Update, April 8 2012: Lisa and I are both using Gecko skins here in Europe, and we have quite a few use cycles on both pair by now (Lisa easily over 40 days). Both pairs of skins are leaving unacceptable residue on our ski bases every time we remove them, and mine or showing large patches of missing adhesive. Trying to review these things continues to be difficult. They solve one problem (durability), then another problem crops up. Now that we’re seeing this happening, we are withdrawing our recommendation for Gecko climbing skins until further notice. Our advice is to shop for and use conventional skins such as the Black Diamond, G3, Pomoca, Coltex and Dynafit brands. This is very disappointing, but reality. Lou
Original review: User friendly climbing skins? That’s like claiming a tire rotation system for your truck you can do in your kitchen. Yeah, we’ve all gotten used to climbing skin glue that was probably invented during WWII to secure uniform badges. We’ve made the stuff work, though doing so has engendered phrases such as “climbing skin hygiene.”
I mean, hygiene? I have enough trouble remembering to brush my teeth twice a day, let alone handling climbing skins with heart surgeon techniques.
Gecko skins use a different kind of adhesive, a sticky silicone formulation that adheres to smooth non-porous surfaces such as ski bases. Yet it’s not “sticky” in the conventional sense. For example, you can use Geckos as a head turban if needed,and they’ll part from your hair with hardly pulling apart one small bit of your coiffure. Or, let the wind blow them to your fleece jacket — no stickum. You could even let your dog sleep on them, adhesive side up, and they’d still work.
Perhaps best, Gecko skins come apart easily after storage, and come off your skis much easier than some of the positively molecular glues on some climbing skins these days (little concern if you’re a sasquatch, but smaller guys and gals may have a struggle with conventional glue.)
Brief history: A few years ago, the Gecko developer, a ski tourer, noticed that the sticky cell phone tray on his car dashboard. In an aha moment, he thought, “I wonder how that stuff would work on climbing skins?” Development ensued. The adhesive appeared to work, but a few years of hit and miss with their skin textiles put a damper on what was otherwise a viable alternative to conventional stickum.
We’ll, I’m here to tell you that any concerns about Gecko skin durability should be put aside. The test skins I have here have no raveling on the edges after trimming, and plush that’s holding up as well as any other mohair skin I’ve used (though we do need to realize that no mohair, which is goat hair, will last like synthetic). Thing is, because of its glide, mohair is the latest greatest thing in skin technology, even though it’s been around for at least 40 years. With today’s wider planks, one simply doesn’t need to haul rugs on his feet with the glide of steel wool. When it comes to glide, mohair rules.
(Caveat: Most mohair skins are built to optimize glide; don’t expect them to provide the climbing traction of nylon. If you like super steep skin tracks, mohair of any brand is not your best choice unless you have world-class skinning technique and strong arms.)
So, with durability questions out of the way, how do these things work? The adhesive is virtually unchanged from several years ago, when I tested a pair of Gecko with about 30 days of backcountry skiing in Europe and Colorado. Following is from previous review, edited: Gecko adhesive is viable alternative to conventional skins, but follow directions to the letter.
So, to emphasize: While snow is easy to clean off Geckos, these skins are conversely more sensitive to any snow that remains between skin and ski (one small patch of snow keeps expanding as it picks up snow from the trail, and eventually fails the whole skin, probably because they don’t stick as firmly as a conventional glue skin).
Moisture on the adhesive surface of the Gecko skin also compromises adhesion, as it does with conventional skin glue. Thus, you still have to practice a modicum of care if you’re doing multiple laps and thus changing out your skins in the field.
Though some folks are running Gecko skins without tail fix, we strongly recommend you use a tip and tail fix that lightly tensions the skin. Also, when trimming, be sure the skin is centered on the ski, so later you won’t inadvertently tension the skin to the side while applying to your ski base (this true of skin with any type of glue).
For single laps or fitness uphilling, Gecko type adhesive should be anyone’s top choice. It’s that nice and I have no hesitation giving the stuff my highest recommendation for that type of use. Indeed, I’d predict that within a few years nearly anyone doing fitness uphilling or fairly simple backcountry days will be yearning for a pair of skins with Gecko adhesive — or already have a pair.
If you’re a core backcountry skier Gecko will work for you as well, but be willing to learn the pros and cons, as they do behave differently than conventional glue skins. Mainly, once Geckos have a complete adhesive failure they can be difficult to revitalize, especially in full conditions. Hence, again, use tip/tail fix and know your tricks for attaching skins with failed adhesive. Carrying a an extra set of skins, as many core backcountry skiers do, is something to consider as well (again, something to consider no matter what type of adhesive you use.)
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.