Ski Touring

Ski touring, too called ski mountaineering, ski randonnée, and alpine touring, uses special ski equipment that enables the user to climb then descend slopes without the aid of ski lifts. The principal differences are a binding with a freeheel for climbing and skins that attach to the base of skis. The free heel makes for fluid, walking like movements when climbing or traversing flat slopes. The skin, usually made of Mohair or Nylon or a mix of the two grips the snow and prevents the ski from sliding backwards. Climbing on skins is usually referred to as skinning. Slopes of up to 25 degrees can be climbed directly. Steeper slopes, up to 35 degrees, can be climbed in a series of traverses linked by kick-turns or conversions. Beyond 35 degrees it is often easier to strap skis to a special touring rucksack and climb on foot, perhaps with crampons.

Climbing steep, icy slopes generally requires ski crampons. Made of sheet steel or aluminium these have a sawtooth pattern which grips the slope and are attached to the binding or directly to ski. Once the objective, summit, mountain pass or ridge, is reached skins are removed and stowed in a rucksack and the heel is locked down (except for telemark where the heel remains free). The skier descends much as he would on a ski resort.

On glaciated area every member of the group will wear a climbing harness and will usually be roped together for climbing and possibly for parts of the descent. Ski tourers face dangers from avalanches, crevasse falls on glaciated or pot-holed terrain and falls on icy slopes. Typically each member of the group will carry avalanche search and recovery equipment including an avalanche transceiver, snow shovel and probe.

Ski touring need the capacity to ski off-piste, navigation skills, and knowledge of the risks of the mountain environment in winter. In particular it requires the knowledge to assess and test snow conditions to minimise the risk of avalanche. Avalanche rescue equipment including radio transceiver, probe and shovel should be carried, and the ability to use them quickly and efficiently is required. Touring skis are durable to cope with a range of conditions. Touring skis generally weigh less than 2.5 kg or 5.5 lbs for a pair. They often feature a small hole at the spatula which can be used to construct a stretcher although with the spread of mobile phones and mountain rescue services this is not so essential nowadays. Touring skis sacrifice downhill performance and the lightest may require considerable skill on behalf of the user. Skis for powder use will usually be wider and shaped to aid flotation and turn initiation. Extreme skiers may use straighter, stiffer skis which give better grip in icy conditions. Skis are shorter than those used for downhill. Additionally, ski mountaineering implies glacier travel and the use of rope, ice axe and crampons for ascending slopes too steep to skin up. When skiing on glaciers it is wise for the party to wear harnesses, carry crevasse-rescue gear and sometimes rope together to allow crevasse rescue techniques to be employed.

Ski touring Ski touring

Why ski tour?

Touring on skis permits access to the winter landscape that would be complicated or impossible on foot since skis, like snowshoes, spread out the load of a person and prevent slow, exhausting post-holing. Unlike snowshoes, however, skis allow fast, fun, easy hill descents. Skis are also more stable & secure than snowshoes on sidehills & steep slopes.

Ski touring is also popular with people looking for powder skiing since these conditions do not last long after storms inside ski area boundaries due to intense competition. Ski touring can be faster and easier than summer hiking in some terrain and some conditions, allowing for traverses & ascents that in some ways would be harder in the summer.