Ski mountaineering is a sport that combines the techniques of skiing with those of mountaineering. Ski mountaineers ascend otherwise inaccessible, isolated or dangerous slopes on foot using a range of mountaineering equipment, typically crampons, ice axes and ropes, while skis are carried strapped to their backpack. This either permits access to extreme slopes, or more often allows transit through otherwise impassable terrain in order to continue beyond on skis, where normal ski touring equipment such as skins and harscheisen (ski crampons - also called couteau or cortelli) are used.

Ski mountaineering remains a bit of a mystery to many people. Ski mountaineering is the use of skis for ascending and descending mountains. The "skis" used could be either specialized ski mountaineering gear (alpine touring), standard downhill skiing gear, telemark gear (free heel nordic), very-short figle skis, or even snowboards. In the purest form of ski mountaineering, both the ascent and descent of a peak are made entirely on skis, using climbing skins and perhaps ski crampons for traction on the ascent, and then descending a continuous ski route back down to the base. At times a complete ski ascent is not possible due to snow conditions, route selection, or equipment choice, thus requiring some climbing on foot, perhaps using crampons or snowshoes. In other cases, a continuous ski descent may be dangerous or impossible, requiring downclimbing or rappelling past the areas of difficulty. The goal of ski mountaineering is to use skis to enhance the overall mountaineering experience by increasing speed, efficiency, and enjoyment in the mountains.

Ski Mountaineering Ski Mountaineering

Historical Data

  • Perhaps the earliest & certainly one of the most prolific ski mountaineers was John "Snowshoe" Thompson, who used skis to deliver the mail at least twice a month up & over the steep eastern scarp of the Sierra Nevada mountains to remote mining camps & settlements. His deliveries began in 1855 and continued for at least 20 years. Thompson's route of 90 miles took 3 days in & 48 hours back out with a pack that eventually exceeded 100 pounds of mail.
  • One of the earliest European inspirations for the sport was the Englishman Cecil Slingsby, who crossed the 1,550m high (5,800 feet) Keiser Pass, Norway, on skis in 1880.
  • However, the "father" of the sport is generally regarded as the German Wilhelm von Arlt, who made the first ski ascent of over 3,000m, when he climbed the Rauris Sonnblick (3,103m / 10,180 feet high) in 1894.
  • The first ski tour in the Alps took place near Davos when the Branger brothers teamed up with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle for a tour from Frauenkirch to Arosa in 1894.