With the uncertainty of when this Winter’s ski resorts will be opening up around Europe, ski fans across the country are wondering how they can still get their snow fix this season... Ski touring might just be the answer!
Many locals across the European ski resorts have already been itching to go ski touring to get their mountain fix! Industry research from ISPO told brands that ski touring, splitboarding and freeride skiing and snowboarding is one of the fastest growing categories in the snowsports industry and we can totally see why! Fitness, adventure and shredding all rolled into one… what more could you want?!
So what is ski touring? You could be forgiven for thinking that ski touring is only for the most extreme among us, imagery of high peaks, big lines and staying endless nights in a tent in the snow is how ski touring and splitboarding can often be portrayed. Yes, ski touring gives us access to hard to access areas of the mountains, beautiful powder fields and unlimited adventures, however, ski touring and splitboarding is literally just the act of walking up a mountain with skins on your skis.
Many would argue that ski touring and splitboarding is more about the uphill, the thrill of exercise, adventure and amazing views. But being able to access those areas that can’t be reached via chairlift does mean you get the thrill of some pretty epic untracked terrain to ski / snowboard down!
Typically ski touring and splitboarding can range from one day adventures to areas around your local mountain to several day traverses and hut trips. Multi day ski touring and splitboarding trips often involved spending the night in mountain refuges or in tents - also known as hut to hut skiing. This is where the real pull of ski touring comes in, nothing beats waking up on top of a mountain in the morning with a coffee watching the sunrise knowing you have used your own body and energy to get you there!
Now we are not going to lie to you and tell you ski touring is easy. It’s demanding on your fitness and you need to have a good level of skill to manage the terrain, the uphill climb and then the ski down. So you don’t have to be a superhuman fitness freak but you do need a good level of fitness and be able to ski red pistes and be confident skiing on different terrain to think about giving ski touring a go.
Pete Swenson, Director of the U.S. Ski Mountaineering Association, says that almost anyone can do it. “If you’re capable of a slow jog, you can skin up the side of the hill,” However,a few hours skinning uphill can be pretty tiring and if the conditions are not perfect the descent can be just as hard in tough terrain and we all know how hard it can be falling over and getting up again in deep snow so the fitter you are the more you will get out of ski touring! Check out our blog from Martha Perry Massage Therapy on some easy at home exercises you can do to build up your strength for skiing.
Despite the draw for those untracked pristine powder fields, when starting out we recommend you start with a few hours touring on easy terrain. Most ski resorts will have a dedicated skin track out of the way of the busy pistes. We started out on the side of the cross country tracks which often also means the uphill won’t be too steep, allowing plenty of time to enjoy the walk, get used to your kit and practice your technique without expending all your energy going up hill.
A key thing to master first is the essential ski touring techniques, skinning up, kick turns, managing uneven terrain, off piste skiing techniques and learning the ins and outs of how your kit works. Taking skins on and off and adjusting your bindings from walk mode to ski mode is a whole different kettle of fish up the mountain in a snowstorm than in your living room!
Mountain safety and ski touring and splitboarding go hand in hand. First up we should note you shouldn't really go ski touring alone, having someone else there if something was to go wrong is very important and could very well save your life.
Investing in a mountain safety and avalanche safety course before you go ski touring is imperative. There are loads of courses to choose from and most local ski and snowboard schools will put them on throughout the winter season! If you are in the Portes du Soleil we recommend from experience Avoriaz Alpine Ski School and Real Snowboarding who both put on great courses.
It is also a good idea to go with a guide on your first ski touring adventure, particularly if you are going off piste. A guide will help you with your technical skills as well as show you the best lines up and down the mountain to ascend and descend in the safest (and most fun) way possible!
With all mountain safety and planning off-piste adventure’s it is also super important to check the weather and mountain conditions before you go. As we all know, weather conditions in the mountains can change very quickly and very drastically so it’s imperative that you are prepared. This can mean checking if you are going to be summiting north or south facing slopes? Is there a storm on the forecast? What's the temperature going to be like? Whats the wind doing? Are you going to be exposed? What angle of slope are you going to be summiting and does this impact the avalanche risk? If you are unsure of all the above again it’s highly recommended you go with a guide who can show you and teach you how to assess weather forecasts and mountain conditions before you even step foot out of the house and strap your skis on!
