Over the Misty Mountains Cold… Skiing wild snow on a ski tour
Written by Verbier Coach Dave Roberts
Ski touring has become an increasingly popular part of the sport of skiing in recent years. Lighter & better boots, bindings and skis have all helped but what else is attracting people to this type of skiing?
Ski touring (ski de randonnée in French) shouldn’t be confused with cross country skiing (ski de fond). Ski tourers use alpine skis, with skins glued and hooked underneath which grip the snow for climbing. The bindings allow the heel to be free for walking and the boots have good walk modes and walking boot soles too. At the top of the climb you peel your skins off, lock down your heel bindings, do up your boots and ski down: a brilliant way to end a walk in the mountains!
But why are more and more people choosing to earn their turns? Walking uphill can be hard work, so why not just buy a lift pass and go skiing? Here are a few reasons to go out and enjoy a ski-tour.
Peace & quiet
One of the main attractions of ski touring has to be escaping the crowds. Even during peak weeks, you can find places to go where you might not see anybody else all day. Time to take a packed-lunch and go an enjoy some solitude and maybe some fresh tracks too.
Just walking away from the pistes is an adventure at first. Eventually you might want to learn some mountaineering skills in order cross glaciers or get to the top of the steeper peaks. With time, you might need to hire a boat to sail up fjords or a plane to fly into a remote wilderness or a man with camel to carry your skis: it’s all part of the fun!
Mountains in the winter are truly beautiful places. Check the weather and avalanche forecasts, pack your skins & camera and go exploring!
Sharing with friends
Going on a ski tour is a brilliant way to spend a day out with friends. You can chat as you walk up the hill and then enjoy the fun of skiing down together.
Being able to walk uphill on skis means that you can get to places other skiers cannot reach. Skinning for just 30 minutes might get you to that secret powder stash that is just too far for a boot-pack. Make sure you understand the snow & avalanche conditions properly and get out there!
Stopping for Lunch
The Alps have many places to stay, tucked away in the high mountains. They’re known as refuges or cabanes or huttes. The buildings can range from small sheds with no facilities to stone buildings with mains electricity, showers, restaurants and hundreds of beds. A few huts are open all year round but most are closed during the winter. As spring approaches, more huts open for the main ski-touring season around Easter. They’re a great place to visit for lunch, spend a night or even link together in a multi-day tour. Here’s a video of New Generation Tignes visiting their local mountain refuge.
Ski touring is a great way to get some exercise in the snowy, winter mountains. Some resorts now have waymarked skinning trails, so that you can climb through the woods, stop for lunch in a restaurant and then ski down the pistes to go home. Skinning up ski pistes is dangerous and also illegal in many resorts. A typical rate of ascent for a fun day out is 300-400 metres per hour but the fastest racers can do up to 1,500m per hour. There are ski-mountaineering races, with the biggest attracting thousands of competitors and lasting over a day. One of the most famous is the Patrouille des Glaciers race from Zermatt to Verbier.
Nobody Cares What You’re Wearing!
Ski touring is a great way to escape the pressures of ski resorts. You’ll want to wear clothes that are practical, that will keep you warm in the cold mornings and keep you cool in the warm afternoons. As spring approaches, ski tourers will start early in the morning but this means that they’re finished by lunch time, ready to relax in the sunshine.
Going Further Afield
Once you get into ski-touring, anywhere with mountains and snow becomes a possible place to explore and ski. It might be the forests and volcanoes of Patagonia, the high mountains of the Himalayas or with the northern lights in Iceland. Groups such as the Eagle Ski Club go on trips all around the world. It’s a great reason to visit new places, try new food, meet new people and go skiing.
You can find out more in a series of articles in the Instructor Training section of the NewGen website. Another good source of ideas and inspiration is Bruce Goodlad’s book, “Ski Touring“. Instructors in some NewGen resorts, such as Tignes, can take you out for a taster session that can include an evening at a mountain lodge. There are so many reasons to go ski-touring, so go and try it!
In the end, to ski is to travel fast and free – free over untouched snow country. To be bound to one slope, even one mountain, by a lift may be convenient but it robs us of the greatest pleasure that skiing can give, that is to travel through the wide wintery country; to follow the lure of peaks which tempt on the horizon and to be alone for a few days or even hours in clear, mysterious surroundings.