These skins are "just right". They aren't the best at any one thing, and that is by design. Virtually every performance attribute is balanced by another. Maximize glide, say, and you reduce grip. And the same goes for virtually every assessment criteria. Inherently, good climbing skins are going to be compromises. For us, and for how we understand backcountry skiing, the Contour Hybrid Mix is perfectly compromised. Iterative improvements are great and will continue. Right now, Contour is nailing it.
Contour Hybrid Mix Review
Cons: Expensive, largest and heaviest messenger
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
Despite lofty claims, these are solid, traditional climbing skins, built to strike an outstanding balance. The product is well executed. Catalog copy from Contour suggests revolutionary glue performance; we found the glue to be great, but not revolutionary. And that is a good thing. Each glue "revolution" in climbing skins seems to fall short of the basic program that has worked for decades. On a micro level, we're sure that the Contour Hybrid glue system is indeed nuanced. However, in application, it works as well as the other best glues on the market, and this is great.
These are our top scoring climbing skins. Skins are saddled with a variety of competing demands. They need to glide and to grip. They need to stick to your skis when you use them and peel off easily when you don't. The bases need to stick to one another for storage and let go for application to your skis. Every single performance attribute is basically balanced by a competing performance attribute. Assessing skins is difficult, as everything is nuanced and balanced; there are tradeoffs. For backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering, as we know it, the Hybrid Mix skins nail the sweet spot. Of course, we wish that certain things were better, but we know intimately that improvements in one arena have costs in another attribute. We dig the way Contour strikes a balance.
Glide is the most important, and therefore most highly weighted, performance attribute for your climbing skins. For efficiency, skins need to glide forward. However, maximize glide, and you entirely lose grip. There will always be a sweet spot, and for different users, that sweet spot may move around. Beginning backcountry skiers want more grip and less glide. Improve your skinning technique, and you need less grip and want more glide. A small number of folks will want more glide and less grip, and a similarly small number of people will want more grip and less glide. However, the big, center of the bell curve of users will dig the exact balance that the Hybrid Mix skins strike. On the Contour skins you can slide down gentle hills and swinging your foot forward is largely unencumbered.
The only skins that glide better than the Hybrid Mix skins (and we tested head to head, with a deep pool of testers in a variety of conditions) are those made with some sort of specialized material. Full mohair construction, like that of the Top Pick Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair definitely glides better. The patterned plastic base of the unique (and also Top Pick winning) Fischer ProFoil skins glide like crazy. Otherwise, the Contour Hybrid Mix skins glide about like the other blended skins. The Best Buy Black Diamond Mohair Mix skins are real similar.
Grip is the antithesis of glide. Similarly, it needs to be balanced. Of course, maximum grip would be great, but we have to acknowledge that maximum grip has minimum glide. There is always a give and take. In short, the Hybrid Mix skins have enough grip for all but the clumsiest skinners in the gnarliest of conditions.
The full nylon construction of the Black Diamond Ascension has maximum grip. This grip is hardly necessary for anyone. For new skinners in icy conditions, it may be worth learning with something like the full nylon. Otherwise, the grip of the Contour is all you'll need.
Glue integrity is actually a combination of the nature of the glue itself and the stiffness of the skin fabric. Sticky glue helps skins stay on skis. Also, and less obvious, stiffer skins stay better on skis. Super soft skin fabric rolls at the edges, letting snow force its way in and leading to glue failure. As in everything skin related, there is a balance to strike. Super sticky glue is great until you need to wrestle skins apart from storage, while super stiff fabric is best for glue integrity until you need to pack them in your jacket front.
The glue and fabric employed by the Hybrid Mix skins stays on your skis better than most. Only the stiff and sticky Black Diamond Ascension does better.
The primary variable influencing fabric side icing is skin wax. A waxed skin will always glop less than an unwaxed one. Nonetheless, normalizing for waxing, we still see some differences. The propensity for icing is a function, after wax, of manufacturer pretreatment and percentage of nylon in the fabric. Good pretreatments help, and more nylon helps. It isn't real clear what Contour does to their skins, but our anecdotal experience seems to suggest that icing is reasonable.
The Hybrid Skins ice less than most; the only skins that ice less are fully synthetic in construction. The plastic base material of the Top Pick Fischer Profoil picks up virtually no ice, compared to fabric-based skins. The full nylon construction of the Black Diamond Ascension skins is the next best, in terms of icing.
Thin fabrics and flexible backing make for a more packable skin. Of course, larger skis require larger skins, which also influences packability. Correcting our assessment for ski size, the Hybrid Mix skins are among the most packable. That they can be so light and compact while still being stiff enough to resist peeling is much appreciated. See? Every design criterion has a counterpart. You can't tug on one part of the skin design equation without affecting another. However, you can tune things to optimize in a couple of directions. The packability attributes of the Contour skins doesn't seem to dramatically compromise other attributes.
Only the Pomoca Climb Pro Mohair skins are more portable than the Contour. Both of these are made with thin fabrics and relatively light coating of glue. This makes for a smaller and lighter package than the robust Black Diamond Ascension.
Compatibility is easy to assess. Either the skins can be cut to fit a variety of skis, or they are built for one particular make and model. The Hybrid Mix skins are compatible with all skis.
Pretty much all skins we review are universally compatible. Only the Dynafit Speedskins and Fischer Profoil have compatibility issues.
We handily recommend these skins for any and all sorts of backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. Only beginning skinners will want something different, and those will be well served with the higher traction options, if only for their first few practice tours.
These are the most expensive skins we tested, but the quality and performance are worthwhile.
We like it when awards are easy to choose. The Contour Hybrid Mix climbers top our scoring rubric and were the staff favorite through the testing season. When these things align, an Editors' Choice award isn't far behind.
— Jediah Porter