Ski touring is a sporting activity that involves crossing the mountains on skis, both descending but also “climbing” uphill. Upon ascent, your heels are free and climbing skins are used. In ski mountaineering (ski touring), the term “climbing skin” refers to the material attached to the underside of the skis so that they only slide forward, allowing you to climb up the slope.In icy conditions, ice crampons may be attached. This discipline can be practised at different levels, from beginner to advanced.
Pierre-Olivier answers our questions:
Why should I try ski touring ?
Often the desire for peace and quiet and the feeling of being lost in the mountains prompts skiers to give it a try, it’s similar to mountain hiking. It comes from the desire to keep skiing while discovering a new sport. Ski touring combines the pleasure of going off-piste with the sense of satisfaction of having earned the descent after the effort of climbing the slope.
And, just like mountain hiking, it’s a good option to turn to as you get older.
What is your top tip for starting out ?
Take a ski lesson focused on off-piste or ski touring, and I’m not just saying that because I’m a ski instructor. You shouldn’t go off exploring by yourself, even less sowhen heading off-piste. If you go with a friend for the first time, they may not necessarily be able to assess your level.
We could draw a comparison with swimming. You may be a strong swimmer, but that doesn’t mean you can handle yourself in the open sea.
The person you go with needs to be familiar with the route and know the terrain like the back of their hand.
What ski level is required? Do I need to be a keen athlete ?
Not necessarily, you can choose the itinerary that corresponds with your level. It will depend on your age, level of physical activity and whether you do regular exercise. A marathon runner would find it easier from the get-go due to their existing abilities.
For skiing, knowing the snowplough technique should be enough, it all depends on the itinerary you choose. Several ski resorts have set up marked trails allowing you to climb uphill off-piste and then descend via the ski runs.
However, if you want to descend off-piste, you need to have experience on all terrain types.
Myskirent: We recommend that you read our article on off-piste skiing to get a better idea of what you would be signing up for.
Any sport that helps you better understand the mountain, including snowsports in general, will give you an edge before you start ski touring.
Cross-country skiing: You’ll already know how to ski parallel and have excellent front/back balance, which may help.
Downhill mountain biking: You won’t be held back by a fear of steep slopes.
Myskirent: Ascending near ski trails is dangerous and prohibited.
According to you, what is the ideal lesson length ?
Ideally, your lesson should be at least 2 hours to be able to climb up at your own pace and enjoy the descent.
Is there an ideal time for starting out ?
The weather constantly changes in the mountains, so you need to adapt to the conditions on the day. In foggy conditions, you should choose wooded areas because trees act as landmarks and help you to better understand the lay of the land. An ideal time for me and many others is when there is 1 metre of powder for the descent, but of course not when climbing up! Spring conditions can be very pleasant, but you need to go at the right time of day. For example, planning to descend a southern slope at 9 in the morning in April is ideal, but at midday this slope can turn into a real nightmare, and can even be suicidal. The snow softens and loses its grip, increasing the risk of an avalanche.
What equipment do I need?
- A pair of adapted skis
- Climbing skins
- A suitable backpack to attach your skis
- A helmet
If going off-piste
An Avalanche transceiver, a shovel, and a probe. Of course, you need to know how to use this equipment, which is why it’s important to take a lesson.
For extra safety, you can also buy an airbag backpack that will reduce the risk of being buriedunder the snow in the event of an avalanche.
Back protection: this is necessary if you choose itineraries with a lot of wooded or rocky areas. Keep in mind that you must bear the weight of any equipment you bring.
When climbing uphill, are there any tricks of the trade or movements to learn?
- Body position: When climbing a steep slope, people tend to lean too far forward, meaning that the skins won’t grip as well compared to keeping a straight posture.
- The kick turn: You’ll only need this technique on very steep slopes. In this case, mastering it is essential. When the slope becomes very steep on an uphill climb, hikers do zigzags to reach the top and must turn at the end of each zigzag. This is what we call a kick turn, you need to shift your skis in the opposite direction to keep climbing.
- Unstrapping during ascent: If the slope is too steep (40-45°), or the snow is too hard, you can climb up with what we call ice crampons.
If you get to this level, you’re an expert!!!
We recommend that you hire the equipment to test it, don’t buy straight away if you’ve never skied before.
You’ll need sound advice to choose your equipment.
At myskirent.com, you will find all the ski hire stores that are recommended by our community. You can check if they offer ski touring equipment, as it’s not always available.
Thanks for your advice Pierre-Olivier