Choosing the Waxless Skis: Skins VS Scales

Every skier dreams of skiing fast and smoothly downhill and climbing effortlessly uphill without continuously slipping down. While this may sound like something you need to be able to do with your skis, it is not as easy as it may sound.

More and more skiers are going for wax-less skis due to the ease they provide on the snow without having to spend hours in wax-room. There are primarily two types of waxless skis: those with skins, and those with scales.

Waxable and Waxless Skis

Waxing your waxable ski helps protect your ski from harsh and well as changing weather conditions, rough terrain, and general wear and tear. For ski professionals, there is usually a team that helps them with this waxing. Waxing you ski takes a lot of time – the time that you could have spent while enjoying the sport itself, rather than preparing your ski for it. You need to have the knowledge and the expertise to wax your skis properly to get the optimum result.

Waxless Skis

Waxless skis, on the other hand, is a blessing for recreational skiers. Instead of going through the hassle of waxing your skis, you can go for a waxless ski that has scales or skin to give you the momentum and grip you need.

No-Wax Nordic Skiing

With the introduction of waxless or the no-wax Nordic skis, you can go down the slope as fast as you can and climb one without sliding back. Normally Nordic skiers used to wax their skis to get the best result out of their skiing experience. However, due to the advancements in skiing and its gear, the concept of no-wax skis have made this sport more welcoming for skiers who found waxing too much time and effort consuming.

The no-wax Nordic skis with scales or fish patterns were introduced – which became a hit among recreational skiers. The evolution of waxless skis did not stop here. There is another option of no-wax skis that uses skins to protect the ski from erosion and give you the glide you want. This means you don’t have to spend your time worrying about waxing. Instead, enjoy the no-wax skis.

Scale Pattern XC Skis

The scale pattern cross country skis have a fish-scale pattern at the bottom of the middle section of the XC ski – under the binding plate. It helps the skier in climbing uphill providing him/ her with the much-needed grip and preventing him/ her from sliding backward.

Skin XC Skis

The downside of a scale or fish-pattered XC ski was the pattern itself – the pattern reduced the speed while the skier skied downhill. This problem was solved by the introduction of skin skis, and later the twin skins skis.

Skin strips

The skin strip is manufactured using a combination of nylon and mohair, or even only mohair. It provides you with an added grip while you climb while providing you with a better glide (as compared to patterned skis). The skin strips can be used in all weather conditions.

Twin skins

The twin skin technology is the latest one in waxless XC skiing. Instead of a single skin strip, two strips are added to a cross country ski. These separate skins are added to the ski in a parallel way providing different base depths. As a result, the glide of your XC ski improves providing you with a better speed while going downhill and a strong grip while climbing a slope.

Which one is Better?

Although a lot has been said and written about waxable and waxless skis, yet professional and recreational skiers both are still divided on which is better. And if that was not perplexing enough, the evolution of ski skins versus the scale patterns have poured in some hot cup of tea to discuss their pros and cons. But the comparison did not stop here as the evolution didn’t either. Skin strips gave way to twin skin skis.

The question is: which one is better? Should you go for a well-waxed waxable ski despite the baggage (read as wax, wax room, technique, and time) it brings with it? Or would you go for a waxless option, which may not have the baggage, but definitely lacks in performance when it comes to gliding down. And even when its excellent climbing grip has convinced you to go for a waxless ski, which is better – pattern or skins? Or maybe, twin skins?
Waxless Skis
The best way to figure out the right one for you is by comparing them all, checking out their pros and cons, and figuring out what cons can you live with to get the maximum pros that you need. Simple, right? It can be if you follow the following pros and cons:

We have already established above that waxless skis are a great way to familiarize and popularize Nordic skiing to the masses. They are relatively easier to manage, and you do not need to have a wax room or the education and expertise of waxing your waxable ski. A badly waxed waxable ski will only result in a bad skiing experience. But once you take care of these cons and somehow figure out how to master the art of XC ski wax or hire a company to do so, the speed and performance that a waxable ski gives are unmatchable while you glide down. This is the reason it is a favorite amongst the professional skiers in world class tournaments.

But wait, they have their own team to take care of the waxing department. If you do not want to spend an equal amount of time in the waxing room as you plan to spend out on the snow covered slopes, waxless skiing could be your thing. And why not, many Nordic skiers have taken part in skiing world cups with their waxless counterpart.

While talking about performance between the waxless ski options, the comparison between the skins and scales is rather interesting. The scale pattern at the base of your skis was introduced to provide the skier more grip which comes in very handy when you want to climb up without having the fear of thrown backward. It also means that instead of your continuous trips to the wax room, you can now enjoy more waxless skiing. The fish scales, though seemed like a blessing, come with a massive drawback – speed.

