Switching to skin skis (Rossignol R-Skin review)
Are you considering a pair of skin skis? In this post, I'll share my experience with classic skin skis (specifically my Rossignol R-Skins).
At the bottom of the page, you'll also find my notes on wax and touring.
I started out the 2018-2019 season on a pair of Salomon S-Lab skis (traditional waxed skis), Swix Quantum One Poles, and Salomon S-Race boots. Things were going ok, but I had some trouble getting consistent kick with the skis. Some days, my skis were fast with great kick, but other days (especially in warm or artificial snow conditions), I got the kick wax wrong and found myself frustrated on the trail.
Before 2018, I didn't even own a pair of racing classic skis, but then an opportunity came up to travel to Norway and ski the original Birkebeiner ski race (which is only held in the classic style), so I decided to spend the 2018-2019 ski season re-learning classic . It had been 20 years since the last time I'd raced classic in high school, and although I had quite a bit of experience skate skiing citizen marathons like the Birkie, I was finding that my classic skills and technique needed some work. I decided to get some advice from a ski shop.
I went to Pioneer Midwest in Osseo and explained my situation. After listening to my plans, the guys there said skin skis were the way to go. I was initially skeptical, but they explained their reasoning. First, they said the conditions change so much in a ski marathon that the best wax will likely be different throughout the race, and skin skis can handle changing conditions better than waxed skis. Second, they pointed out that warm weather and artificial snow are difficult conditions for choosing wax even if you are an expert, so having guaranteed high-performing kick with the skin skis takes away a lot of the guesswork. Finally, they said ski shops in Norway are selling about 90% skin skis. Those all seemed like good reasons, but hearing that the Norwegian shops are now selling mainly skin skis really convinced me. I know the Scandinavians really value their skiing traditions, so I figured they wouldn’t switch to skin skis unless the advantages were significant.
Cory at Pioneer Midwest was extremely helpful and knowledgeable as he flex tested several different ski options for me, and I decided to go with a pair of Rossignol R-Skin Premiums. As soon as I got them home, I tried them out on my own trails, and I could tell right away they had great kick and glided well. I was still curious to see how they would perform against my S-Labs on artificial snow, so I went to Elm Creek to do a comparison with my GPS watch. The weather conditions for the test were not great with temperatures of about 5 degrees F and strong winds, but I had the day off and the rest of the week didn’t look much better with -45F wind chills and a blizzard in the forecast. (I guess this is what it is like to be a cross-country skier in Minnesota-- we have to earn every kilometer.)
On-Snow Comparison of S-Labs and R-Skins
This was far from a perfect statistical study, but I tried to control for as many variables as I could.
R-Skins: 5km at 3:55/k, good kick S-Labs: 5km at 4:05/k, inconsistent kick
After a 15km easy warm-up, I compared 5km on the R-Skins followed by 5km on the S-Labs. I waxed both skis with Start Green glide wax and applied three layers of Swix Green kick wax to the S-Labs. I tried to ski the entire 25km at a consistent effort, and the results proved that the R-Skins were a good choice for me. I averaged 3:55/km with the R-Skins and 4:05/km with the S-Labs. My max speed on the R-Skins was 1:48/km and the max speed on the S-Labs was exactly the same at 1:48/km. The S-Labs did feel just a little bit faster on the downhills, but as long as I stayed in the tracks, the R-Skins’ glide was nearly as good. The big difference was the kick. I had solid kick with the R-Skins throughout the test and only slipped once or twice the entire time. Even though I think I chose the correct kick wax for my S-Labs, I had to concentrate much more while striding up hills, and I definitely slipped more often. The tracks were a glazed in some areas, which is a condition that skins handle well.
I traveled to Norway with both my S-Labs and R-Skins ready to race. My plan was to choose the best pair based on conditions, and on the day of the race we woke up to perfect weather -- just below freezing with lots of natural snow. I had learned during the season that you can't beat traditionally waxed skis in "typical" winter situations, so I chose to race on my S-Labs with Swix Blue Extra, and it proved to be a good decision. Even though I didn't end up using the skin skis, I was glad to have them along as an option if conditions would have been challenging. If you want to read more about the race, here's an except from my race report.
4 hours, 17 minutes, and 47 seconds after starting the Birkebeinerrennet in Rena, Norway, I glided across the finish line in Lillehammer. I had traversed 54km skiing across a scenic mountain range, survived treacherous downhills, and competed against 8617 other cross-country skiers from around the world. My entire body hurt and I was completely exhausted, but I was happy because I’d made it ...
Skin Skis for Ski Touring
Skin Skis are also great for everyday ski touring situations. It is nice to be able to grab your skis and get on the snow without the extra time it takes to put on kick wax.
Notes on Waxing
Wax the tips and tails for glide using the same procedure as you would on a normal ski. Make sure you cover the skins with painters tape while glide waxing. I use Swix Skin Care on the skins themselves, and it seems to work well.
P.S. Thanks to everyone at Pioneer Midwest for putting up with my toddler as he rearranged your wax display, almost knocked over a row of skis, ran around the clothing displays, tested your water fountain (many times), and added a few markings with the wax pen to your granite. He had a great time in your store and will likely be a future customer!