What Is Ski Touring?

What is ski touring

Imagine carving your own path in the fresh, untouched snow, far from the crowded ski resorts, with nothing but the sound of your skis slicing through the powder and the breathtaking beauty of the backcountry. Welcome to the exhilarating world of ski touring or backcountry skiing! Ready to embark on this adventure and discover what is ski touring? Let’s go!

Key Takeaways

  • Ski touring combines cross-country and downhill skiing, offering a unique way to explore backcountry terrain and connect with nature, away from traditional ski slopes.
  • This form of skiing requires lightweight, specialized equipment including touring skis, bindings, and boots, as well as safety gear like avalanche beacons, to ensure efficient and safe travel in the backcountry.
  • Ski touring demands mastering specific techniques for ascending and descending, good physical fitness for endurance, and appropriate layering and apparel for varying weather conditions during long tours.

The Essence of Ski Touring

Ski tourers exploring the backcountry terrain

Think of ski touring as the perfect blend of cross-country skiing and alpine downhill but with a twist. You’re not limited to groomed slopes or ski lifts. Quite the contrary, ski touring skis allow you to explore the wild, untouched backcountry, where the only boundaries are your endurance and the sunset.

Before we begin, it’s good to have a solid understanding of this exhilarating sport.

Defining the Ski Touring Adventure

Ski touring, also known as ski mountaineering, is more than just a sport — it’s an adventure, a unique way to connect with nature, and a liberating exploration of the backcountry beyond the ski resort. It’s about:

  • Breathing in the crisp, mountain air

  • Marveling at the brilliant white landscapes

  • Feeling the rush of adrenaline as you carve your unique path down the mountainside

Yet, it’s also about the desire to explore, the willingness to learn, and the grace to accept challenges with enthusiasm — and what beginner wouldn’t be excited about that?

from Alpine to Backcountry

The transition from traditional alpine skiing to backcountry skiing is like trading a well-beaten path for a thrilling off-road adventure. You swap your regular alpine skis for lightweight touring skis, designed for uphill travel and downhill performance.

This evolution of skiing isn’t just about new gear; it’s an exciting shift in mindset, where the journey becomes as important as the destination.

Varieties of Terrain

From the perfectly groomed slopes of ski resorts to the wild, untouched landscapes of the backcountry, ski touring can be enjoyed on a variety of terrains. It’s about savoring the thrill of descending a fresh, untouched slope after a rewarding climb, and the accomplishment of navigating through challenging, ungroomed terrains.

It’s about embracing the unpredictable and finding joy in the journey, wherever it may lead you.

Getting Equipped for Your First Ski Tour

Essential ski touring gear including touring skis, bindings, and boots

Before setting out on your ski touring expedition, obtaining the right ski touring equipment is fundamental. And no, your regular alpine skiing equipment won’t do. Ski touring involves a unique set of equipment designed specifically for ascending and descending snow-covered slopes without the assistance of ski lifts. From touring skis and bindings to boots and climbing skins, each piece of gear plays a vital role in ensuring a safe and enjoyable experience. Make sure to have a ski trip packing list to make sure you have everything you need before heading out.

Let’s understand the gear required for your initial ski tour.

Touring Skis and Bindings: The Foundation

Your ski touring adventure begins with the right pair of skis and bindings. Touring skis are lighter than their resort counterparts and designed for efficient uphill travel without compromising too much on downhill performance. As for the bindings, they are your connection to the skis, allowing a free heel for climbing and a locked heel for the descent.

So, whether you’re gliding uphill or carving your path downhill in a ski area, your skis and bindings form the foundation of your ski touring experience.

Boots Built for the Backcountry

Next on the list are the boots. While they might look similar to alpine boots, ski touring boots are designed with a focus on uphill travel. They are lighter, have a smaller cuff for better mobility, and come with a walk mode for easier uphill movement. In comparison, a traditional ski boot may not offer the same level of comfort and functionality for ski touring.

So, when you’re skinning up a steep incline or navigating through tricky terrains, these boots will ensure you’re doing it with ease and comfort.

