Volkl Universal Vacuum Skins

Paul Forward reviews the Volkl Vacuum climbing skin for Blister Gear Review
Volkl Vacuum Skin

Materials: Mohair and Nylon Hybrid

Stated Features:

  • Glueless Vacuum technology
  • Skin Pin tip attachment
  • Tail clip and strap

MSRP: $239

 

Intro

Volkl makes “glue-free” Vacuum Skins that are pre-cut for all of their BMT skis. These skins use Kohla’s “glue free” system, designed to be much easier to place and remove than traditional skins. And they certainly are — in all conditions, skin removal was the easiest we’ve ever experienced; there is practically zero resistance.

The problem we’ve experienced, however (with two different pairs of these skins, and after a year of testing) is getting them to stick to the bases of the skis.

We had struggled with the Volkl BMT 109 vacuum skins a while back in New Zealand, but that was mostly in warmer, wetter conditions. So it was worth giving them another chance when I was reviewing the Volkl BMT 122. Unfortunately, my experience with these skins throughout Alaska’s cold, wintery snow was no better.

After several days of repeatedly having one of the skins separate / slide off the base of the ski on the up track (sometimes even on my first ascent of the day), I finally cut a pair of Black Diamond’s very good Ultralite Mix STS skins for the BMT 122’s, and they have worked much better.

Performance

The Volkl skins fell off both while skinning in sun-warmed southern aspects and on cold northerly and early season powder. I’ve given them a few more chances, but after a particularly frustrating day of post-holing up a chute while my friends glided up the skin track, I’ve given up on them.

I should note that I have been using climbing skins regularly for over 20 years and am in the habit of keeping them clean of snow, drying them out every night, and typically ski down with them folded up inside my jacket against my inner layers to keep them warm and ready for the next up. Despite all of this, I’ve had poor success with my Vacuum Skins ability to stay on the skis.

This is unfortunate because the tip attachment of the skins is simple and effective, they are light, supple and easily folded, and the plush offers plenty of glide — their mohair plush provided grip and glide comparable to most other pure mohair skins.

Jonathan Ellsworth has continued to get some time on these skins with the BMT 109, and his experience echoes mine. In drier snow — and when applied to dry bases — he could get them to work. But in wetter conditions (or if the bases of the BMT 109’s got at all wet), he experienced the same issues I’ve described.

So if you are using these skins, your best bet is to meticulously wipe down and dry your bases before applying. But still, we can’t say that that has guaranteed to fix the problem.

Bottom Line

While Volkl’s precut climbing skins are extremely convenient, light, and easy to use, we’ve had too much trouble with their penchant for slipping off the ski to be able to recommend them. If that issue can be addressed, however, these would become an strong recommendation from us given their ease of use otherwise.

8 comments on “Volkl Universal Vacuum Skins”

  1. My experience with these skins is similar. I don’t think they are safe. I had one of these skins come off in a spot that could have been deadly if I hadn’t been able to catch myself. I can’t bring myself to throw them away, and I certainly wouldn’t sell them to anyone else. But I would only use them if I had no other choice. BD Ultralight Mix have been bomber for me.

  2. In NZ this week and had multiple failures of these skins in typical spring slop. Cold and dry snow had no issues but I don’t have the confidence in the product to not be thinking are they about to entirely disconnect from the ski, at least the tip connector held in place whilst the rest of it flapped around with a belly full of slush. As above I couldn’t on-sell to anybody else, they should be recalled by Volkl. Looks like I will be back to some BD skins for the sweet ride that is the BMT.

  3. I generally agree with the objective findings of the article author and subsequent comments, also noting that these skins work well when applied to dry skis, and tend to slip off when not. However, I strongly disagree with the dismissal of these skins or labeling as unsafe. I have safely skied with them in varied snow/ice/slush, mixed terrain, and through the gamut of conditions every single month of the year. A bad workman blames his tools. While I absolutely am not implying that any of the contributors are bad skiers, it does sound like they are blaming their tools (i.e., skins). Their frustration is not without sympathy. I struggled with the same issues a few times, but quickly learned to apply the skins effectively and have been really pleased with them since. Comparatively, the Vacuum skins have caused me much less trouble and seem to have a smaller time investment than traditional glued skins. Sure, I may spend an extra 30 seconds to dry the bottom of my skis with my sleeve or shirt before applying Vacuum skins. On the other hand, I have witnessed three of my close skiing partners struggle with glue adhesion on the bottom of their skis, skin slippage from glue degradation and snow/water/slush under their skins, and the time and money invested in removing glue from the bottom of their skis and reapplying new glue to their skins.

    These skins are like many tools in the backcountry quiver: most effective when used properly. I have used G3, BD, Dynafit, and Volkl Vacuum skins over the years and my preference is in ascending order. I definitely recommend the Volkl Vacuum skins, and, highly recommend drying your skis before applying.

  4. Thanks Gabriel. If you fancy a pair for a BMT 109 in 186 I can’t wait to sell them so let me know. Workman and tools is a fantastic assessment of ability and capability. Multi day tours, heavy loads, poor sleep and limited scope for recovery all add into the mix. I like you have sampled the gamut if skins over the years. There is always a payoff at some point, vacuum is too bigger payoff as it all starts out so well wth the application and you feel the air push out in contact with the ski..this is obvisoulsy following the delight at ease of separation from my ailing office strength arms…the glide is a treat and when the going gets dicey the added surprise in lack of contact under the kick zone of the skin (they looked dry on the base in flat light…surely that wasn’t moisture..wait, that snowflake melted when I had them base up to apply..I forgot the chamois and I’m soaking from the ascent..my gloves are wet which I just ran down my ski base etc), some people live for that level of excitement. Me, not so much. Im going back to BD for a trusted workhorse, I best hit the gym now I’ve become used to pulling the vacuums apart.

  5. Thanks for your perspective Gabriel. It’s good to know that the skins can be used safely with adequate base prep. For me, skiing in wet, maritime snow, the drying effort and the need to bring a towel would not be worth the benefits of glueless. I’m glad to hear that they are working well for you, and that they can be used safely. I may give them another chance on a cold, dry day.

    • Thanks for the comments Michael and Gabriel. As we said in the review, we were able to get them to work in some conditions and that experience mirrors your Gabriel. I agree with Michael, however, that the effort involved as opposed to standard skins is not worth any benefits that this system might provide. Personally, I did put a lot of effort into drying my bases but still found them to be less than satisfactory especially by the time I was on my 3rd or 4th lap for the day. For reference, I’ve been ski touring and using skins for over 20 years and have tried all manner of glue and glueless skin attachment systems. Some were even worse than the vacuum skins but, given how many great skins are currently on the market, it’s hard to recommend the Vacuum skins.

  6. I will share a splitboarder perspective. Vacuum skins work to some extend when the boards can be evenly loaded during forward movement – some gentle forest tours. Any traverse, side stepping etc. will make you cry… I have lost vacuum skins couple of times on steep traverse when the side load comes. It made my life miserable, at risk and turned great tours into nightmare involving gas stove to heat up and dry the skins to reapply. I decided to tune them to normal glue skins before I take the next trip. There is a nice tutorial on youtube silicon rubber removal, applying glue etc. Hope it works fine.

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