Glide, Grip, and Glopping
I started testing the Scala skins and the G3 Mohair Light skins in the spring of 2016. Northwest Montana served up a pile of unseasonably warm, sticky snow that hovered right around or above the freezing levels. A two-day trip to Rogers Pass just after Thanksgiving offered more of the same. After that it got cold, and temps haven’t jumped above freezing in town since early December.
Like the Mohair Light, I found that the Scala simply does not work well with snow surface temperatures right around freezing. In temps around or below 28 F or so, it’s fine. And when it’s warm — i.e., as in mid-40’s F with uniform wetness in the snowpack surface snow like I found in Glacier last spring — they do fine. But temperatures right around freezing unlock the Scala’s ability to glop with snow in ways that astound and terrify. Carry plenty of skin wax, but expect that wax to help only marginally.
When the temps are below 28 F or above 38 F however, the Scala skins provide grip and glide on par with other nylon skins I’ve used. And nylon is a good choice for a skin that will be used to break trail through soft snow: glide is far less of a factor while moving up steeper hills (especially through deep snow) while the added grip of nylon results in less slip and slide if you’re truly floundering.
I also wonder about the intersection between the Hybrid Tip Connector and the plush. Formed in a cup shape, it happens to land very near the transition point from rocker to standard camber on my Steeple 108 skis. The whole junction offers a small ridge that has to be pushed forward each time I stride. My hunch is that this cup does create a bit more drag, since snow from the sides is forced into the middle.
I used the Scala, which does better on steeper, more vertically oriented skinning because of its nylon plush, on plenty of day trips with long approaches. There’s a good chance that a standard, mohair/mohair mix skin with better glide would lead to greater efficiency on those days for me for two reasons: 1. Long approaches become longer with skins that don’t glide as well and 2. I prefer to glide forward with a large range-of-motion boot on flatter, longer skin tracks–the Scala doesn’t fit that skinning style. Think about how you skin and the type of terrain and conditions you typically tour through when considering whether the Scala is a good choice for you.
The fifth day of my skin test taught me a lot about these skins. New snow came a long way down the mountains, and we made a twenty mile round trip trek with the hope of finding pow at a 8000 ft pass in Glacier National Park. The trail had perhaps 6” of new snow, thus skinning up went fine. Then we found our dreamed-of pow to be … completely and utterly windfucked.
So we began to ski through a morass of rocks hits and patchy buff. The trail was lined with rocks and the snow too light to bottom out on each turn, so we threw skins back on to slow us. Then, we did miles of downskinning over stone water bars and through small creeks. I showed the Scalas no mercy and steered them over plenty of sharks in the trail. They emerged nearly unscathed, with only a couple small dings to remind me of how roughly I treated them. I was certainly impressed.
There’s been some movement of glue since I started using the Scalas, but by and large, the skins have held up fine through nearly 30 days of abuse. They remain tacky, and I’ve yet to have any kind of skin failure.
The Scala hovers right around the $210 mark, depending on size, which is a bit more than the G3 Alpinist at $175. That difference is worth the money if you frequently find yourself at the head of your group or are constantly dealing with glue failure issues in the front of your skins. But it’s probably not worth it if you’re further back in the pack, or if you are commonly skinning on already-defined skin tracks where a standard skin would work fine.
With the Scala, G3 has created a very purpose-built and durable tool for powder touring on modern, rockered skis. Breaking trail in deep snow and the accompanying problems are well addressed by this addition to the skin market, and anyone who finds themselves heading up through the deep stuff on a consistent basis should consider them. However, as a single skin to use all the time for most skiers, the lack of packability, higher price, and decreased glide of the Scala would lead us to recommend other options like the G3 Alpinist or Black Diamond Ascension nylon.