UPDATE December 2015:
I’ve been out on the Profoils quite a bit more. On top of that, during my recent trip to Canada a number of participants were testing the “pattern grippers.” I’ve reached final conclusions I’m comfortable sharing. I’m also happy to answer specific questions in the comments.
1. On anything but hard or icy snow the Profoils grip is entirely adequate. In a side-by-side comparo with regular nylon-mohair skins I could reach an angle during powder trail breaking where the nylons did better — but only at an extreme pitch. In testing here in Colorado, I was able to climb a steep 2,000 vertical foot skin track in adequate style — though I would have been slightly better on my regular mohair skins (for reasons alluded to below). In Canada, the Profoils did fine on packed damp powder, tested along with folks on regular skins. Caveat is you will sometimes feel a disconcerting rearward slip before the “teeth” grab. As the skin track becomes icier you get less grip. Eventually the Profoil doesn’t feel as secure as a plush skin, as once it breaks free your backslide isn’t as controlled as with plush.
2. I’ve now extensively tested Profoils cut to the outside dimension of the ski (manufacturer recommended) as well as a pair I cut to leave steel edges exposed. A weakness of the full cut Profoils is they don’t hold as well while sidehilling a weak skintrack. They tend to slide sideways and break out the track. I could edge a bit better on the pair with steel edge exposed, but they still did not have the resistance to side movement as a regular skin.
3. Glide is better than nylon or mohair-nylon, but my favorite full mohair skins have noticeably better glide. I ascertained this by using a plush skin on one ski and Profoil on the other, as well as skiing on a snowpacked road and gliding alongside several folks using Profoil.
4. Adhesive remains the same — both problematic and satisfying. Good in that it’s super sticky, challenging in that you absolutely can NOT store Profoil glue-to-glue. If you do, you are doomed. Clearly, they need to be using something like the Contour Hybrid glue system on these; a bonding layer the holds a more forgiving glue.
5. The sales pitch I’ve gotten says “you can ski downhill with these and they feel more normal…,” I experimented with this as well, and I do not agree. They do accelerate downhill like the dickens, but in powder the grip pattern causes quite a bit of sideways resistance when you try to throw your skis into a snowplow or otherwise turn. Works better on hardpack, but you still have to watch it or you’ll get going really fast and discover you don’t have much control.
6. Ideal situation for Profoil is loose dense snow that’s tending to glop on regular skins. That said, in my original testing (see review below) my Profoils glopped up while the regular skins stayed clean! Thus, perhaps the glop issue is a wash.
7. Sadly, no clear advantage in weight or packability. Depends on what you’re comparing.
Cut for my Fisher Hannibal skis, Profoil weighs 292 grams (10.3 ounces) per ski; Contour Hybrid weighs 270 grams (9.5 ounces).
Cut for my Volkl BMT-84 176, Profoil weighs 258 grams (9.1 oz) while Kohla comes in at 278 grams (9.9 oz). That might be significant to some of you, but I considered weight in this case to be a non issue.
But wait. A plush skin can absorb copious amounts of water in soaking conditions, while Profoil will absorb a big fat NONE. You could thus indeed end up with Profoil saving significant mass.
8. Ever arrived at a hut craving a beer, only to spend a half hour hunting down a place to dry your climbing skins? With Profoil, have your hefeweizen, and buy one for me as well. No matter how wet the day, you can dry these solid plastic skins in mere minutes. Just drape them over the table between the beer and the Würstl plate.
9. Would I recommend Profoil as your only climbing skin? So long as you’re never on icy skin tracks I’d say I’m somewhere between “perhaps” and “yes,” especially if you backup with ski crampons and are detail oriented enough to always store them correctly. Otherwise, they’re more of a “quiver” skin. If you decide to give Profoil a shot, I’d recommend a couple of trips with your regular skin on one ski and Profoil on the other, so you’ll know exactly which to pick for a given day.
ORIGINAL REVIEW FOLLOWS, edited
In his final hours, the old man lies in bed, oxygen cannula hissing. Machines bleep and hum.
The nonagenarian summons his heirs. They will inherit his ski company.
First, the granddaughter: “You, dear, must continue our tradition of women’s World Cup race skis. Do not allow the culture to fade,” the patriarch mumbles with the trembling whisper of one in his last hours.
Next, the grandson: The founder’s voice grows stronger, as if a powerful spirit inflates his tired lungs. “YOU, young man, will continue attempting to make P-tex that goes uphill as well as down. THIS is a foundational part of our company, our DNA. I will go to my grave KNOWING THAT PATTERNED SKI BASES WILL CONTINUE TO BE PRODUCED. I WILL BE WATCHING!”
