Ski Touring Introduction
Saturday November 24th, 2018
What is Ski Touring?
Ski touring is skiing in the off-piste away from marked or patrolled areas, also known as the backcountry. Typically ski touring and boot packing (walking in your ski boots with your skis attached to your rucksack) are done off-piste and outside of the ski resort boundary accessing areas that are not possible by lifts and also may extend over a period of more than one day, where you would stay overnight in mountain huts.
The equipment used for ski touring is different from alpine skiing. First of all, you attach “skins” or as the French call it ‘peau de phoque’ which translates as seal skin. Although a combination of goat hair and nylon material is only ever used these days. This gives you the grip on the snow when you slide a ski forward. Also, your heel is released in the binding, when in walk mode, allowing you to slide your foot forward and therefore walk up a slope, without sliding backwards. When you reach the summit, you then remove the skins. You then set the bindings to ski mode, which will allow you to enjoy the downhill descent. It’s very important to note that the moment you are off-piste, in the backcountry, it’s obligatory to wear and carry mountain safety equipment.
Why Ski Tour?
Ski touring is an amazing way to explore so much more of the mountains, away from the hustle and bustle of the normal pistes. You get to areas that are inaccessible with ski lifts and is such a different, unique off-piste experience, getting your fix of freshies. It’s incredibly peaceful – it’s just you, your group and the mountains with endless stunning scenery. It offers a challenge and a huge sense of adventure and achievement, taking you to places which you know many of your friends, colleagues and family would never think possible, exploring the mountains in the most natural way possible.
Benefits of ski touring?
Ski touring is also a brilliant form of fitness, offering a great cardiovascular workout with limited impact. You don’t always have to go far off the beaten track to be able to enjoy this unique form of exercise. You can just use the sides of the pistes and go for a hike up the slopes, to give the lungs a good work-out! Here in Nendaz every Wednesday evening you can walk up the piste of Grand Jean-Pierre to the top of Tracouet, where the restaurant remains open for drinks and a meal.
If you go out for the day or if you’re lucky enough to make it an overnight trip and stay in the mountain huts at altitude, it’s a great way to escape, and enjoy the simple life again with no phone signal, running water and limited power supply!
How to start?
It’s often the case with these types of activities, you see and hear about them and then wonder how you can actually give it a go. Below are our recommended steps to try it out here in Nendaz…
1) Rental gear: Check out our partner shop just opposite the main lift here in Nendaz, Gaby Sports. We’d be delighted to come and help choose the most appropriate and best gear for you.
2) Intro to ski touring technique: To figure out how it all works and before you set off into the wilderness, take an intro lesson with us here at Montagne Magique – this will consist of getting comfortable with the new equipment and learn how to use it efficiently. These sessions will take place on the pistes.
3) Ski tour fitness: Whether you’re looking for a hiking buddy or focussed fitness training for future ski tours during the winter, please do get in touch with us. We offer fitness prep sessions. We’re keen ourselves in maintaining our own fitness during the winter and always hike up to Tracouet, every Wednesday evening during the winter – so come and join us then too!
4) Off-piste freeride clinics: If you’re a competent skier, we’d recommend to go out with our Swiss Snow Pro instructor, Sander Kan, who’s the top backcountry specialist ski guide in the 4 Valleys, where you’ll learn or improve you’re off-piste technique, learn to ride faster, steeper and explore even more terrain and even tackle a few drop-offs!
5) Nendaz Ski Tour Tracks: An exciting new offering this season in Nendaz are the new ski touring tracks through different forests throughout the Printse ski area – Sander can guide you along these as well.
As with all our courses, safety is our main priority! Helmet and mountain safety equipment is required.
6) Backcountry Day or Overnight Tours: If you’re looking for more backcountry day trips and overnight tours e.g. the famous ‘Haute-Route’ (Chamonix-Zermatt), we work closely with a local mountain guide, who’ll make sure you’re in the safest possible environment and of course aim to show you the best conditions and experience a wide variety of mountain terrain including glacier backcountry skiing.
What to wear?
Skis & bindings: You cannot use your normal skis to go touring with. Instead you need a special touring setup, which allows for the heel to release from the binding. There are two types of touring binding, a frame alpine touring (AT) binding or a tech ‘pin’ binding. If you’re going out for the first time, we’d recommend using the frame AT binding where you can just use your normal ski boots. The pin setup, on the other hand, requires a special touring boot that will fit this binding.
Boots: Touring boots (as well as the pin binding itself) are much lighter and therefore easier to walk up hill – the boots themselves have a special walk mode which allows more movement in them which again makes it much easier.
Clothing: It’s best to dress with layers, rather than heavy jackets and ski pants. When you’re walking up the hill, this then allows you to remove layers easily to remain at a pleasant body temperature. Down jackets are really useful to have in your rucksack and will keep you instantly warm when you’ve stopped hiking up and start to get ready for you descent.
Rucksack & Mountain safety gear: This is essential to keep extra dry layers, water, snacks etc. If you’re planning to go for a full ski tour with a mountain guide in the backcountry, then the rucksack will also store your essential mountain safety equipment which includes a metal shovel, avalanche probe and ski helmet. An avalanche transceiver (beacon) will need to be attached around your chest before setting off in the off-piste with a guide.