Confessions: Skin Glue

There you are, on top of your dream slope in perfect conditions and you remove your skins to find your bases covered in sticky, horrible "alien slime" skin glue. Total Skin Failure as I'm come to call it and I've seen it happen to a few people over the years. Often the first reaction is to blame the brand, and if you went by the online reviews you'd have to come to the conclusion that every brand makes bad glue. Whether it be improper storage or just forgetting to remove the skin overnight it is more often the fault of the end user in my experience. It should be said though that it seems that many of the big North American brands do make poorer quality skins than what is standard in Europe, so if you are completely through with dealing with glue issues maybe skip this article and start importing.

Contrary to what you may have heard there are solutions to fix those gunked up ski bases and that "alien slime" skin glue! Removing glue from bases and reglueing seems like a painstaking chore but with a few hours of work, the correct methods and tools you can have both your bases and skins looking like new again!

Why Is This Happening!?!?

Before we start lets talk about some of the basic reasons why your skin glue ended up the way it did, that way you can avoid having it happen again. First off you may have got what they call the "bad batch glue" in backcountry ski circles. The "bad batch" seems almost a thing of myth and legend as I can't believe they don't do some kind of basic testing of the glue before committing it to a large amount of skins. Next it should be noted (again) that the big name brands in North America seem to make sub par skins in general when compared to the product that is standard in Europe. I've had more than a few Europeans roll their eyes at the skins we consider standard on this side of the pond.

In general it is probably something you did, or didn't do, that caused your skin glue to fail. Most of the time it comes down to heat. A classic I see all the time is drying skins above the fire place in a hut to dry all night and then sticking them on a cold ski in the morning. Another is just leaving skins on the ski in a house overnight at room temperature or in a hut near a heat source. Any time you expose your skins to direct heating you are probably damaging them. Anytime you are leaving your skins on the base for an extended period of time in above freezing conditions you are also probably damaging them, (and your ski base). I've told people this before while they are doing these actions and often I get "I do this every time without problems" but often I have seen it go the other way. In the end my experience tells me that skin glue + heat = bad.

Regardless if you believe my experience with heat and skin glue there is one thing we can probably agree on which is skin glue + cold = good. Of course some of you are now thinking, "well actually when it is really cold out skin glue won't stick" and you are correct. At around -30C skin glue will often loose it's stickiness and you'll probably need to warm/thaw the skin to get it sticking again. What I'm talking about though is storage and not skiing around in extreme temperatures. When I go to a hut I almost always leave my skis/skins outside and boy do I get some strange looks! Sometimes I take my skins/skis inside but I always place them in the coldest area that I can find. After many hundreds of days winter camping I know cold storage works. At worst, when it gets really cold overnight while camping (-40 and below) I will probably have to place the skins in my down jacket for 5-10 minutes to get them to stick again. At home I keep all our skis/skins by our downstairs door where there is no heater and is usually pretty cold due to me not fixing the draft coming in. I currently do this with 6 pairs of skins, several have hundreds of days of use with the original glue and no problems.

Getting Glue Off Your Bases

Before you continue reading please note that I'm not telling you to do the following, I'm only telling you what has worked for me in the past. Chemically stripping glue will dry out and could damage the base material.

If you attempt any action found on this webpage then you do so at your own risk. I disclaim any liability for injury, injury resulting in death, any damages or loss of any kind by anyone attempting any action found on this webpage.

I've heard dozens of ways to remove skin glue off bases but I know one simple way that for sure works and that's lighter fluid. I spray lighter fluid on the base and wipe it off with "Handy Wipes" and white paper towel. If the glue has been on for a while you may need to do this several times. If you stop seeing glue on the white paper towel then it is most likely all off but leave it for 30 minutes and run your hand over the base. If it still feels a little sticky or tacky then a base grind or two may be required before waxing as the glue could be deep in the base material. This process drys the bases out a lot and after it air drys you should do at least one iron wax job using a warm temperature or storage wax.

The other method I will mention here is the "paper bag" method. I've heard that it works but I have never done it myself. The process is to take a plain paper bag, place it over the base where the glue is and heat it with a house iron. The result is the glue sticks to the paper bag and is removed from the base. I don't own a house iron so I have never done this method. In my mind adding heat to the mess sounds like a good way to press the glue deeper into the base material but I've been told by a few people that it works great, so there you go.

Re-Glueing Skins

Online you'll likely find a ton of people telling you how hard it is to reglue skins and that you are better off just buying new skins. It's bullshit written by people with more money than time. Reglueing is a straight forward process that fairly simple and not all that messy if you have a good setup and proper tools.

Tools: A stiff drywall putty or taping knife that's not as wide as the skin. A pack of white/blue "Handy Wipes" or another thick cloth that you will end up throwing out. White paper towels. Parchment Paper. Home iron or hair dryer. New skin glue (I use BD Gold Label).

Make sure to read the directions on the skin glue you purchase in case it is different than the following.

Step 1: Warm the old glue up to make it easier to remove. You can use a hair dryer or place parchment paper over the glue and run a home iron over it quickly several times.

Step 2: Scrap the glue off with the drywall putty/taping knife. Wipe the extra glue onto a "Handy Wipe" (or another thick cloth that you will throw away) to keep the area from getting messy.

Step 3: Run your hand over the skin, do you still feel a little glue? If so you can chemically strip it with lighter fluid. Pour lighter fluid on the skin, let it sit for 5 seconds and use the putty/taping knife to push the liquid off the skin. Use white paper towels to adsorb the liquid before it gets all over the place.

Step 4: Once you can no longer feel any glue on the skin dry it with a hand dryer. You need to remove ALL of the old glue before drying. All of this will be for nothing if you leave a little patch of alien slime.

Step 5: Pour new glue on the skin and wipe a thin layer covering the whole skin as evenly as possible. Working in 10cm sections has worked for me (instead of pouring glue on the whole skin and attempting to spread it in one go).

Step 6: Cold cure the glue. I place the skins I reglue in my van (open the windows!) overnight, (or for whatever time the glue directions say).

... leave any of the old glue on.
... reglue skins and start using them shortly after.
... fold reglued skins before the suggested cold cure time.
... do the process in a small room with no vents.

Skin Savers, Rolling or Folding?

I get asked if I use Skin Savers when skiing with new partners a lot. I don't use them because I find them pretty annoying in general. I fold my skins in half, glue to glue and I've never had issues. I know some people who roll their skins and this also works well but be careful not to get them too warm as the glue will transfer to the bottom of the skin (although your traction will increase, you won't be gliding to well).