Ski touring and splitboarding certainly is not without risks! Ski touring and splitboarding often involves skinning across glaciers and unknown terrain which can involve crevasses so traversing on glaciers is often down roped together so therefore requires an understanding and knowledge of glacier safety.
One final safety measure to be aware of is other people skin and ski tracks. It can be tempting to follow someone else's line into an open powder field thinking that because someone else has done it, it will be safe. It is so important to asses these risks yourself or with a guide and not to blinding follow someone elses tracks.
Ski touring involves a lot of different kit to your regular piste and downhill skiing. Technical ski touring gear has come on leaps and bounds in the last few years due to it’s increasing popularity and the technology out there. This means there is a lot to choose from!
Choosing your gear depends on what type of ski tourer you are. Are you all about the uphill, getting to the summit as fast as possible or is ski touring a way for you to enjoy the downhill and access areas you can’t from the lifts? The answer to these questions will drastically change what type of kit you need!
Sport Conrad suggest there are 4 types of ski tourer:
This type of ski tourer is just looking for a little bit of everything, light enough kit to save energy on the uphill but also skis that will take them everywhere from a little skin track up the piste to a hut to hut mission. This person is looking for a ski touring all round quiver!
For the uphill tourer, every gram counts. The heavier your kit the harder it is to lug up hill! For the uphill tourer the adventure is all about the fitness and energy required to get to the top and that feeling you get when you summit! For this type of ski tourer weight and tech is going to be the key feature!
For the freeride tourer it is all about the downhill. This will mean sacrificing lightweight kit for skis that are wider and more stable, bindings with a higher release range and boots that look more like a regular downhill ski boot.
The racer is a different breed all together. This is all about getting up as quick as possible whilst completely sacrificing the down. This is all about weight, skinny skis and lightweight flexible boots with flexibility that almost mimics your hiking boots, this type of ski touring is next level fitness!
Investing in ski touring kit is not cheap so you want to ensure you purchase the right kit for you!
Depending on the type of ski tourer you are, you will be looking for a very different type of ski. Here at latitude we are just the general all rounders! You can check out our top picks for ski touring skis for 2020/21 in our guide here!
These are strips of nylon or mohair that stick to the bottom of your skis to allow you to walk uphill.The fur flattens as you move uphill, allowing your skis to glide over the snow, but it grips to keep you from sliding back after each step. Skins come in a variety of lengths and widths which as a general rule you can cut to suit the size of your skis. More often than not when you purchase a dedicated ski for touring the brand will have a recommended skin that goes with that pair of skis, often pre cut and ready to fit your skis!
So there are a lot of options for ski touring bindings you can choose from these days. This can range from alpine touring specific lightweight bindings to resort and backcountry hybrids that can change from your regular downhill binding to a pin binding.
The main difference with ski touring bindings is that they have to allow your heel to rise out of the binding when you are skinning uphill and then click your heel back into place when you want to ski down. Most brands of ski touring binding do this with a pin mechanism. A pin sits in the front of the binding that attaches to little holes in the front of your ski touring boot, allowing the toe of the boot to hinge forward. The back of the heel piece will either pivot or click backwards to allow your heel to rise up and down when walking and then click back into place for your heel to click in place for skiing downhill.
Again for us at Latitude we are the 'general all rounder' kind of ski tourers and therefore want to ensure our bindings work and feel good for skiing downhill as well as not being too heavy for skinning up. We recommend:
For regular alpine touring, skinning up requires that you have more flexibility in your boots, yet still stay stable for you to ski down. Touring boots look a lot like your tradition alpine ski boots but will have a form of walk mode, adjustable tongues and straps, a pin binding mechanism at the front and will be much more flexible and lighter than your regular ski boot. Again depending on what type of ski tourer you are, it will affect what type of ski touring boots you might want to buy.
