Advice for Ski Touring Beginners
Ski touring is the ultimate for many skiers, opening up a whole new side to the mountain and resort. The journey, adventure and untouched powder makes it a hugely fulfilling experience. It can, however, seem a bit intimidating for those new to the sport, so we’ve put together this list of top tips to help offer some guidance for beginners.
Ski touring equipment – Keep it light
Ski touring requires quite a lot of equipment, so it’s really worth taking some time to research and make sure that you have everything you need to get started on the front foot. At an absolute minimum you will need:
- Touring Skis and Bindings
- Touring ski boots
- Ski poles - ideally adjustable/long grips and with wide baskets
- Transceiver, probe and shovel
- Appropriate clothing (more on this shortly)
With ski touring, lightweight is key. The heavier your equipment, the harder the uphill will be and ultimately your day won’t be quite as fun (unless you’re in search of a heavy leg workout!).
Clothing – Layering System
Ski touring is a sport of extreme temperatures. On the uphill, you can become very hot very quickly, before then quickly becoming very cold when you take a break, reach the summit or ski back down. It’s therefore crucial that you get your clothing right.
The easiest and most effective way of dealing with this is by using a layering system to allow a comfortable body temperature at all time. Whilst completely dependent on conditions and temperatures, you will quite often find that setting off with just a base layer and shell is plenty to begin with, as you’ll quickly warm up when the gradient increases. You can then put a warmer mid-layer on at the summit before your descent to keep warm.
A good pair of ski socks are a must for ski touring. Look for a pair that provide good protection around the heel and toes with little extra bulk. A pair of merino liner gloves are also very useful for the skin up.
The usefulness of a layering system is a key reason to take along a rucksack. Not only can you use it to take some provisions, but it is crucial for storing your layers in, and also handy for putting your skins in before the descent.
Fitness – Be Physically Prepared
Ski touring is a demanding sport and skinning uphill is a great workout. It’s therefore important that you have a good level of fitness before your first trip. In the summer and autumn months, hiking, running, cycling and climbing, will all help to build your fitness for the winter months.
Whilst ski touring is an efficient sport, the fitter you are, the easier it will be and the more you will be able to enjoy the downhill.
Your First Tour
Make sure that you are a confident downhill skier. You want to be a strong intermediate on piste: meaning you are completely comfortable on blue and red runs, and pretty solid on black runs and nearby off-piste.
For your first tour, make sure that you keep it simple by choosing a gentle route. It will help introduce you to your equipment and start to establish the basic technique.
However, the most important piece of advice before you embark on your first tour, is to not go out alone. Whilst the backcountry offers so many incredible opportunities for exploration, it can also be dangerous. Ideally, take your first trip with a guide or friend who is experienced in ski touring. They will be able to not only teach you crucial technique, but also offer important safety advice, and tips on what to look out for.
If possible, it is also really beneficial to undertake some backcountry safety training before your first trip, learning basic mountain safety along with how to properly check the weather and avalanche hazard levels. You will also need make sure that you are familiar with how to use your transceiver, probe and shovel in the case of an avalanche. Some basic training with this equipment is invaluable.
Progression – Dial in your Skinning Technique
Efficient skinning is the key to a great days ski touring. It saves energy and makes your day out more enjoyable, whilst also allowing you to cover more ground. Here are a few basic skinning technique tips that are key to taking your touring to the next level.
- Slide your skis rather than lift your skis. Make sure the base is in contact with the snow throughout your stride.
- Master the kick turn. It’s arguably the trickiest aspect of skinning to master, so it’s really worth putting the time in to practice and improve the technique as it’s undoubtedly the best way to turn on the steeps.
- Hold your ski poles higher to get more balance and propulsion forwards, using your arms to support your legs.
- Manage and master your bindings different heel piece positions: flat – middle – high. Touring bindings come with a heel assist that can be set to different heights depending on the slope incline. Most of the time you will skin up in the middle position which typically provides the best grip for traverse lines
About the Author:
Huw Saunders - Outdoor Expert
Growing up in rural Wales, Huw has been immersed in the outdoors for as long as he can remember. If not surfing the Welsh coast, he can now usually be found either running or hiking in the Peak District and through the winter, tries to get out to Europe to ski as much as possible.