There’s a common misconception that ski tourers are either skinny men in Lycra sprinting up the hill, or groups all carrying 40 litre packs to head off into the back country for weeks on end. Don’t get me wrong, these stereotypes do exist, but are very much at the far ends of the spectrum. In fact in the current day, ski touring is easily accessible to anyone heading out on holiday and in most resorts there is terrain to suit most abilities. A lot of hire shops will rent you decent quality touring equipment, as well as help you out with route ideas.
When the summer comes to an end, the road bike is packed away and the running trainers only come out on the clearest of April days, my basement is generally overrun with skis, wax and kit ready to be checked and sorted, and the touring skis are often the first to be given the once-over.
Ski Touring Preparation
Whatever the type of touring you are going to do, there are a few essentials you need to think about. The first of course is the touring kit itself. You’ll need:
- A good pair of lightweight skis is essential, along with some adjustable poles.
- Your skins (the grip that is attached to the bottom of the ski for the walk up) need to be in good condition, with enough adhesive to stick to the ski and enough hair to grip the snow for traction.
- A decent rucksack with a waist strap to help distribute the load is important, with at least 20 litres – you actually carry a lot more than you’d think!
- A change of clothes is not an obvious one in some people’s minds, but it’s a real essential. It’s hard sweaty work climbing a mountain and those dry warm clothes are a godsend at the top.
- Your nutrition. A decent amount of water and snacks should be the first thing you tick off.
- Finally, directions. A good map, be it piste or OS, is a must-have.
How and Why to Ski Tour
In my life I find there are two types of touring. With both of these types, you will of course find yourself on the end of the obligatory comments from your friends:
“You know the lifts are open right?”
“Where are you off to? Après starts in 20mins!”
“You’re going the wrong way!” (My personal favourite)
All are easily ignored or laughed off!
The first way to tour is for fitness. From an early morning blast to a favourite coffee stop before work, a lazy-day-off tour to prepare for après, or a night tour via head torch to a mountain hut for some traditional food and drinks – followed by an ‘interesting’ ski down. Whatever you choose, touring is a great opportunity to experience the mountain in a different way.
The second way to tour is purely for exploration. Taking yourselves back country up into the mountains, well away from lifts and other people is an incredible way to truly experience the mountains. The Alps are fantastic for off-piste touring, with guides available in most resorts and ample maps, websites, routes and info available.
Safety is paramount, so make sure your avalanche kit is packed and that you know how to use it. Extra layers and food should be packed and your phone well charged. These tours should generally be done with friends – for safety, but also because it would be a crying shame not to share the experience with people. On a clear day with fresh snow, a back country tour can be the highlight of your week or season – touring through woods with snow covered tress, next to frozen rivers, up winding hill trails, right through to zig-zagging up high mountain peaks, you’ll find scenery to take your breath away in every direction.
A lot of the routes are as simple as getting out your car, clipping into your skis, checking your map and then heading on up. Then of course you have the ski down. Some tours will be a simple ski back down a path you toured up, and then there are some tours where you will have miles of fresh powder at your disposal. Every turn in knee-deep snow makes every step on the way up well worth the effort.
To make your tour even more enjoyable why not plot your route to take in a couple of mountain huts? The back country mountain huts are a lot more rustic with open fires, traditional food and always a warm welcome. Coffee and hot chocolate – or something stronger – are always available to go along with your hot apple strudel.
Whatever your fitness or ski ability there will almost certainly be a tour out there to suit you. Do something a little different this winter and explore the mountains on your own steam.