This season we are rocking the Women's Dalbello Lupo.
When ski touring or splitboarding it’s important to get your layering correct. Going uphill can get SWEATY so you want to pack lightweight layers that will keep you dry and cool on the way up and warm and dry on the way down. We recommend merino base layers for their cooling and moisture wicking capabilities. Check out our guide to merino base layers! Always pack one more layer than you think you might need in case you get sweaty, wet or cold. As we all know those conditions can change in a heartbeat on the mountain and you wouldn’t want to get caught out!
With your jacket it’s best to have a lightweight shell that can pack away small but will protect you from the elements if it’s windy or snowy. We prefer a 3 layer shell jacket as we can scrunch it up in our bag when we are touring up, yet we know over the top of a down jacket it will protect us and keep us warm from the elements when skiing down!
When choosing ski touring trousers or ski touring pants it’s good to think about weight as well as stretch. When skinning uphill the motions are very similar to hiking so you are going to need plenty of room in your trousers to move about! We also recommend a 3 layer shell pant that can be worn on top of merino base layer bottoms with plenty of air vents that you can open when you get hot skinning up. We also like to have bibs when we ski tour as it gives us a few more pockets to stash snacks and safety gear, another layer on top and also keeps the snow out on those deep powder days!
Never go ski touring without your avalanche safety kit. As a basic minimum this will consist of a avalanche transceiver, a probe, a shovel and a first aid kit. It is really important you learn how to use each of these bits of ski touring equipment before heading out on the mountain as we hate to be dramatic but this really could mean the difference between life or death. There are loads of great courses you can sign up to in your local resorts and some amazing information online too!
When splitboarding you need the same layering system as ski touring but your snowboard and boots will obviously look different. Snowboarders will use a splitboard which is a board that can split in half creating two ‘skis’ essentially for skinning uphill. Splitboards also have their own specific skins too which again are often bought alongside the splitboard.
Splitboard bindings are also similar to ski touring bindings in that you need your heel to rise in order to walk up hill. Splitboard bindings are super clever in that you can twist them to create forward facing bindings for walking up hill and then attach them back on like normal snowboard bindings for the way down. Be careful though as with taking bindings on and off in cold snowy conditions bindings can get clogged with frozen snow and ice so be sure you have had plenty of practice taking your bindings on and off before venturing out.
Don't forget you will also need collapsible poles for skinning up and to pack away on your backpack when you snowboard down!
We recommend the Burton Hitchhikers.
So now you have your kit, practiced your technique, gone on a couple of ski tours with a guide and have done some mountain and avalanche safety courses you are ready for a big ski touring adventure! But where should you go ski touring?
Ski touring the haute route is not for the faint hearted. Famous for the Patrouille de Glacier race, a gruelling race over 24 hours this is a high alpine exposed route!
Not all of us want to rush it though and there mountain refuges you can stay in along the way if you are looking for a more laid back adventure. We love this movie from Faction skis of their adventure along the Haute Route exploring all the big lines Zermatt to Verbier had to offer!
Offering the experience of skiing right down the the ski Ski Touring in Norway has to be on our bucket list! The beautiful Fjords and views of water and mountains are second to none! Check out this film by Pete Oswald, Sophie Stevens and Jackson Lana of their epic trip skiing hut to hut in Norway!
This has to be on the list. Canada is a powder skiers dream with endless terrain, rolling powder fields and wild untouched areas.
Japan is famous for that bottomless champagne powder, tree runs and beautiful volcano summits. The island of Hokkaido is powder skiing and Sapporo is a good base to explore!
A rogue suggestion, but ski touring in Scotland is growing in popularity and with this winter being uncertain if we can travel abroad, there is some awesome ski touring available in our own backyard. The Scottish highlands are stunningly beautiful, we have actually had a couple of epic powder days there and you get to support the local tourism industry too! Win win! Check out Fall-Lines best backcountry spots in Scotland!
Last but not least our quick essential list for what should go into your ski touring backpack before every adventure!
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