That’s where my imagination takes me, anyhow, when I try to imagine why fish scale pattern ski climbing systems persist in the market. Fischer Profoil, to bring up one example.
But wait, could this be something new? Something that really works? Perhaps the old man was on to something after all. Read on.
Fischer has sold “waxless” touring skis for years now in the form of their “Crown” patterned base offerings. Sometimes, a pattern base works. Most of the time you get the worst of two worlds: less or equal traction on the uphill compared to plush (fur) type climbing skins, and a ski with less glide and turn-ability on the down. But what about having a “Crown” type patterned traction base you could remove for the downhill?
Enter the Fischer Profoil. The concept is simple. Produce what’s basically a plastic ski base that sticks to your skis with pull-apart adhesive, mold a fish scale climbing pattern into the plastic. Apply for the up, remove for the down. Seems cool, but what makes this any better than “fur” type climbing skins?
For my comparo test, I mounted a Kohla mohair-nylon mix skin on one ski, and Profoil on the other. My impressions:
In soft snow I noticed no significant difference in traction between fur and plastic. That’s impressive, as some of the pattern based skis we’ve tested have lacked in the uphill grip department. On a glazed skin track, neither Profoil nor the fur gripped very well, though I’d give the edge to fur simply because it at least grips a bit due to basic friction, while the Profoil is scary slippery if the scales can’t dig in.
Profoil did have the edge in glide over my nylon-mohair test skins, but not to a significant degree. I had to work hard to tell the difference. Perhaps most importantly in terms of glide, in gloppy conditions I was amazed to see the Profoil cake up with snow while the Khola remained totally clean. I’d have thought the opposite to be the case. Apparently the fish scales are just sharp and cut enough to hold a bit of ice, and more follows. To be fair, I’d bet that in some other situations the fur skins would have iced while the Profoil stayed clean. Thus, I’d call this a wash.
Note, however, you can ski downhill on Profoil quite readily in comparison to plush-fur climbing skins. Doing so is still nothing like having your normal ski bases (I tried) — but it’s doable. In other words, if your tours often involve rolling terrain, then consider Profoil. This especially true if you’re one of the 16 people out there who swear by pattern based skis. Just think, you can have your pattern base, then strip it off when you don’t want it!
Update: Note that while you can indeed get cranking downhill on Profoil, you’ll still have compromised performance when you try to turn, snowplow, or stop due to the amount of resistance to your skis washing sideways. It’s somewhat like skiing downhill on a poorly waxed pair of boards. Be careful or you can take a beater. Don’t ask me how I know.
This is where Profoil in my opinion falls short. Nut problem: if you stick the Profoil together glue-to-glue, you “can destroy the glue or decrease the stick of the Profoil,” says Fischer. For stowage, Fischer includes a small scrap of plastic to use as a storage release liner. This being WildSnow.com, I did stick them together glue-to-glue so you don’t have to. Whatever the case with destruction, main problem is that if stuck together, you’ll never get Profoil apart in the field. They face-to-face tighter than a pitbull on a jogger’s hamstring.
So why is this a problem? A couple of situations come to mind. You are wet, tired and cold. The sun set an hour ago and your guide is yelling at you to get moving. You’re stripping skins and your Profoil release liner blows away. You need to stuff your skins in the next available orifice and get the heck out of Dodge. With conventional skins you’d do just that. Wad ’em up and stow. Don’t you dare with Profoil. Other scenario is high wind. Clearly too much fiddle factor if you’re in a gale. Again, you want to just bundle the skins and go.
How about bulk? We are all awaiting the low-bulk plush climbing skins, probably out next season. These are the second coming for devoted ski tourers — rumored to be smaller in storage mode than the size of a balled fist (and of course so light you will float). In terms of bulk Profoil is not the second coming, nor even the third. No matter how you pack these stiff plastic strips they’re going to take up room. More, Fischer sells Profoil in a large plastic box that’s ostensibly for use during ski tours. I found the box to be too small, and too rigid. Instead, once my Profoil skins are correctly bundled with their release strips I’m finding that simply stuffing them in my rucksack’s dedicated skin compartment is good enough (or use a stuffsack).
Easy. Fischer recommends simply cutting the Profoil to the width of your ski. No offset for the ski edges as with conventional plush climbing skins. I’d imagine the Profoil full-width cut works most of the time. But I could not face the lack of steel so I experimented with cutting an offset to expose my ski edges. Doing so was difficult. Offset skin cutters didn’t really work due to the stiff material. I’d recommend beginning with Fischer’s way of cutting Profoil as full width. If you don’t like the lack of steel edges, you can recut later with an offset. (Tip, to cut with offset don’t bother with an offset skin cutter; instead use the old method of setting skin to side on ski base and using ski edge as a trim guide.)
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.