(The Gear Loop) - So what is ski touring? In short, ski touring is how it all began really. Climbing unchartered peaks, adventuring into the unknown, using mohair skins stuck so skis to ascend mountains in search of new downhill runs - there’s nothing better if you like peace, quiet and being surrounded by nature in the mountains.
Until a few years ago, ski touring was the type of pastime you could only really contemplate if you were a good off-piste skier - it required specialist lightweight skis, bindings and boots that weren’t easily available for rent.
You needed a completely different wardrobe to downhill skiing (you can work up quite a sweat climbing mountains at altitude) and the only routes down were un-skied terrain... virgin powder if you’re lucky, heavier crud if you’re not.
You almost always had to take a mountain guide, and needed avalanche kit (and training) to keep safe.
But things have evolved. On-piste ski touring is a safe, accessible option for exercise in ski resorts across the globe. Almost every ski resort in Europe and North America now has a dedicated area, piste or time allocated on the mountain for ski touring.
Equipment is more readily available to hire and there has been an explosion in the number of 'hike and ride' boots and light all-mountain skis on the market - plus a massive boom in the production splitboards (a standard snowboard literally split into two halves), so snowboarders can get in on the action too.
Ski touring is a great workout, a really fun, social activity in lovely fresh air with the most incredible scenery. It's a fantastic new way to enjoy the mountains, or do something different on a flat-light day when downhill skiing is harder.
So you’ve heard about it, and it sounds fun, how do you start ski touring?
How competent on skis do I need to be to start ski touring?
To ski tour on-piste, you really just have to be good enough to ski down from your destination point.
Ascending doesn’t take any skiing ‘skill’, as it’s just walking uphill with your boots attached to your skis by only the toes, which you drag along the snow. But it does take a good level of fitness.
Of course, you can go all-out and take a multi-day trip staying in high-altitude mountain huts, but with the growing number of ski touring parks and dedicated runs away from the downhill areas of ski resorts, even this is becoming easier and easier.
Where can I go ski touring?
Most - but not all - ski resorts offer something for those with an inclination to use their own steam to climb a mountain, so check on local rules before you buy some kit and click in on your first day.
Crans Montana made a big deal about opening a "Rando Parc" (taken from the French word for backpacking or trekking, randonnée) with 40km and 15 special runs for ski touring a few years back and equipment manufacturer Dynafit has opened at least half a dozen ski touring parks across Germany and Austria, as well as test centres globally (including resorts like Morzine and Meribel) where newbie ski tourers can try out kit. You can find them here.
If you don’t have a friend who can show you the ropes, book a ski touring lesson with a centre, a ski school or on one of the ski lesson booking apps, such as Maison Sport or Ski Bro. It’s a good idea to gain some experience of the technique on a groomed piste before venturing off-piste for the first time.
How fit do I have to be to ski tour?
If you can walk in the mountains you can ski tour, and it’s a fantastic workout. It’s not a race (although there are plenty of races to be found) so you can 'skin' (the uphill bit is often known as 'skinning') instead of hitting the gym to burn up to 1000 calories per hour.
Take it easy at first and make sure you hydrate and re-stock the calories regularly, you’ll need to drink far more water at altitude.
The best clothing for ski touring
Layering is the key. Lightweight, breathable fabrics with a good stretch should be a wardrobe staple. Wearing an insulated jacket or pants will be hot and extremely hard-going, so keep it light and easy to take off.
Layers can be stripped and packed away in a backpack on the way up, and put back on for the journey down, when you need your backpack to stash your skins.
Don’t forget a good water bottle, too. It’s expensive, but the more technical your kit, the better it will stand up to the job. Carefully chosen layers can be used for freeride skiing, too.
Ski touring adventures
Once you’ve got a little experience in ski touring, the mountains open up. You can book one-day tours during a week’s holiday, where a mountain guide will take a group of up to six on an off-piste experience, helping with technique and teaching the basics of avalanche training.
If you decide that’s your bag, there are literally hundreds of adventures to be had - from the famous Chamonix to Verbier Haute Route (a multi-day trip where you’ll carrying your sleeping bag, staying in mountain huts along the way) to even more remote adventures from Sweden to Siberia.
With the right kit and experience, the mountains of the world are your oyster.