Trimming a new pair of climbing skins from ClimbingSkinsDirect.com to fit your skis is an easy thing to do (about a 3 out of 10 difficulty), you just need to be ready to cut into them. Creating a perfectly fitting pair of climbing skins is the goal, but your handiwork does not need to be absolutely perfect for them to work very well on your next back-country day. So be confident, be methodical, but stay relaxed.
Once you have ordered your skins and have selected the width equal or greater than the widest dimension of your skis (measured across the widest part of the ski), wait for the mail. Ordering a pair of skins equal to the widest part of your ski is optimal, but you could go a size narrower, especially if the measurement is close. Say you have a 124mm tip on your ski, you can order a 120mm skin, because you actually trim the skins narrower than full width so the ski’s edges are exposed (more on that in a minute).
ClimbingSkinsDirect.com uses minimalist packaging, which is nice, and sends only: the skins, and a small ziplock back with instructions for trimming, the tip and tail hooks, some wax (to prevent ice stickage), and a cutting tool (important!). The skins are generous in length, and look like they would cover any ski up to 200 cm.
Down to business, you can practice cutting your new pristine skins by cutting out the paper template from the instructions. The template is marked for the necessary width to create the tip and tail hook “flap”, so cut it out and trace it onto the tip of each skin with a pen.
The “tip” of the skin, or what will become the tip is the end of the skin where the hairs lay down when stroking away from the end. Meaning if you “pet” or run you hand down the skin from the “tip” end, the skin will feel smooth. If you run your hand down the skin while holding the other end it should not glide, and your hands will drag on the hairs of the skin as they resist the stroke of your hand, which indicates that you are holding the “tail” of the skin. The distinction is important but not critical at this point, as the tip hook and tail hook could be swapped out at the end of the fitting process, and the same template is used to cut the skin tip and tail hook flap. You will need to make the distinction between tip and tail before cutting the skin to width.
Once you trace the paper instruction template onto the skin tip, go ahead and cut to the lines. Use scissors instead
of the trim tool. The skin backing paper is kind of waxy, so the pen ink might not be too dark, and may wipe off easily, but don’t despair, you only need to cut the tab part to the proper width, so the tip hook ring slides onto the tab cutout you are creating. You will want the tapered cuts from the tip hook tab you are making back to full width to be nice and rounded like on the template, but as long as they are gently tapering back, the cuts can be generally straight over to the edge.
Now peel some of the paper skin backing away from the skin (about 8″) and slide the tip-hook over the exposed tab you just cut out, and fold the skin over onto itself to secure the tip-hook.
Next, get your ski out and put the tip-hook over that tip! Lay the rest of the skin along the base of your ski (you might want to hold the ski brakes up with a rubber band if you have them – telemarkers skip this note ;).
Lining the new skin (with backing paper on) up on the ski base brings us to the “point of no return”: cutting the skin to lenght. Relax, you actually have some flexibility here too, so reward yourself with a sip of your favorite beverage. Gently pull the skin slightly tight from the tip to the tail and mark the skin backing paper where the tail of the ski ends. You are approximating the tension that you will have to overcome to attach the tip-hook on each ski trip from now on, so don’t make it too great. The rubber of the tip-hook is flexible and strong, but not indestructible, and remember the rubber will be a bit stiffer when exposed to the elements (snow is frozen right?). Anyway, with the tail marked, take the skin off the ski, and line up the bend of the tail hook with your line. where the straight part of the tail hook lays on the skin is where you want to place the “fold-line” of the paper instruction template (remember that?). Trace and cut out, cutting another hook-tab and bringing the new skin to the final length. You might have to play with the tail-hook for a few minutes to figure out which side is for going up and over the top sheet of the ski, but the part that goes into the hook-tab of the skin is the welded seam and is blue-black, it should be fairly obvious how it is to be placed.
Repeat the folding of the skin process by peeling back some paper, sliding the hook onto the tab, and folding the skin over onto itself. Viola, the skins should now attach to the ski with the tail-hook first, a slight stretch and a pull to bring the tip-hook over and onto the tip. If it is too tight, peel back the tip hook or tail hook fold and slide the hook away from the fold line a 1/4″ and re-close the fold. Keep adjusting the position of the hooks, moving the position of the hook by increasing or decreasing the lenght of the folds. This is what I mentioned about cutting to length not being critical down to the millimeter, there is room to adjust the fit by changing the fold length.
Take the backing paper off your skin, and put the skin on for real, but with the skin offset 1/8″ off to one side. This was kind of hard, but don’t over think it. You are trying to get the skin to fall 1/8″ of an inch to the side of where it naturally falls when pulled tight with the tail hook over the center of the tail as you would typically use it. The best strategy seemed to be having the tail-hook slightly off set, and aim to line the skin up with the ski and with the final resting place of the tip-hook also being offset to that same side.
Now the trim tool comes into use. It cuts easily, and I recommend that you start from the tip and go towards the tail. Here is you last chance to check that you have the skins on the correct way. With the skin on the ski, the slippy direction is when you push the ski forward on the floor (or rug) in the direction you ski (tips pointing forward), grippy direction is if you try to slide the ski backward toward the tail. There should be more resistance to pulling the ski backward than there is to pushing the ski forward. Now you have your skins on properly, trim them to width.
Once the first cut is made, peel the skin off the ski and move it over 1/4″ to the other side. Trim that side. Now peel the skin off again (getting a workout?) and lay it down centered on the ski, by fixing the tail-hook right in the middle of the ski, and laying the skin down the middle of the ski and attaching the tip-hook right over the middle of the tip.
Congratulations, you have fitted your skins!. There should be a fairly even showing of each ski edge along the whole lenght of the ski. This was the purpose of placing the skin offset 1/8″ one side then 1/4″ the other, to make the final result: a skin as wide as possible, with the edges exposed for side-hill grip. With the entire ski base covered with climbing skin, you can take confident steps that are sure to grip the track or the newly broken trail.
Remember that mention of sizing your climbing skin widths? Some who count every gram of weight, or serious randonee racers will buy skins that just cover the waist of the ski edge to edge, leaving some of the tip and possibly the tail not covered side to side. Buying skins as wide as your ski’s waist is the “straight skin” technique, you won’t have to trim the sidecut into the skin, but you will have exposed tip and tail on either side of the skin as the ski’s sidecut leades away from the waist to wider tip and tail section. People use straight or skinnier skins because the majority of your grip comes from the area directly under your feet, and the thinking is that the tip and tail don’t need to be fully covered with the climbing skin material. Just make sure the skins are not more than 1/4″ narrower than the ski at the waist. Best be conservative with a full width skin, and you can avoid what others call the “backcountry skiing version of Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk“. If this happens or you see someone else suffering from this, you will understand the reference very quickly.
Now wax the skin by rubbing some of the supplied skin wax into the surface with the grain. This will help prevent ice from sticking to the bases. Go find a powder stash and climb up there!