Contour Hybrid Mix Review
Cons: Expensive, largest and heaviest messenger
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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, but we wish the glue were stickier. Catalog copy from Contour suggests revolutionary glue performance; we found the glue to be inadequate in some circumstances and in some hands. 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 average to below-average glues on the market.
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.
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.
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 worse than most. With fastidious use, they do all you need them to do. Get clumsy, though, and you will pay for it.
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.
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.
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.
These are among the most expensive skins we tested, but the performance is worthwhile.
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 almost 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.
— Jediah Porter