How to Prepare for a Ski Touring Adventure

Daniel DawsonJanuary 09, 2020

At last, winter has arrived in the Northern Hemisphere and following closely in its wake the ski touring season as well!

All over the world, tens of millions of eager skiers will be dusting off their skis and poles and scouring the map to find their next incredible ski touring destination.

While many veterans know the drill for preparing for the new ski touring season, millions of others will be heading out of the resorts and into the backcountry for the first time.

In order to maximize the success of your trip as well as your safety, it is important to prepare properly for any ski touring adventure.

For Kyriakos Rossidis, an IFMGA-certified mountain guide who leads ski touring and mountaineering programs in the Alps, the start of ski season is an exciting and busy time.

However, Kyriakos still managed to find some time to explain to Explore & Share a little bit about how to best prepare for this ski touring season!

What is ski touring?

 

Ski touring is a type of skiing that takes place away from the resorts, in unmarked and unpatrolled parts of the mountain.

Ski touring is addictive. It’s difficult to match the feeling you get when traversing some of the world’s most beautiful peaks. Photo courtesy of Kyriakos Rossidis.

The snow is not maintained as it would normally be on a resort, which makes ski touring (or backcountry skiing as it is known in the United States) more technically difficult and dangerous.


Keep reading: What’s the Difference Between Freeride Skiing, Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering?


While resort skiing generally involves ascending the mountain on a chair lift or gondola, ski touring involves plenty of climbing on skins – pieces of material attached to the bottom of the ski to provide the skier with more traction on snow and ice. As a result, ski touring is more physically demanding than resort skiing.

Ski touring is just one type of off-piste skiing. Aside from ski mountaineering, ski touring is generally the most challenging type of off-piste skiing that takes you the farthest away from the resort. (Below is a visual aid to help define the different types of off-piste skiing.)

Top reasons to go ski touring

 

In spite of its difficulty, ski touring is an addictive sport and any passionate ski tourer will give you plenty of reasons why you should try it out too. Here are just a few.

1| Stunning scenery

 

Winter is an especially gorgeous time to head out into the mountains. Snow completely transforms the landscape, covering rugged mountain peaks and blanketing thick evergreen forests.

While all of this snow will impede hiking, heading out on a pair of skis with a local guide is a great way to get out into the middle of nature and enjoy some of the world’s most sublime scenery.

2| Escape the crowds

The solitude of being out in the midst of nature mostly alone is one of the biggest attractions of ski touring. Photo courtesy of Kyriakos Rossidis.

Many people enjoy ski touring because of the sense of solitude it provides. Once you get off the resort and out into the wilderness there is no more waiting in line at the lift or navigating crowded slopes.

Ski touring is a great way to disconnect and get away from the comings and goings of everyday life. It is the perfect way to be present in the moment.

3| Plenty of diversity

 

Ski touring can be done on all seven continents and at any one moment, some part of the planet has the perfect conditions in which to do so.

It would take several lifetimes to find and explore all of the world’s incredible ski touring spots, which means there is always somewhere new to go and discover!

How to prepare

 

Ski touring can be a real challenge. It is important to head out on any ski touring trip properly prepared. This means bringing the correct equipment, being in good physical condition and brushing up on all the skills you’ll need to successfully get off-piste.

A successful ski touring expedition starts with being in good shape – it’s a physical activity – and brushing up on the skills needed to ski off-piste. Photo courtesy of Kyriakos Rossidis.

“The base preparation for most mountain sports always involves good amounts of aerobic exercise (hillwalking, running, cycling, mountain biking, etc) and getting out for long days in the hills whenever possible,” Kyriakos says.

He recommends at least one long session of trail running, mountain biking or hillwalking per week in order to build up your stamina. These should last for at least two hours.

“On top of your aerobic training program, you can add some strength training to get the muscles in shape in order to get you up the mountain and avoid injuries,” Kyriakos says. “To do so you can add gym sessions with weight exercises twice a week.”

These sessions should be focussed on lifting low weights with high repetitions, with an emphasis on increasing the repetitions over time.

In addition to being in proper physical condition to head out on a ski touring adventure, it is also important to have all of the proper skills to safely and successfully ski off-piste.


Keep reading: Am I Ready to Ski the Backcountry? Transitioning from On Piste to Off Piste Skiing


Learning how to ski tour is a bit like learning how to ski all over again. Changing terrains and snow textures means that various different methods of turning and moving your body on the skis are needed to keep you upright and going.

For those who want to try ski touring for the first time or need to brush up on his or her skills, Kyriakos offers a 5-day course on the slopes of Mont Blanc, from Chamonix.

During this course, participants will learn how to climb in skins and ski on uneven terrains and powders; how to evaluate and deal with risks linked to skiing off-piste; and how to use a transceiver, shovel, and probe during an avalanche.