Climbing Skins: The Uphill Assist

The not-so-secret weapon of every ski tourer is the climbing skin. These dense fibers attach to the base of your skis and provide the much-needed grip for uphill climbing. Think of them as the snow tires of your skis, providing traction and control as you ascend those snowy slopes.

When you prepare for ski touring, ensure these climbing skins are included in your equipment.

Preparing for Safety: Avalanche Awareness and Gear

With the excitement of ski touring comes the responsibility for safety. As you move beyond the controlled environment of ski resorts, understanding the risks and preparing for safety becomes paramount. One of the key risks in backcountry skiing is avalanches. Being aware of the risk, understanding how to read the signs, and carrying the right safety gear could mean the difference between a thrilling adventure and a dangerous situation.

Let’s gain a more in-depth understanding of avalanche awareness and safety equipment.

Understanding Avalanche Risks

Avalanches are a reality of the backcountry, and understanding the risks they pose is the first step towards mitigating them. Factors like unstable snowpack, steep slopes, and wind exposure can contribute to avalanche risks. Learning to read these signs, along with staying updated with avalanche forecasts, can go a long way in ensuring your safety.

After all, being prepared is not just about having the right gear; it’s about having the right knowledge too.

Essential Avalanche Safety Equipment

When it comes to safety gear, three items are non-negotiable:

  1. A beacon, or an avalanche transceiver, helps locate you or your ski buddies in case of an avalanche.

  2. The probe helps locate people and objects buried under the snow.

  3. The shovel is used to dig them out.

These tools, paired with the knowledge of how to use them, form the backbone of avalanche safety.

Techniques for the Trail

Ski tourer demonstrating ascending technique with climbing skins

Ski touring isn’t just about the gear or the terrain; it’s about the techniques. Mastering movements like ascending and transitioning to downhill mode can make all the difference on your ski touring journey.

From mastering the technique of ‘skinning’ to the excitement of carving your downhill path, let’s learn about these methods.

How To Ascend

The uphill journey in ski touring is where you truly earn your descent. Ascending efficiently requires a proper skinning technique, where you glide your skis forward in a rhythmic motion. It’s not just about reaching the top; it’s about doing so with the least possible effort.

By maintaining a consistent angle and reading the terrain, you can ascend with grace, making your uphill journey as enjoyable as the downhill ride.

Transitioning to Downhill Mode

Transitioning from uphill to downhill mode is the moment ski tourers live for. It involves removing skins, adjusting bindings, and preparing for the descent. It’s the moment when the hard work of climbing pays off, and you can enjoy the thrill of carving your unique path down the mountainside. But remember, it’s not just about the descent; it’s about doing so safely and efficiently.

Planning Your Ski Touring Expedition

Planning is an integral part of any adventure, and ski touring is no different. From selecting a suitable route to understanding weather conditions, a well-planned ski touring expedition not only ensures safety but also enhances the overall experience.

How should one go about planning a ski touring expedition? Let’s delve into this.

Choosing Your Route

Selection of your ski touring route is akin to curating your own adventure. Aspects such as your proficiency, physical fitness, and tour goals are pivotal in this decision-making process. Whether you’re a beginner looking for a gentle introduction to the sport, or a seasoned ski tourer looking for a challenging route, there’s a ski touring route out there that’s just right for you.

Weather Wisdom: Reading Conditions and Forecasts

Weather can make or break your ski touring experience. Understanding weather conditions and forecasts are crucial in planning your expedition and ensuring your safety. From checking avalanche forecasts to reading snow conditions, staying informed about the weather can help you make the best decisions on the trail.

Cultivating Fitness and Endurance for Ski Touring

Ski touring is a physically demanding sport that requires a good level of fitness and endurance. From the strenuous climb uphill to controlling your descent, ski touring can be a true test of your physical capabilities. But don’t worry, just like any other sport, with the right training and endurance strategies, you can build up your fitness and make your ski touring experience a rewarding one.

Building Cardiovascular and Muscular Strength

Cardiovascular and muscular strength are the cornerstones of ski touring fitness. Engaging in aerobic exercises like running, cycling, or stair climbing can help build your cardiovascular fitness, while strength training exercises like squats, lunges, and deadlifts can boost your muscular strength.

Remember, the fitter you are, the more you’ll enjoy your ski-touring adventure.

