Feb 12 2012

First Look: Gecko Climbing Skins

As skis have gotten fatter, the criteria for judging skin glue has changed. Back in the day when today’s skinny skis felt fat, it was hard to find a climbing skin with glue that was too sticky. Stickier was always better, unless, of course, the glue was going bad and then the issue wasn’t the inability to pull skins apart after storing glue-to-glue, but the goo it left everywhere, especially on dry ski bases.

Ordinarily this would be a terminal case of glue contamination. Not for Gecko skins.

Those who own fat skins know it is possible to have too much of a good thing. The first clue that the glue is too sticky is when you need to use those silly mesh strips for storing your skins. What a royal pain those strips are, especially on a windy ridge. If you can’t store your skins glue-to-glue without worrying about separating your shoulder to pull them apart then something is wrong.

Gecko skins change the root chemical formula to get friendlier bonding properties, using a silicone based adhesive. I’m no chemistry major, but the results appear positive. Not only do the skins not stick to each other with much strength, neither do pine needles or dirt. And, should you drop them where other skins would be permanently compromised, you can simply wash them off with running water and put ’em back to work.

I stepped on the tails of the skin I have in pine needles and dirt. Classic combination for the glue contracting a terminal case of cancer. Deadly, with no known cure. Gecko’s glue appears immune though, at least to normal exposure to such danger.

Tip loop is clean and simple, riveted to the skin.

To the touch they appear mildly sticky, maybe half as sticky as “normal” glue, but when stuck to the base of your skis, especially when weighted, they hold as well as any other skin glue. The Gecko folks say it is a pressure sensitive adhesive so when you’re skinning, they hold tight and keep snow from creeping under. Actually, it feels like a mature European glue that is no longer too sticky, but just sticky enough to do the job and not become a problem child when ripping them apart after storage, or from the base of your skis.

Just how different the pull strength of the glue is was aptly revealed on a recent skin session. As usual I had two different skins, Gecko’s and BD’s new Ascensions on this occasion. When it came time to rip the hide, the Gecko’s took approximately 8 seconds to rip. That was actually kind of slow, but the bases of the skis were dry. That dryness exaggerated the difference in adhesive strength and slowed the pull times so that the difference is evident with the eye and a timer. BD’s Ascensions, though a mere 85mm wide and straight (with a glueless strip down the middle) took a full 18 seconds to rip the hide.

Now, in all fairness, with waxed bases the same Ascensions ripped in about 8 seconds, just like the Gecko’s did. So while taking skis off can be made easier with regular wax jobs, storing can still be a pain with fat skins. There are certainly tricks to help, but not having to deal with the excess stickiness of fat skins is the most compelling reason to consider switching to Gecko.

How do the Gecko’s stack up with the basics? The plush is mohair, which typically means better glide but it is essentially indistinguishable from some of the newer nylon skins, like BD’s Ascension, G3’s Alpinist, or BCA’s Magic Carpets. So far. I’m told that mohair skins take a while to break in before they display the superior glide they’re known for. If so, I don’t have enough time on the Gecko’s to see any difference; either that or the tail is causing drag.

An adequate tail system, but without any elasticity.

Grip wise they are equal to nylon skins, holding equally well up to 30° on firm, slightly glazed snow. Neither skin felt all that solid on such a tenuous surface, but for a short stretch and a bit of technique they held. 25° sustained would be a more realistic limit, in most conditions. And, keep in mind this limit was achieved with straight skins and a fair amount of bare edge, so you may exceed these limits with wall-to-wall trimming, especially with a bit of technique thrown in.

The tip loop is riveted on and fairly low profile, with a gap of ~11 mm so it can accommodate a lot of mountaineering style skis. Fat, bulbous tips would require a substitute like BD’s adjustable wire loop, or a Colltex Deep Wire loop.

Webbing tail bends over and frays at the leading edge - increasing drag.

The tail is a simple strip of webbing with a metal hook that you cinch tight the first time and then lock off the length. Then you can cam the hook over the tail next time around. It holds solid, but not necessarily flat, so with flat tailed skis it may add some drag. Likewise, the webbing is riveted to the tail of the skin and the corners of the webbing on the leading edge get bent over, and that does create drag – perhaps enough to make me think that’s why they don’t have much better glide than nylon skins.

So toss the tail Gecko provides and get an STS tail, or G3 Alpinist tail kit. The rivets hold flat and the camming hook works much better in both cases, and then you can enjoy a simple, reliable, easy to manage skin. You’ll be psyched with the improvement in the care needed to use Gecko skins, so much so that you can focus on other things, like chuckling at your friends who can’t peel their skins apart to take another lap while you wait patiently to get moving back to the top.

Gecko Climbing Skins
MSRP: $207 – $240
Widths available: 100mm, 110mm, 120mm, 130 mm (and 140mm for splitboads)
Plus assorted accessories like tip & tail kits, skin bag, & splitboard tips and tails (L & R specific)

© 2012