Are skin skis right for me?
There has been a lot of talk about skin skis over the last few years, leaving many people confused from the conflicting information they get from friends, family and zealous marketing campaigns. Here are our two cents to help you answer the question, “are skin skis right for me”?
At a high level, the technology is really very good. Skin skis potentially offer more performance than a wax-less ski, but less than a well waxed waxable ski – however only for the right skier. With the right fitting they will work well in most conditions (very good in icy conditions, not great on fresh or loose snow, and slow like everything else when it gets really cold). Though often marketed as the ‘solution to everything’, they clearly are not and have several pro’s and con’s that need to be considered before purchase.
We don’t generally recommend skin skis for beginners because, frankly, you trade too much glide to get easy grip and they require more effort to maintain (more on that shortly). If the skis have a soft enough camber to be easy to kick then they will have excellent traction, but will drag due to the three-dimensional grip pocket – resulting in unnecessary wear and tear and causing the ski to glide poorly at best. This will also mean a lot more cleaning work and more frequent replacement of the skins.
If the camber is stiff enough to keep the grip pocket well off the snow then you end up with quite a stiff ski with a very short kick zone. What that means is that if the skier can’t get the centre of the ski to hit the ground every single kick, they will slide and offer unreliable traction. On the plus side, if you’re an intermediate skier with good weight transfer, you have a fast ski with a positive kick that actually reminds you to use correct technique. Combined with the convenience of not having to wax at the trail head, this means great performance and great fun.
Aside from performance, the other key factor to consider is maintenance. As with every other cross-country ski, skin skis need to be glide waxed regularly tip and tail. In addition, if you think about the conditions that they really come into their own (see also – warmer), when everyone else is skiing with Klister and soft waxes you are skiing with a mop. The actual skin itself will need to be cleaned and re-waxed on a reasonably regular basis to ensure a decent lifespan and the performance that you expect from it. Even with good maintenance, the skins themselves will still wear out over time. The manufacturers suggest replacing them every 4-5 years (generally a workshop job), though obviously that will vary enormously with the amount of use they get.
So if you are planning on jumping on the band wagon (along with several of us), the good news is that almost every brand offers a range of skin skis from mid-level to absolute race level quality so you can decide which fits your needs and your budget.
Of course, the above are general statements and how these factors impact you will vary from one skier to another so if you are still in doubt why not rent a pair and try them. If you have any questions please feel free to come in and continue the conversation with one of our ski fitters to see if skin skis are right for you.