Climbing Skin Maintenance
— Non-traditional and completely unapproved methods —
(All I can really say about the following is that it “works for me.”)
Keeping the skins clean:
The usual advice is to avoid getting pine needles, dirt, etc on the glue. In the winter this is not much of a problem. In the spring however it's impossible to keep all the litter on the snow out of the glue. Also, dirty spring snow will impregnate the nap side of the skins with bits of moss, pollen, dirt and other debris. It's hard to imagine that this helps the performance of the skins.
Since the skins are often soaking wet by the end of a spring tour anyway, a little more water won't hurt, seems to me. Toss the skins in a bucket of cold water, peal them apart and swish them around. You will be amazed at how dirty the water gets. Rinse several times until the water is clear. Then use your wet thumb or index finger to gently rub off adherent needles and dirt from the glue surface. You can use a pair of tweezers on more stubborn junk, but don't be too aggressive and damage the glue.
Note: don't use warm water to wash the skins. It will soften the glue and make it more sticky so that even underwater the skins will stick together, and pulling them apart will then ball up the soft glue and make the glue surface bumpy and irregular.
When the skins are clean, hang them vertically to dry. Remember to apply glop stopper before the next trip. I use it every trip, regardless. In the Northwest, you just never know when icing conditions will develop. (I use Nikwax Tent and Gear Proof, and/or the BD skin wax. Not what Nikwax would recommend, but it’s way cheaper than their product for climbing skins.)
Restoring the stickiness:
When washing the skins as above still results in skins that have lost too much of their adhesive power, the common approach is to re-glue, perhaps just by adding a coat or two of Gold Label over the factory stuff. But applying glue is messy and the glue builds up over time. There are a few easier options.
Just as you can iron on new new glue, you can re-iron the old glue. This is my preferred method now. First wash the skins as above if they are dirty. There is no use ironing in dirt and needles!
Stick strips of the parchment paper used for baking to the glue surface. Reynolds Parchment Paper from the grocery store works, but I’ve found some siliconized parchment from Finland that is thinner and works better. One advantage of parchment paper is that it's translucent enough so that you can see what's happening to the glue as you work.
Use an iron to smooth out the glue. Your waxing iron will probably work. You will have to experiment with the temperature setting; start low and work up. The glue should melt, but not get so hot that the glue bubbles. A special purpose iron is nice if you have access to one.
Start at one end of the skin and work to the other end, ironing out bumps in the glue. Just smooth the glue out. It may take just a bit of practice to avoid squishing bits of glue out over the edge here and there.
Let the skins cool completely before pealing the parchment off. If you peal it too soon some of the glue may stick to the paper. Once cool, the skins are ready to go, and the glue surface should look almost brand new! For summer, I leave the parchment in place; it's a convenient way to protect the glue. No ill effects for the 2 years I've been doing this.
If you want to skip the parchment paper, here is another option and some additional comments from Rick Liu, the owner of Climbing Skins Direct, with his permission:
I do recommend keeping the release paper that comes with your skins for future use in reglueing.
Also, I recommend trying to reactivate your glue before resorting to a complete reglue.
There are two ways that glue goes bad. One comes from constant sticking and unsticking with water in the interface. This entrains water into the glue and the glue gets too soft and gooey. It then leaves glue on the bottom of the skis.
The other way the glue goes bad is that the surface loses its tackiness (the opposite of the above problem).
Both problems can be treated the same way. The glue surface should be re-melted with an iron. In the first case, the remelting drives the water out of the glue, and allows the glue molecules to resume their original shape (and tack).
In the second case, the melting of the glue brings fresh glue to the surface and drives contaminants into the glue thus renewing the tackiness.
The technique is to just let the hot iron "glide" over the glue surface. Be careful not to push the molten glue. Just let the iron slide as the glue melts and leaves a "wet look" on the glue surface. Let the glue cool completely before resticking them. It takes a lot longer for it to really cool than you would think by just feeling the temperature of the skins.
Be sure to clean your iron immediately with citrus solvent, since the glue becomes impossible to remove if it becomes "cooked on".
Note: Dec, 2010 I’ve tried Rick’s method several on three different pairs of skins, and so far it’s great! Don’t give up on your skins without trying it. I found that I could wipe nearly all the glue off the iron with paper towels while the iron is still hot and have managed to get by without using solvent. LR
Keeping the glue from balling up in the first place:
The glue is intended for cold weather use. If you peal the skins apart when they are warm, say room temperature, the glue is too aggressive, and too soft. Additionally there is the problem of water in the glue as mentioned above.
Over time, bits of glue are pulled this way and that so that the glue surface is no longer flat. Once this happens, the problem gets worse and worse, because only the high points get stuck together and these places get more and more bumpy. Dirt accumulated on the glue surface seems to really exacerbate this problem. (To fix the balling up, try Rick’s method above!)
Try to peal the skins apart while they are relatively cold whenever possible. At least not at room temperature if you can avoid it. Cold is your skins' best friend. If you want to pull the skins apart at home, try this:
Hang the folded skins up by their tail straps and just leave them. The skins will very slowly peal apart, leaving the glue relatively undamaged. There is usually no need to add a weight to speed the process. It may take several hours or more, but you have plenty of time don't you?
January 2005 rev. 2010