Rob's Blog Archive

April 7, 2013

The Experimental Outdoorsman










I had pulled out my climbing skins for inspection.  One of them had no adhesive on it at all.  The other had a little stick left, but it was still marginal.  I hadn’t used any of my backcountry skiing gear for more than seven years, the skins even longer.  It was 10:30 Sunday Night.  Six o’clock Monday morning, I planned to be on the road.   Logan Pass was open and one way or another, I was going to ski it.

That night, I did a double punt with the skins.  Punt one, I applied ordinary rubber cement to them.  I was not at all sure it would work but was confident it wouldn’t hurt.  Punt two, I packed plenty of duct tape.  Even without adhesive, the combination of the skins’ end ties and a few wraps of duct tape works.

The rubber cement worked for almost a mile.  Close, but no cigar.  At that point, I pulled out my duct tape.  Just like old times, it worked.  Still, using it was enough of a pain that after I got to the top of my first run, I never put my skins back on.  It would end up being a great day, but that was in spite of my neglecting to check out my gear before heading to the mountains.

Not too long after that trip to Logan I purchased a tube of adhesive for my climbing skins.  For reasons I don’t know, I didn’t head back to Logan last year.  I sure plan to this year.  With a little luck, I’ll also ski some of the couloirs on the local mountains. 

And so, I broke out the tube of adhesive and my skins a few days ago.  My goal was to do a professional level job of re-surfacing the adhesive side of my climbing skins, the antithesis of my rubber cement punt.  That meant cleaning them off first.  The glues that remained wouldn’t hold the skins to the ski, but the skins still had a good layer of gook on them. 

I searched online for tricks to clean skins.  Several posts talked about laying an absorbent material like paper or cloth on the skin, heating with an iron that material and, through it, the glue.  After this, peel away whatever had absorbed the glue to reveal a clean surface.  It sounded so good that I tried three types of absorbent material; paper, cheese cloth, and terrycloth cotton, before I gave up. 

After several other gyrations, I figured out a system that worked.  I’d heat the sticky side of my climbing skin directly with my waxing iron. Once a section was hot, I’d move the iron half an inch down the skin and then quickly wipe the hot part with a terrycloth rag.  The iron itself picked up a lot of the glue, and I cleaned it every couple of inches too.  It took about half an hour a skin, but after this they were immaculate---ready for the adhesive.

Continuing with the mindset of doing things right, I followed the instructions on the adhesive exactly, and these said apply the adhesive sparingly.  I applied only a few drops and spread these using a wax scraper---basically a flat piece of steel.  This left behind a nice thin layer.

It looked great.  I was, particularly proud of how well I had cleaned the skins.  The one hint I got that it would fail was when I couldn’t get the skins to stick to themselves, a standard way of protecting the adhesive from dirt while the skins are stored. 

The following noon, I drove to one of the two snowmobile trailheads from which I cross country ski.  I got everything on and started skiing.  Failure came quick.  The skins were flopping around in less than a quarter mile.  The rubber cement had actually worked better.  I took the skins off, skied down the slope I had partially climbed, threw everything in the truck and headed home.  I hoped that if I applied a thick layer of the adhesive, it would work.  My theory was that using the glue sparingly was aimed at somebody who had just cleaned some of the old glue off, not all of it like I had. 

The relatively thick layer of adhesive I applied that afternoon left a nice sheen on the skins as it dried.  It was about midnight when I packed everything up and headed out to try the skins—I can be pretty impatient.

Getting the tryout done quickly ended up being a very good thing.  A lot of the snow had melted during the afternoon.  If I had needed a third trial for whatever, getting to snow would have been a lot more complicated than just parking within a mile and a half of my house, putting my skis on, and going. 

I didn’t need the third try.  The skins worked exactly as they should.  I skied up a little over a mile, climbing 175 feet, pulled the skins, and skied back to the parking lot.  Skiing ice intermixed with huge open spots didn’t make for the most pleasant run down, but I was still pretty happy.  After all, the one fall I did have---trying to stay on a two foot wide ribbon of rutted ice----didn’t injure me.

I’m not sure what or where, but I do expect to do get some turns in this spring.  And I’ll bring the duct tape, but I’m pretty sure I won’t need it.  Maybe next year.

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