• David Roberts

Why Go Ski Touring?

Ski touring has become an increasingly popular part of the sport of skiing in recent years. Lighter & better boots, bindings and skis have all helped but what else is attracting people to this type of skiing?

Skinning on the Italian side of the Grand St Bernard pass
Huw Thomas climbing away from the Grand St Bernard monastery, Swiss/Italian border

Ski touring (ski de randonnée in French) shouldn't be confused with cross country skiing (ski de fond). Ski tourers use alpine skis, with skins glued and hooked underneath which grip the snow for climbing. The bindings allow the heel to be free for walking and the boots have good walk modes and walking boot soles too. At the top of the climb you peel your skins off, lock down your heel bindings, do up your boots and ski down: a brilliant way to end a walk in the mountains!


But why are more and more people choosing to earn their turns? Walking uphill can be hard work, so why not just buy a lift pass and go skiing? Here are a few reasons to go out and enjoy a ski-tour.


Peace & Quiet


 Amy Twigge approaching the top of the Tête de Ferret, Swiss/Italian/French border
Amy Twigge approaching the top of the Tête de Ferret, Swiss/Italian/French border

One of the main attractions of ski touring has to be escaping the crowds. Even during peak weeks, you can find places to go where you might not see anybody else all day. Time to take a packed-lunch and go and enjoy some solitude and maybe some fresh tracks too.


Adventures

Climbing over the steep cornice, Mittlebärgpass, Switzerland
Climbing over the steep cornice, Mittlebärgpass, Switzerland

Just walking away from the pistes is an adventure at first. Eventually you might want to learn some mountaineering skills in order cross glaciers or get to the top of the steeper peaks. With time, you might need to hire a boat to sail up fjords or a plane to fly into a remote wilderness or a man with camel to carry your skis: it's all part of the fun!


Views

Ben Gifford on the east side of the Col de le Chaux, Verbier
Ben Gifford on the east side of the Col de le Chaux, Verbier

Mountains in the winter are truly beautiful places. Check the weather and avalanche forecasts, pack your skins & camera and go exploring!


Sharing with Friends

Instructors from a variety of ski schools enjoying the view home to Verbier from Mont Rogneux
Instructors from a variety of ski schools enjoying the view home to Verbier from Mont Rogneux

Going on a ski tour is a brilliant way to spend a day out with friends. You can chat as you walk up the hill and then enjoy the fun of skiing down together.


First Tracks

Tom Waddington getting fresh tracks whilst the snow is still falling, Verbie
Tom Waddington getting fresh tracks whilst the snow is still falling, Verbie

Being able to walk uphill on skis means that you can get to places other skiers cannot reach. Skinning for just 30 minutes might get you to that secret powder stash that is just too far for a boot-pack. Make sure you understand the snow & avalanche conditions properly and get out there!


Stopping for Lunch

Keedy Noble approaches the Cabane des Becs des Bossons, Grimentz, Switzerland
Keedy Noble approaches the Cabane des Becs des Bossons, Grimentz, Switzerland

The Alps have many places to stay, tucked away in the high mountains. They're known as refuges or cabanes or huttes. The buildings can range from small sheds with no facilities to stone buildings with mains electricity, showers, restaurants and hundreds of beds. A few huts are open all year round but most are closed during the winter. As spring approaches, more huts open for the main ski-touring season around Easter. They're a great place to visit for lunch, spend a night or even link together in a multi-day tour. Here's a video of New Generation Tignes visiting their local mountain refuge.


Keeping Fit

Max Wild strides out on his way to the Rosablanche, Switzerland
Max Wild strides out on his way to the Rosablanche, Switzerland

Ski touring is a great way to get some exercise in the snowy, winter mountains. Some resorts now have waymarked skinning trails, so that you can climb through the woods, stop for lunch in a restaurant and then ski down the pistes to go home. Skinning up ski pistes is dangerous and also illegal in many resorts. A typical rate of ascent for a fun day out is 300-400 metres per hour but the fastest racers can do up to 1,500m per hour. There are ski-mountaineering races, with the biggest attracting thousands of competitors and lasting over a day. One of the most famous is the Patrouille des Glaciers race from Zermatt to Verbier.


Going Further Afield

Bivouac on Volcan Lanin, Argentina, with Volcan Villarica in Chile on the horizon
Bivouac on Volcan Lanin, Argentina, with Volcan Villarica in Chile on the horizon

Once you get into ski-touring, anywhere with mountains and snow becomes a possible place to explore and ski. It might be the forests and volcanoes of Patagonia, the high mountains of the Himalayas or with the northern lights in Iceland. Groups such as the Eagle Ski Club go on trips all around the world. It's a great reason to visit new places, try new food, meet new people and go skiing.

In the end, to ski is to travel fast and free – free over untouched snow country. To be bound to one slope, even one mountain, by a lift may be convenient but it robs us of the greatest pleasure that skiing can give, that is to travel through the wide wintery country; to follow the lure of peaks which tempt on the horizon and to be alone for a few days or even hours in clear, mysterious surroundings.

Hans Gmoser

Fresh tracks on a ski-tour near La Grave, France, February 2017
Fresh tracks on a ski-tour near La Grave, France, February 2017

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