis? Try before you buy! New Moon offers skiers the ability to test Twin Skins on the Birkie Trail. Skiers can try different flexes and lengths to see what best suits their taste. If you like the test pair, you can buy that pair!
Add pair of skin skis to your quiver this season. You won’t be disappointed.