The Ascension skins have been updated! Scroll down to learn more
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Hands-on Gear Review
Black Diamond Ascension Nylon Review
Cons: Poor gliding, bulky, and heavy
Bottom line: Expect this low-priced pair to give great performance over many seasons of mountaineering and touring through the backcountry.
Over the years, the Black Diamond Ascension Nylons have earned themselves a solid reputation on the American ski market. They are easy to find at major retailers, reasonably priced, offer a wide range of compatibility, and feature highly durable materials: they've got some laurels to rest on, to say the least! As we will elaborate on at length below, the full nylon construction has its pros and cons. Overall, the closest competitor we tested is the G3 Alpinist. The Alpinist and Ascension grip and glide basically the same, while the Alpinist is easier to set-up, use, and carry and the Ascension is more resistant to icing and less expensive. Overall, as a Best Buy, we like the Ascension a little better than the Alpinist.
Product Update — August 2017
The Ascension skins have been updated! Scroll down to learn more
RELATED REVIEW: The Best Climbing Skins for Backcountry Skiing
Our Analysis and Hands-on Test Results
The Latest Version of the Ascension Nylon Skins
Since our original review of this product, there have been several changes to note. The graphics are updated to flaunt a hypnotic line pattern (still orange on orange). Also, the glue compound is changed to make it easier to pull the skins apart when stored folded together. Lastly, according to Black Diamond, the material is now lighter and more packable. Despite the augmentations, Black Diamond kindly keeps the price stagnant at $160 a pair.
Check out the side-by-side comparison below, with the latest version of the Ascension Nylon's pictured on the left and the older version shown on the right.
Here's a summary of the key differences between the Ascension Nylon's and the previous version:
While we're excited to get our hands on this new version, we haven't yet had the opportunity to do so. For now, the text and ratings in this review continue to reflect the older version.
Hand's-On Review of the Older Black Diamond Ascension Nylon Skins
The Ascension Nylon may be the most popular backcountry ski climbing skin in the United States. This popularity is not without reason. The product is reliable, durable, affordable, and widely available. The Ascension Nylon may be the most popular backcountry ski climbing skin in the United States. This popularity is not without reason. The product is reliable, durable, affordable, and widely available.
With durability and lower cost comes a decrease in glide. As compared to every one of the skins we tested with at least a little mohair in the mix, the Black Diamond Ascension glides more poorly. Or, to put it another way, skins with at least some mohair woven in climb more efficiently than any of the nylon ones. If, with each step, your ski and skin glides forward and up more easily, you will save energy. We find this generalization, that mohair enhances glide and decreases energy expenditure, to be true in all snow conditions. However, in any snow that has undergone melt/freeze metamorphosis, whether it is in its melted or in its frozen state, the difference is far less.
On corn snow, mohair glides better than nylon. On powder snow mohair (and mohair blends) glides better than nylon. However, the difference between the two on corn snow is far less. Some will not even notice the difference. If you ski a great deal of corn snow, and less powder, first of all, get narrow skis. Secondly, you can probably get away with skins like the Ascension Nylon from Black Diamond.
We use skins to increase the traction of our inherently slippery ski bottoms. The skins need to grip. This doesn't mean, however, that more grip is better. More grip means less glide, all else equal. And, as shown above, more glide means less energy spent skinning uphill. Energy saved going uphill can be used to make the downhill more fun. Yes!
Full nylon skins grip slightly better than the blended kind, and full nylon can be built to provide a great deal more grip. The Ascension Nylon strikes a good balance, gripping slightly better than most of the field, but not nearly as much as the purpose-built, Top Pick winning G3 High Traction. The Ascension has as much grip as almost anyone would need, in our opinion. Only those seeking out the steepest skin tracks will find they need more grip than the Black Diamond Ascension provides.
Black Diamond equips all of their skins with excellent glue. It is reliable, long-lasting, and is the perfect balance of reliable stick and easy release. We ask a great deal of the glue on our skins. It needs to stay on the skis under sometimes fairly intense use, and then release from the skis when we're done. Further, we store skins by folding them in half base to base (forget the mesh skin savers… those are just a hassle). Deploying them from this stored state requires that the glue disengage from itself. The Ascension glue does all this very well. Further enhancing the integrity of the glue is the stiffness of the backing fabric. Stiff fabric resists rolling. Rolling the edges of the skin fabric is the first step in wedging snow between ski and skin. If the skin rolls out of the way a little bit, and snow gets in there, it will continue to penetrate until the entire skin disengages. No bueno. The fabric of the Ascension Nylon is the stiffest in our test, and therefore resists that initial rolling far better than any others.
The one weakness in the Black Diamond glue integrity triumvirate is the tip connection. Other tip connections, basically all the other tip connections we tried, are more secure and better guard the vulnerable ski front interface. The simple cable loop keeps the skin on all but the most widely rounded tips, but allows little bits of snow to work in between ski and glue. Overall, this one weakness wasn't enough to break the bond maintained by excellent glue and stiff fabric, but it is worth keeping an eye on. The other Black Diamond skins, including the Editors' Choice Black Diamond Glidelite Mix STS feature the same glue and tip loop, but softer fabric. These with softer fabric do not resist snow penetration as well as the fully nylon.
All skins ice up. For the most part, it is very difficult to distinguish between skins in their resistance to icing. In the right conditions, usually warm and sunny, some liquid water is bound to get into the fabric of your skins. In another subset of conditions you will then step into colder snow that will freeze that water into an icy, snowy amalgamation. There is no way to avoid this, and no skin design has yet been able to totally prevent it. Every skin requires treatment and care to remove and prevent glopping. Basically, this means scraping and waxing your skins.
We did find some very basic differences between skins and icing resistance. As compared to its closest competitor, the Ascension Nylon resists icing slightly better than the G3 Alpinist. In overall scoring, this is the biggest difference between the two.
Packability and Weight
As compared to the Editors' Choice, the BD Mo-Mix skins, the Ascension Nylon is quite a bit bulkier. As compared to the closest competitor, the G3 Alpinist, the Ascension Nylon is still a bit bulkier. In fact, even though we tested them on the third narrowest skis in our test, these skins are the overall heaviest.
Ease of Use
The primary determinant of a skin's ease of use is the deployment of the skin onto ski. When pulling the skin apart after being folded glue-to-glue, we look for something that doesn't require Herculean tug-of-war skills. The Dynafit Speedskin pulls easier.
We tested two main types of skins in this review. Just under half the field was made up of skins sold with a particular make and model of ski. Those skins are, essentially, only compatible with that one type of ski. All of the Black Diamond and G3 skins we tested are available for use with any ski on the market.
This is an excellent tool for ski touring and mountaineering, particularly in spring-like conditions. If you are on a budget, it is even better. As the least expensive in our test, and often available at a further discount, it is definitely the best value in our review.
We give the Best Buy award to the best value product in our test. The Ascension grabs the win with a triple whammy of success. It is the least expensive product we tested. It is available in a minimalistic, stripped down form for even further savings. Finally, it performs well for a long, long time. The nylon fabric will last a long time, and the glue side can be refurbished every few seasons. These skins will long outlast ski size and shape trends.
All of our testing team, at one point or another, has owned a pair of Ascension Nylon skins. Whether it was the original purple ones back in the nineties or one of the more contemporary versions, we chose them at least once. This alone, not to mention the success in comparative testing, should serve as an endorsement. If you are looking, however, to upgrade for just a few bucks to greater overall performance, we can unequivocally recommend the Editors' Choice Black Diamond Glidelite Mix STS.
— Jediah Porter
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