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Ski Skins, Climbing, and Gear

Ski Skins

Welcome to crosscountryskins.com! Our website is dedicated to the love of fresh powder, a love we want to share with as many people as we can. The world of skiing is one of unrivaled beauty and exhilaration, where the silence of pristine nature alternates with the rush of the wind in your ears. We also want to draw attention to one of the greatest backcountry innovations of our time: ski skins. Skins are a wonderful invention that allows a set of downhill or cross country ski’s to be much more adept at climbing than they otherwise would be.

A typical ski is designed for speed and maneuverability. These two factors mean that a well designed ski will move and turn well, but the one thing most skiers fail to recognize is that a ski is impartial in its direction of travel. You can slide down the hill backwards as easily as you can do it forwards.

For downhill resort skiers, this impartiality is not something that is cause for concern. After all, you’re trying to get to the bottom, and as long as you want to see where you are going you will get to the bottom by pointing the front tips of your skis in that direction and following their lead down the mountain. The flat sections of the runs are meant to be sped through, and any uphill sections are preceded by ample downhill sections which let you coast up them. What matter to them whether their skis can slide backwards when backwards is never really a viable option?

However, cross country skiing is another matter entirely. Cross country skis are different than downhill skis, in that only the toe is connected to the board. It often features prolonged periods of flat terrain, and even ascents, complete with switchbacks in some cases. All of a sudden, the prospect of your skis sliding backwards becomes a matter for concern. After all, the same parallel motion that makes for the easiest movement forward also makes for the easiest regression backwards. So what did cross country skiers do? They invented climbing skins. This isn’t strictly true, as the first skins were seal skins, which were an adaptation from the Inuit Indian practice of putting seal skins on dog sleds.

The idea behind ski skins, or climbing skins as they are sometimes called, is to allow your ski to move forward freely, but to catch when it tries to move backwards. The simplest way to do this is to have a fiber coating on the bottom of the ski that is angled backwards. When the ski slides forwards, it slides with the grain of the fiber, which allows free movement. When the ski tries to slide backwards, it rubs against the grain of the fiber, causing the strands to stand on end and holding the ski in place instead of allowing it to slide across the snow.

An alternative to climbing skins has recently come out in the form of patterned ski bottoms. The most common configuration is a scale pattern with the ridges facing the back of the ski. Sliding forward, it behaves like a snake skin, which is to say smoothly. Backwards, the ridges catch, much like the fiber on a ski skin. The patterning is less effective than a full skin, but since it is built into the ski, it takes less time to prepare for a climb with a patterned ski than with skins. For strenuous climbs, a skin over even a patterned ski will see an improvement in climbing performance.

 

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