What Is Ski Mountaineering? Equipment, Best Season, Top Spots

Ski mountaineering is a combination of mountaineering and ski touring. It is the activity of ascending a mountain on skis or carrying them and then descending down it. There are varying levels of difficulty, though all share the same basic principles of climbing and skiing.

This sport is a great way to explore every part of a region. It allows access to remote parts of a mountain that are otherwise inaccessible to skiers. Descending down untouched snow is the icing on the cake, and participants can take exciting runs that have yet to be discovered. It makes for a personalized trip and completely immerses an adventurer in mountain culture.

Ascending Mount Elbrus. Photo: Ivan Moshnikov.

The terrain when ski mountaineering is often challenging. High altitudes, narrow couloirs, and steep drops are exciting obstacles for both mountaineering and skiing. This makes it a popular activity for experienced adventurers of all skill levels. Best of all, the sport offers unique and compelling destinations all over the world.

A substantial amount of training and experience is necessary for ski mountaineering – it is definitely an advanced activity. This means participants should be well-versed in mountaineering techniques and have a high skill level in backcountry skiing. Depending on the difficulty of the excursion, it may require skins or technical equipment.

Precautions are needed for avalanche danger, difficult access, acclimatization, and unstable weather. Not only is there a wide range of equipment needed to bring along, but participants need to know how to use all parts of their kit. The knowledge of both the mountain and the gear are equally crucial aspects to a safe and successful trip.

Skiing down the Haute Route in Corsica. Photo: Jean Annequin.

When is the best time of year to go ski mountaineering?

Ski mountaineering is best done in spring, when winter is ending and summer has yet to begin. From roughly March to June, the snow is still plentiful while the weather is less volatile, making it the prime season for great expeditions in a safe environment.

Winter conditions often include a higher avalanche risk and unstable weather, so it is often a dangerous time for an expedition.

Of course, with worldwide destinations, it is possible to follow the ideal climate across the globe and enjoy this sport year round.

What equipment do you need?

The essential equipment for ski mountaineers is a healthy combination of skiing and climbing gear. This includes:

  • Helmet
  • Skis
  • Skins
  • Bindings
  • Boots
  • Crampons
  • Harness
  • Ice Axe
  • Belay
  • Rope(s)
  • Carabiners
  • Avalanche Safety Kit
  • Snow Anchors

Weather-appropriate clothing, sun protection, a first aid kit, and food and drink(s) should also be considered for an expedition.

The remote Kamchatka Peninsula. Photo: Grigory Mintsev.

For certain programs, some of the equipment may be included with the trip. Avalanche safety gear and rental equipment are usually available for rent as well.

Why should you hire a guide for ski mountaineering?

A guide is an invaluable part of a ski mountaineering program. The sport is one of the most challenging and demanding, and including someone trained and knowledgeable can only enhance your trip.

A guide makes your trip exponentially safer, and will generally have a certain level of expertise in ski mountaineering. This can also be beneficial to your own skill level and technique, because the guide can assist you in becoming a better mountaineer and a better skier.

Ski mountaineering on Mont Blanc. Photo: Marco Tamponi.

10 best spots to go ski mountaineering in the world:

  1. Mount Elbrus (Georgia): One of the world´s seven summits – and Europe´s tallest peak – this mountain and dormant volcano balances thrilling ski runs with challenging ascents that are perfect for experienced ski mountaineers.

2. Mont Blanc (France): Mont Blanc is amazing for so many levels, and ski mountaineering is one of them. This French masterpiece in the Graian Alps has some of the best views and exciting routes in the world.

3. Mount Logan (Canada): In the northern Canadian wilderness, true adventurers will find this majestic peak as a delightful challenge. It is North America´s second tallest mountain, and is known for its remote location and prime powder.

4. Gran Paradiso (Italy): A mountain that provides that classic Alpine experience, this tall summit – the tallest located completely within Italy – is a great place to hone your mountaineering and skiing skills.

5. Mount Kazbek (Georgia): Another dormant volcano of the Caucasus, Kazbek has steep slopes that are a blast to ski down after a bit of mountaineering.

Atop the Ecrins Massif. Photo: Stephane Monari.

6. Mount Fuji (Japan): The ascent requires skins, crampons, and a few hours of climbing, but skiing down Fuji´s iconic slopes is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It´s totally worth it.

7. Grossglockner (Austria): This Austrian gem has excellent mountaineering features, including some exposed climbs, all with the inevitable reward of skiing down the sweet Alpine snow.

8. Mount Aneto (Spain): The Pyrenees are a fantastic place to gain some experience, and its highest peak is the best place to start. It doesn´t require significant climbing obstacles, but its runs are scenic and memorable.

9. Dome des Ecrins (France): Ecrins is a rare beauty with some superb technical challenges. Ski mountaineering here is a special experience with a summit over 4,000 meters and the Glacier Blanc to explore.

10. Koryaksky Volcano (Russian Federation): Located over on the Kamchatka Peninsula, Koryaksky is remote, beautiful, and a true ski mountaineering adventure. If you have always wanted to conquer an active volcano, here´s your chance.