Climbing skins are an easily overlooked piece of backcountry gear, but investing in good skins can make a huge difference in the mountains. Pomoca photo.
With backcountry skiing and snowboarding exploding in popularity this season, we’ve had a lot of discussions about what gear to bring in the backcountry. Last week, we chatted about our favorite pieces of mountain and avalanche safety gear – like Mammut beacons and Somewear Lab satellite communicators – and we’ll be checking out next year’s best skis, boots, and boards soon. However, one thing that we’ve found is often overlooked are climbing skins. You gotta get up to get down, right? Well, turns out not all skins are made the same. We’ll readily admit that all those different options can get confusing: mohair vs. nylon, glide vs. traction, glue vs. glueless. Well, turns out many of your favorite pro skiers swear by a particular skin: Pomoca. Look on the bottom of their skins, and you’ll find that telltale purple plush that enables them to float uphill to conquer the lines of their dreams.
Chatting with a few of our pro friends gave us some insight into what makes a great climbing skin. Cody Townsend, Christina Lustenberger, Eric Hjorleifson, Chris Rubens, and ski legend Glen Plake all weighed in, and the amount of uphill vert these five have stacked up over the years is a number too big to comprehend. Whether it’s chasing big lines for the Fifty Project, crushing foot-powered missions in for the silver screen, or spending an entire career focused on pushing the limits of freeride skiing, none of it would be possible with climbing skins.
What makes up a climbing skin? Pomoca photo.
First things first, let’s dive into material. A climbing skin consists of three basic parts: plush, backing material, and glue. Sounds simple, but minute differences here will make a huge amount of difference in performance and usability in the mountains. The glue needs to be sticky enough to stick to your bases, but not so sticky that it pulls off ski wax or becomes hard to pull skins apart. Secondly, the backing material needs to be durable, but thin and light enough to be extremely packable. Finally, plush is oft-debated topic, and will ultimately come down to personal preference. Do you prefer grip above all else? Or are you willing to sacrifice some grip for a more efficient glide on flat and rolling terrain?
“For me, the material of the skins is everything,” says Cody Townsend, “The thickness, fibers and structure of the skin material is the defining part of a skin and if you don’t succeed in crafting a good material, you can’t make a quality skin.”
Eric Hjorleifson, known for putting in monster human-powered days as both an athlete and a guide, weighs in: “For me it’s not only important for skins to function properly for backcountry skiing they must offer efficiency for climbing. For my purposes I tend to do a lot of trail breaking/putting skin tracks in in powder snow and therefore having the least amount of drag resistance is critical. Furthermore, I use wide and long freeride skis so having light weight skins is also very important.”
Hoji and Jeremie Heitz putting in the work in the Swiss Alps. Pomoca photo.
Chris Rubens adds that, “The importance of what my skin is made of is critical, nothing beats mohair for glide. But I think the biggest thing I notice about a Pomoca skin is the material that makes up the structure of the skin, it’s so lightweight and durable and it makes all the difference. It’s so nice to have skins on big fat powder sticks that doesn’t add much weight and packs up small in the bag.”
As a mountain guide and athlete pushing the limits of freeride mountaineering, Christina Lustenberger certainly puts a ton of time in on the skintrack. What are Lusti’s thoughts? “The difference in a good skin is having that fine balance between glide and durability. Pomocas are both light, durable with amazing glide allowing you to climb gracefully up the mountain.”
Christina Lustenberger enjoying the uphill on a mission to Norway last season. Ming Poon photo.
Finally, ski legend and user of Pomoca skins since the 80’s Glen Plake, has the following to say: “Weight, glide verses grip, glue technologies and skin material blends innovative attachments for the application. I’ve seen and had to deal with a lot of bad skins in the mountains over the years, but they’ve never been mine!”
So, when it comes down to it: is there a real difference in climbing skins? Just like most other things in the gear world, of course there is!
Radios can be an essential tool in the backcountry. BCA photo. Radios can be an invaluable piece of equipment in the backcountry. Given the choice between standing at the top of a steep bowl or couloir and yelling at the top of your lungs to your ski partner “IS IT SAFE?” or spending a little extra cash on a radio, I think most people would opt for the latter. With an abundant rise of backcountry usership over the last ten years (it’s the fastest growing winter sport) and especially in
The TGR editorial team tested Smartwool’s new athlete collection in the Jackson Hole backcountry. Here’s what they found out about the gear. Max Ritter photo. Base layers are by far the most underrated part of our ski kits. I understand the desire to have the most breathable, waterproof, ultralight, and indestructible ski jacket and pants, but it won’t do you much good if you’re frozen from all the sweat you’ve accumulated from high-output touring. Staying warm and dry starts with your
Utah's snowpack continues to be unstable and unpredictable. Three snowmobilers experienced it firsthand while riding in Franklin Basin, Utah near the Idaho border last week. The three were out riding when one of them triggered a slide and was carried down to a tree well. He deployed his airbag but was buried under three feet of snow for around fifteen minutes before being rescued by his partners. While the rider was unresponsive upon being found by his partners, they were able to revive him