How to start ski touring

beginner guide to ski touring.jpg

Ski touring is skiing in the backcountry and open mountain areas. It combines skiing, free-riding and mountaineering into one single activity. Using a combinations of climbing skins, crampons and ingenuity, ski tourers can ascend the most difficult terrains and enjoy fresh powder tracks on their way down. “Earning your turns” could easily be the sport's motto!

  • Why do it? Imagine being alone in the mountains feeling both scared and excited. Walking and climbing up the mountains on your skis and riding down on powder, with total freedom and choosing your own line is a unique experience you will want to repeat again and again.

  • How to start? Before heading out to the mountains, we would recommend that you feel confident when skiing in an off-piste environment. Also educate yourself to understand some basics of winter mountaineering and do some initial practise with skins in an easy and controlled terrain. Go for your first rides with a mountain guide.

  • Taking a lesson? Taking an avalanche safety course would be more than recommended and rather compulsory if you plan to practise the sport frequently.

  • Risk level: Medium

  • Physical intensity: very demanding

  • Do I need a certification? No

  • What to buy? Rent first! Afterwards go for a pair of ski touring boots, skins, skis, bindings and poles for a starter, together with the avalanche rescue kit. We have prepared a detailed list of options bellow.

how to start backcountry skiing and snowboarding.jpg

"Glory in skiing virgin snow, in being the first to mark the powder with the signature of their run."

Tim Cahill - Founding editor of Outside Magazine and travel writer

Essential gear for ski touring

The popularity of ski touring and backcountry skiing have grown massively. Nowadays conditions are safer, allowing us to be much more prepared than we were before.

Depending on your preference of skiing, you have some options to choose from, like modern alpine touring, telemark and split-boarding gear. If you would like to keep your regular alpine skis, you can adapt them by using ski-touring bindings and binding adapters.

As a general rule, ski touring gear is designed to spend 90% of the time going up hill, so adapting any other gear would result in carrying more weight when climbing up the mountains, though having a better experience when skiing down. But, if the skiing experience is for you of utmost importance, then you will have to go for the heavier options, increasing the physical demand. Next, we have build up a rider's list that you should keep an eye one, before heading up to the mountains:

  • an avalanche kit: a probe, a shovel and a beacon (radio transceiver). These are the most important ones! If you’re missing one, don’t go out. A probe is a metal rod used to probe through avalanche debris in search of buried victims. A beacon or avalanche transceiver is a class of active radio transceiver specialised for the purpose of finding people or equipment buried under snow.

  • a smaller backpack: (at least 35 l of space) to store the extra pieces of clothing you won’t be wearing right away, water, food, a probe, a shovel and the first aid kit. (You always want to keep the beacon or transceiver under your jacket and not in the backpack).

  • skins for going uphill. Never go out without first checking that the skins fit to the skis correctly.

  • waterproof clothing, both jacket and pants (and layers of underwear). We strongly advise not to use cotton made clothes, as they get wet when you sweat and do not dry easily.

  • helmet, goggles, sunglasses and 2 pairs of gloves! don’t forget the sunscreen.

  • emergency space blanket + a first aid kit.

  • depending on where you go we would also recommend carrying a rope.

  • avalanche airbag packs are optional, though they can add an additional element of safety.

  • last but not least, enough food and water (it is a physically very demanding activity).

IMPORTANT: You should always carry an avalanche kit when heading to an avalanche prone terrain and also understand how to use the gear. Backcountry skiing requires an acceptance of the risks involved and implies a willingness to take responsibility for educating oneself about these dangers and ways to mitigate them. Avoid going ski touring alone.

Ski Touring
Skiing gives me a feeling of freedom. That’s the reward for the struggle, the training and the climb to the top.
— Andrzej Bargiel, Polish ski mountaineer who made the first descent on skis from the summit of K-2, the planet's second-highest mountain.

How to prepare for ski touring

Training is possible (and fun!) even if you don’t live in a mountainous area, you just need to use your imagination to work out the key parts of your body for ski touring: your core, hips, back, legs and ankles. It’s important to improve your endurance and train your strength. From climbing stairs, to using ankle weights (to strengthen your hip muscles), the possibilities are countless.

In general try to have a good level of aerobic fitness in order to approach the sport with good levels of heart and lung strength. Ski touring is a demanding activity that will test your body's oxygen utilisation.

Once you’re ready to roll, and before heading to the real thing, we absolutely suggest at least two days of preparation on an easier terrain.

Pier Solomon skips the lift lines and heads off on foot through the backcountry of Japan, British Columbia and his own backyard in Switzerland. A film by DPS Cinematic in partnership with Patagonia.