Physical fitness is an important part of any ski touring trip. There’s lots of uphill to climb in the backcountry. Photo courtesy of the Mitja Šorn Guiding Team.

Last, but certainly not least, it is always important to bring the proper equipment on your next ski touring expedition. The difference between a safe and successful trip and a failed one can sometimes come down to having the right gear at the right time.

The following is a basic list of things to bring on any ski touring adventure. However, always check with your guide to see what he or she recommends you to bring.

  • Avalanche safety gear – transceiver, shovel, probe, and avalanche airbag
  • Touring skis
  • Climbing skins
  • Bindings
  • Boots
  • Ski goggles
  • Ski crampons (if you need to walk on icy surfaces)

Top spots for ski touring adventures:

 

1| Chamonix, France

 

Sitting in the shadow of Mont Blanc, on France’s eastern border with Italy, Chamonix is home to some of the top ski touring in the Alps.

The picturesque resort town serves as the starting point for the world-famous Haute Route and is also a common starting point for all kinds of ski touring adventures on the Mont Blanc massif.

With so much to see and do, it’s little wonder that more than one million people visit Chamonix each winter.

Best season: January to April

2| Triglav National Park, Slovenia

 

Tucked into the Julian Alps in northern Slovenia, Triglav National Park is easily the country’s most popular ski touring destination.

Mount Triglav is one of Europe’s best kept secrets. Head there this winter to find out why! Photo courtesy of Mitja Šorn Guiding Team.

Skinning to the top of Mount Triglav, the highest peak in the whole country, and skiing back down is the main attraction in the stunningly beautiful national park.

The climbing is not overly difficult and the reward for making it to the top is impeccable panoramic views and an incredibly fun, adrenaline-pumping descent to the bottom.

Best season: January to April

3| Gudauri, Georgia

 

Sitting on the southern plateau of the Caucasus Mountain Range, Gudauri is an excellent ski touring spot for powder hounds seeking to get off the beaten path and explore somewhere new.

Characterized by its high slopes, Gundauri is completely above the treeline, promising plenty of great views to go with its incredible descents.

Seven chair lifts and gondolas take skiers up from the valley to the top of the mountain, ensuring plenty of variety. Heliskiing is also a popular option for those who want to head even further out into the backcountry.

Best season: January to April

4| Mamay Valley, Siberia

 

Situated in the heart of stunning Siberia, the Mamay Valley is the perfect place to head for some sublime scenery and incredible powder.

Week-long ski touring programs take visitors through this remote part of the world, allowing them to see the incredible forest clearings and pillow lines in and around the valley.

From the top of the mountain peaks to the valley floor below, ski tourers will enjoy 1,000 to 1,500 vertical meter (3,280 to 4,920 feet) descents and try to make at least three or four runs per day.

Best season: December to April

5| Hokkaido, Japan

 

Widely considered to be the best ski touring spot anywhere on Earth, heading to Hokkaido should be at the top of every skier’s bucket list.

Enjoy deep and high-quality powder all winter long in Hokkaido, Japan. Photo courtesy of Josef Simunek.

A combination of its unique geography and climate means that the northerly Japanese island receives up to 18 meters (59 feet) of snow per season! Along with the quantity comes quality as well. The powder is usually always dry and fluffy; perfect for making winter tracks.

Most guides opt to head to one of the various national parks, in order to ski on some of the island’s volcanoes and check out the hot springs as well.

Best season: January to April

6| Banff, Canada

 

Located at the heart of the Canadian Rocky Mountains, on the western edge of Alberta, Banff National Park is a ski tourer’s paradise.

Canada’s oldest national park is chock-full of great ski touring sights and some of the most fabulous scenery found anywhere in North America. Once winter comes around, the powder is also plentiful and always of high quality.

Lake Louise is among the most popular spots for freeriding and off-piste skiing in the park. The Wapta Traverse, across the icefield of the same name, is another popular option for those looking to escape into the backcountry for a while.

Best season: December to April

7| El Chaltén, Argentina

 

Situated in the foothills of the mighty Andes Mountains, El Chaltén is fast becoming an Argentine ski touring hotspot.

With the mighty Fitz Roy and most iconic mountain skyline in all of Patagonia, ski tourers headed to El Chaltén are in for a stunningly scenic and unique visit.

While ski touring is increasing in popularity, the city is still quite small. This means that the backcountry is largely empty and ski tourers to the area can enjoy a bona fide wilderness skiing experience.

Best season: July to September

Ski touring
Heading to the Southern Hemisphere means you can ski during the European off season too! Photo courtesy of Merlín Lipshitz.

 

So what are you waiting for? Ski touring season is underway throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Check out one of the many options above or on the site in general and get ready for your next great ski touring adventure!

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