Break (Or Forget) Your Climbing Skins? Here’s What To Do

At one point or another, we’ve all forgotten something. Once, I had scrupulously double and triple checked my gear for a weeklong backcountry ski trip. We were headed to Alaska for a Powder Magazine story. But apparently I miscounted somewhere along the line, because after a three-hour drive and seven-hour boat ride in Prince William Sound, when we pulled our skins out for the first day of skiing, I discovered I only had one skin for one ski! Panic quickly set in. We were at least twelve hours away from any outdoor retailer where I could buy more skins. And delivery most certainly wasn’t an option.  What was I to do?  Experiences like that have helped me develop creative solutions—like the ones that follow here—to keep moving in the intended direction.

Problem: Forgot your skins

Solutions:

  • Use evergreen boughs and sturdy ski straps instead.  Ideally we don’t do this too often.  But in a dire situation, you can cleanly cut several small outlying branches of mostly foliage from a nearby pine or fir tree. Using your 12- to 19-inch metal-buckled polyurethane straps (You should always carry a minimum of four of them in your fix it/rescue kit in the backcountry.), attach the pine or fir boughs to your skis so that the needles run smoothly in the direction of travel as you step forward, and prickle upward as you slide backward. Try to strap the boughs neatly under your ski so you still have use of your edges, and the boughs don’t get in the way of your stride. I have had to use this once before and it works amazingly well. If you are doing several laps/days, save the pine bows at the top of each lap, strap them to the outside of your pack for later use.
  • Use several straps wrapped at a consistent interval under the ski to create friction. This requires a minimum of six extra polyurethane straps in your fix-it kit, and the more straps, the more friction you have for ascending. This option is not as grippy as evergreen boughs, but does the trick on less steep skin tracks with fresh snow. More environmentally sound than using tree branches, it’s also one of the few options above tree line.
  • Boot pack instead. This is not always the preferred option. You may wallow up to your waist, but you can take a line straight up and build up those leg muscles even more.

Problem: The glue on your skins is failing, or the clips are falling off the tip or tail

Solution: Once again, the mighty polyurethane strap comes in handy. Usually two per ski will do the trick, one strap about three quarters of the way toward the tip and one strap three quarters of the way to the tail. If you put the straps too close to the top or tail, it could slip off or create a bubble in the middle.  This should secure the failing skin and ascending your go!

Problem:  You only have one of your skins (Doh!)

Solution:  This is my favorite solution, but it depends on how long you’re in the backcountry.  If it’s just a day, then I say go for the pine bough or strap interval solutions on one ski and use the single skin on the other ski. If you are in it for a multi-day trip, your best solution is to cut your skin in half crosswise and use your polyurethane straps to   hold one half in place on each skin, directly in the center of the ski, where the bulk of your weight is focused. Of course, you’re going to need a pocketknife for this, which should also be in your fix-it kit. Think of your new setup as impromptu kicker skins, and  place additional straps at the tip and tail to gain more friction in the areas not covered by your skins, especially for steeper ascents. Ideally, you’d have four straps per ski, but three can work as well, placing two to hold the skin in place and the third toward the tip. 

A note on straps:  You can find the polyurethane ski straps at several outdoor retailers. Usually the 12- to 20-inch lengths are best. Some people prefer to bring heavy-duty zip ties in their fix-it kit, but those aren’t reusable. For the minimal extra weight, the polyurethane ski straps are your most versatile and reliable choice, and they last for years.