When you are on a scaled waxless ski, you cannot get a fast pace when you glide down the hill. The reason for this is the friction exerted by the scale patterned surface. Though it could be a deal breaker for speed enthusiasts, the introduction of patterned skis is an answer to the prayers of those skiers who dreaded waxing.

Skin skis provide you with better performance than fish pattered (scaled) skis, but less than a perfectly waxed waxable ski. Having said that, if you are good at it, you can tame your skin ski as you want – after all, it gives you a better grip while you climb up, prevent you from falling backward, and give you a better speed when you slide down the cold slopes.

Ski skis work great in icy conditions. However, their performance can be somewhat questionable on powdered or fresh snow. Many ski skin and skin ski (yes, that’s a tongue twister that you can challenge your ski partner with, on freezing slopes) manufacturers promote their product as the solution to every skiing issue. While the skiing world may rightly be relieved after the introduction of skins, you need to consider some important factors before you grab your wallet to purchase one. It is better to know both sides of the story before making the decisions, isn’t it?

As a beginner, a skin ski may not be the best fit for you. This is because the trade off is rather unfair – you trade off a fair deal of glide to have an easy grip. Secondly, skin skis require proper maintenance. They may fall into the waxless category of skis, but skin skis require glide waxing in a regular manner, both the tip as well as the tail. Also, the skin of the ski needs to be cleaned and periodically waxed to ensure it gives you the best performance on the slopes. Also, better maintenance (that includes cleaning and waxing) increases the skin ski’s lifespan.

Although your ski skin may not be your lifetime partner no matter how well you maintain it, a well maintained skin may give you some solid four to five years on the slopes. You then have to replace these skins – something that you can do yourself or give it to a workshop – which could be a better option. But the 4 to 5 years of skin life depends upon several other factors – such as: how often you ski, the conditions (weather and slope) you ski in, how well to take care of your skis, how regularly you clean and glide wax them, etc.

For skin skis, if they have a soft camber that could be easily kicked, this means the skis have great traction. However, they will drag due to their 3D (three dimensional) gripping pocket. As a result, the ski will undergo wear and tear and the glide will not be as good as it should be. If you have not guessed it by now, it also means that you will need to put more effort into maintaining it – more cleaning, and may eventually result in more replacement trips for the skin.

Since skiing is no more just a Nordic sport, and skiers from all across the globe (especially from warmer climatic regions) flock towards the snowy peaks like migrating birds in winter. This means, with greater demand, the supply of skins and skin skis is also increasing. Now, almost all brands of skis offer you their range of skin ski – from beginner level skis to the most professional ones that you can boast off during a ski race. All you have to do is to decide which one fits your style and budget and voila! There is no looking back!

Frequently Asked Questions

Are skin skis faster than other waxless skis?

Yes, the skin skis are comparatively faster than the scale-patterned skis. Although they are not as fast as the waxable ones, many professional skiers use skin skies when the conditions are not in favor of waxing them.

How often do I have to change skins?

You may need to change your ski skin between 3 to 5 years depending upon how much you use them, the terrain you use them on, and how you take care of them.

Are skin skis worth the money?

Yes, skin skis provide you with better performance than scale ones. Once the skin wears out, you can replace your ski skin. Replacing it may cost you somewhere between $30 to $90, and after that, you can enjoy four to five years of skiing with it, or until that skin wears down.

Do you apply wax to your skin skis?

You only apply hot wax to the glide zones of your ski skins after every 100 kilometers or so. You can also apply liquid glide wax to your ski’s glide sections, but do not apply grip wax to the skin.

Do I need to cut or trim skins?

Yes, you normally do. Your ski skin is generally sold as a long rectangular strip that you need to trim to match the shape of your ski.


Purchasing your ski is an investment, and it is better to know all the pros and cons of the options you have. Though every type of ski (waxable or waxless, skin or scales, etc.) have their own plusses and minuses, you need to ask yourself what do you want to achieve in a ski session. Is it the pace and glide? Is it the ability to climb uphill without having the fear of falling backward? Is it the time and effort you do not have or want to give on wax-based skis? Do you prefer skiing on powered snow or would icy slopes be much better for your liking? Once you establish the thrill you want to get from this sport, you can then deciding (based upon the comparison above) the right kind of skis for you.

Another factor is the cost. You cannot buy a ski every year. Therefore, whatever you choose, make sure it works well with your budget. Consider the maintenance cost along with the actual cost of your XC ski, because that would be the actual cost you will be paying for the sport. But you cannot put a price on the thrill and the excitement that skiing brings to you. Can you?
Here’s a much better solution: when it doubt, try it out! Why don’t you rent a pair and try these waxless ski options yourself? With the detailed knowledge that we have provided you with, all you need is a little hands-on experience (or would that be feet-on!) and enjoy the winters in style!