How Do You Use Kicker Skins?
A man skiing downhill, using kicker skins.

If you were to ask any regular skier the question we’ve proposed in the title, you’d probably get a valid response. However, it seems as though this topic isn’t so talked about on the web. In other words: beginner skiers don’t have a lot of info available on their hands (but they’ll find some right here). That’s exactly when we’ve chosen the how-do-you-use-kicker-skins theme for our today’s text!

There’s a chance you’re reading this one because you’re a beginner yourself. Also, there’s a chance you’re wondering exactly how one uses kickers skins. Needless to say, you’re about to find out! Not only will we answer those “conundrums”, but we’ll also expand our talk on closely related topics!

Before you attach the kicker skins, make sure that your skis are completely dried and clear of any uncleaned wax buildups. The latter might only make the adhesive less efficient, and that’s not good. When you’re preparing them for off-season storage, ensure they dry at room temperature before you fold ’em.

Of course, we’re not done yet! We’ve only just started!

Table of Contents

Ski skins 101

You’re probably used to seeing this introductory section in most of our articles (and here’s where you’ll find the rest). Here at Go Extreme Sports, we like to take things slow (even though we’re mostly talking about fast-paced sports). Anyway, it’s best that we first take a look at what’s the basic terminology and FAQ behind today’s topic!

Here’s some info before we start: if you’re wondering if Full Tilt ski boots run small, we’ve written about the subject in our last published article.

What are ski skins?

Also known as climbing skins, ski skins enable the skier to ascend a slope. Basically, a pair of ski skins represent strips of fabric cut to match the surface area of your skis. Why are they called skins? Well, that’s because most folks found the item resembling sealskin. Here’s a fun fact: the first ski skins were made out of sealskin! Anyway, today they’re usually created out of nylon or mohair or the combo of both materials (the latter is supposed to give the best results).

Here’s how they work: one side of the ski skin has a special adhesive that attaches to the base of your skis while the other side has short angled hairs. You’ll wanna know that those hairs are the ones that allow you to grip the snow just so you don’t slide backward.

What does skin mean when skiing?

You probably could’ve assumed the answer here, but skinning represents going (skiing) up a hill or on a level surface. Needless to say, this activity wouldn’t be possible if it wasn’t for the ski skins. Also, if you’re eager to try skinning, you might have to have special bindings (and here’s how you’ll remount ski bindings in the same holes) on the pair of your trusty skis.

Is skinning a good workout?

Skinning’s definitely something you’d call a quality workout; it does wonders for your lungs and quads. Also, some folks say that it’s more than a regular workout since you’re basically climbing a mountain. However, skinning’s not that recommended for folks that are just starting out their adventure in the world of skiing.

How should ski skins fit?

When you’re out buying pre-cut ski skins or making your own, it’s important you’re all-too-familiar with your skis’ dimensions. Your main objective should be picking/making a ski skin that’s close to being 5-6 mm thinner than the widest section of your skis; this way, you’ll allow the ski skin to cover the base of your ski without covering the ski edges.

Can you downhill ski with skins on?

Yup, it’s possible to ski downhill with your ski skins on (although it’s not something that’s recommended for folks that are just starting out skiing). Experts say that you can have total control while skiing downhill (with skins on) using gravity alone (in other words: without using your muscles) at gradients of 20 to 30°.

How often should you replace your ski skins?

If you’re a skiing enthusiast (going skiing once a month or more), there’s a good chance you’d wanna replace your skins once a year. So, how does one go about it? You could clean them by using a special cleaning product and brushing against the hair on the non-adhesive side with a cloth. Also, for enhanced performance, you might wanna use a water-repellent product, brushing in the same direction as the hair fibers.

How long do ski skins last?

One might wonder: alright, but how long will a pair of ski skins last you? Here’s the answer: if they’re treated with proper care, they’ll last you for at least 150k meters of vert. Quite often, that number’s even higher. Probably the most important thing you can do to expand their lifespan is to dry them properly after usage and before storage.

Okay, that’s about it for the introductory-ski-skins-101-FAQ section! It’s about time we consider our main topic for today: how do you use kicker skins? 

A pair of skiers going uphill with ski skins.

How do you use kicker skins?

First things first (in the let’s-take-things-slow tradition), we might wanna define the term we’ll be using a lot in the rest of the article.

What are kicker skins?

Needless to say, kicker skins are a special type of ski skins. They’re usually:

  • shorter than your average full-length climbing skins (they only cover 1/3 of the base of the ski). 
  • made from the combination of mohair and nylon. 
  • the best option for lengthy, flat approaches (frozen lakes, open trails, or forest roads). 
  • fantastic for climbing slopes (they provide a fair amount of traction). 
  • lighter than full-length skins (who would’ve guessed?). 

However, they’re not that great for downhill skiing. There’s a good chance you’ll have to take ’em off once you’re eager to do any serious downhill skiing. Also, kicker skins are absolutely amazing for not-so-steep stuff; they’re more of a rolling-terrain type of ski skin. Okay, now that we’ve defined what it means to be a kicker ski skin (another one of our lame joke attempts), it’s time to finally provide you with an answer to the how-do-you-use-kicker-skins question!

So, how do you use kicker skins?

As it’s implied in the paragraph above, you’ll want to use them for climbing not-so-steep slopes. Some might say that they’re great for climbing steeper slopes, but we’ll take a safe guess and say that it differs from model to model (and here’s a pair of kicker skins you don’t wanna miss out on). Anyway, here’s what you’ll do before you attach them:

  • you’ll need to make sure that the base of your ski is all clean and completely dry. Why? Well, it’s because wax residue can reduce the quality of the adhesive if not thoroughly scraped off the ski. 

And when you’re re-attaching the kicker skins during a skiing tour, here’s what you’ll wanna do:

  • simply wipe the base of the ski so that it’s completely dry using some cloth, or, in case you don’t have any, your skiing jacket sleeve.

Storing kicker skins

Just like you should maintain and preserves your skis, you’ll need to pay attention to the way you’re storing your ski skins.

When you’re not using them (say you’re descending, for instance), you’ll need to store them in a clean, dry and, if possible, warm place; fold them in half so that the adhesive sides match each other and press to “glue” them together. Also, if the temperatures are below -2°C, you should keep your kicker skins next to your body, if possible (under your skiing jacket or vest). That way, you’ll keep ’em warm and prolong their lifespan. Not to mention you won’t have a hard time attaching them since kicker skins are very easy to use when they’re kept at a safe temperature.

Give your kicker skins some extra care

One of the most important things you’ll need to do to enhance the lifespan of your kicker skins is to make sure they’re completely dried before storage. Once the climb’s over, your kicker skins should never be enabled to dry vertically on the skis themselves unless the temperature’s low and the UV rays aren’t intense. In any other case, you should avoid drying the vertically, attached to your skis.

Once you’re back home from a tour, you’ll wanna dry the skis before you fold & store ’em. Here’s a warning: never use a heater or any other direct heating source to handle the task. You’ll wanna make sure they drying at room temperature (away from the path of direct sun). Why’s this so important? The thing is: excessive heat will do some good damage to the adhesive layer making your skins unusable, to say the least.

Final words

Alright, so that should’ve done it for the how-do-you-use-kicker-skins topic! Now you’ve realized why beginner skiers aren’t so informed about the subject (it’s because this topic is not so beginner-friendly). Anyway, whether you’re a pro or a beginner, we hope you’ve learned something new today!

For more tips on the amazing wintertime activity commonly known as skiing and other skiing-related info, visit this page on our blog.

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