Whether you’re in the market for new climbing skins because you have a new pair of skis, or you’re just learning to earn your turns, or the old pair wore out, you need to do yourself a favor and add Kohla (OEM to Volkl) to the list of brands to consider. They’re relatively new to the North American market, having only arrived seven years ago, but the people behind the brand have been involved with climbing skins for decades.
What you’ll notice most is the glue. Kohla calls their concoction Smart Glue. As corny as that may sound, or presumptuous, it’s a fairly accurate claim; at least as much as any sort of marketing pitch can be.
What is it that we want from a skin glue? To hold on when you need it to and not let go, then let go without a fight when you want it to. Over the years I’ve found very few glues that deliver an acceptable balance on that scale. A few, not most. I’ve tried more than I can remember. If they can hold on well in sub-zero Fahrenheit temperatures, they’re too sticky to let go in moderate temperatures. And if they come off or apart easy, they can’t hold when it’s cold.
Amazingly, Kohla skin glue seems to fulfill both ends of the spectrum, out of the box. Most glues start out too sticky; they hold when it’s cold, but they don’t let go, especially after storing glue to glue. They tend to require cheat sheets for storage, a sure sign the glue too strong, way too sticky. As they lose adhesion, they become more manageable when it comes time to rip the hide and store ’em away. By the time they’re easy to pull apart after storing glue-to-glue, then they have trouble holding on, especially in cold temperatures.
While I’m impressed with the performance of Kohla’s Smart Glue out of the box, it will take a few more seasons of touring for me to know how well this Smart Glue ages. So far, it’s solid. They’ve held down to 0° F, and come off in a single smooth rip as the glue lets go with a medium resistance. That’s after about ten days use.
The Fuzz Grip
As far as the fuzz goes, the grip of this plush, a 70/30 Mohair/Nylon mix is what you would expect – solid. I don’t make a habit of climbing steep, polished white pavement. The one time I did, Kohla’s skin held as well as a competitor and any lack of grip was simply a recognition that you can only go so steep on icy snow before nothing grips, right? So it held as well as it could, as steep as it should. If it held any better, then it would surely have presented a problem on the least appreciated feature of climbing skins – glide.
In that regard, out of the box the blended plush wasn’t the fastest plush I’ve experienced, but it was on par for a mo-mix, meaning it started out a bit grippy, but by the third tour it settled in and gave good glide. Not as good as a pure mohair plush, but not far behind either. It ran smooth and relatively fast when told to follow the fall line.
Another claim Kohla makes is a waterproof backing; that’s the material the fibers are woven in to on the topside, and the glue is bonded to on the backside. If the backing is waterproof the skin is less likely to stretch, especially on warm spring tours, and it is less likely to ice up because it doesn’t absorb water which can cause the plush to ice up. The fibers might still absorb water, but if the backing doesn’t, there is less tendency of icing. So far, the Kohla skin I’ve been testing shows no signs of significant stretch, and is noticeably immune to icing compared to other skins.
Tip n Tail
The tip is a simple wire loop, 85 or 110mm wide and thick enough to fit over most ski tips. I still like the simplicity of wire loops, as long as they’re big enough. Lots of folks have transitioned to the I-loop, pioneered by Dynafit, which is a length of bungee cord that slides into a slot on your ski tip. Kohla offers that option as well.
You can get the bungeed tail sewn to the end if you buy skins by length, or install the bungeed tail with a kit of snap on pieces. The bungee isn’t as stretchy as G3 or BD skins, and the camming clip is plastic so it can’t develop quite as much leverage as metal camming clips can for lots of tension. The length can be adjusted, but not as easy as an STS tail kit. Nonetheless, it works well as is, and the glue is so good you may find you don’t need as much tension to accommodate the tendency for skins to lengthen because the backing is inherently waterproof. I’m still evaluating if that claim is true or not, but so far it appears to be; when I grabbed the tail to rip the skins off it was taut, not slack as would be true if the skin had stretched out.
These are Great climbing skins. The plush has solid grip, good glide, and so far, hasn’t been prone to icing up. The glue, so far, is fantastic. Kohla calls it Smart Glue and while I won’t disparage the claim of intelligence to mere chemicals, their performance in the field is far above par. The performance of the plush is why you want climbing skins. The glue is what makes that practical reality possible. Kohla’s Smart Glue is the best I’ve seen in many years. While you may not be ready to buy new climbing skins, you definitely are due for a glue renew eventually, right? Kohla’s Smart Glue is available as an after market upgrade.
Dostie’s View – Two sides to Climbing Skins