Endurance Strategies for Long Tours

Long tours demand more than just physical strength; they require endurance. From pacing your climb to ensuring proper nutrition, developing the right endurance strategies can help you sustain longer periods of physical activity and enhance your overall ski touring experience.

So, whether you’re planning a one-day tour or a multi-day expedition, building endurance is key.

Dressing Properly

Dressing appropriately for ski touring can make a significant difference in your comfort and performance on the trail. From the base layer that wicks away moisture to the insulating mid-layers and the protective outer layer, each piece of clothing plays a crucial role in keeping you comfortable and protected from the elements.

Let’s examine how to dress appropriately for a successful ski touring adventure.

Layering Essentials

Layering is the secret to staying comfortable in the varying weather conditions you’ll encounter during ski touring. Here are the three layers you need:

  1. Base layer: This wicks moisture away from your skin.

  2. Mid-layer: This provides insulation to retain body heat.

  3. Outer layer (shell): This protects you from wind, snow, and moisture.

Choosing the right materials for each layer can enhance their effectiveness and keep you comfortable throughout your adventure.

Selecting the Right Outerwear

Your outerwear is your shield against the elements. A good ski jacket and pants should have the following features:

  • Waterproof

  • Breathable

  • Adequate insulation

  • Ventilation zippers

  • Adjustable cuffs

  • Plenty of pockets

Remember, the right outerwear not only keeps you warm and dry but also enhances your mobility and comfort on the trail.

Capturing the Experience

As you carve your path through the untouched snow and take in the breathtaking views, you’ll want to capture these moments and share them with your friends, family, and fellow ski tourers. Documenting your ski touring journey can be as simple as snapping a few photos or as elaborate as keeping a detailed journal.

Let’s learn about various ways to document and share your ski touring journey.

Photography Tips for Ski Tourers

Photographing your ski touring journey can be a rewarding way to capture the adventure. From action shots of your descent to the pristine landscapes of the backcountry, there’s plenty to inspire your creativity. With some basic knowledge of your camera settings and a few tricks for managing lighting conditions, you can take stunning photos of your ski touring adventure.

Journaling the Journey

Keeping a journal of your ski touring experiences can be a wonderful way to document your adventures. It’s a space to reflect on your experiences, track your progress, and even share your stories with others. From noting down the route and weather conditions to jotting down your personal reflections, a journal can capture the essence of your ski touring journey in a way that photographs alone can’t.


ski touring offers a remarkable blend of adventure, physical challenge, and a deep connection with the natural environment. It’s a pursuit that takes skiers beyond the boundaries of traditional alpine skiing, into the serene and untamed backcountry. While the allure of exploring off-piste terrain is strong, it’s crucial to acknowledge the importance of proper equipment, skills, and safety measures.

Ski touring is not just about the thrill of the descent; it’s a holistic experience that combines the physical demands of climbing with the exhilaration of downhill skiing, all wrapped in the tranquil beauty of remote landscapes.

As you embark on this journey, remember to equip yourself with the necessary knowledge, skills, and respect for nature to ensure a safe and enjoyable adventure. Ski touring is more than a sport; it’s a way to transcend the ordinary and experience the mountains in their purest form.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is meant by touring skis?

Touring skis are lighter and wider than normal downhill skis, helping to make skiing uphill in the backcountry easier. They are essential for ski touring which entails traveling off-piste and outside of ski resorts for more than one day.

Can you go up the slopes when ski touring?

Yes, you can go up the slopes when ski touring! Ski tourers use specialist equipment, such as synthetic skins, to stick under their skis and stop them from sliding. This allows you to hike up the mountain rather than taking lifts. Plus, you can take a lift up the mountain and skin more horizontally across to some terrain that is hard to reach by lift or easily by hiking.

What does touring mean in ski boots?

Touring in ski boots means using lightweight, flexible alpine touring (AT) boots that are designed for both downhill skiing and uphill travel. These boots feature a rigid and supportive ski mode with an unlocked “walk” mode that allows for better flexibility and movement. AT boots provide the lightest and most efficient way to travel in the back country.

What is a ski touring slope?

Ski touring is a great way to experience the slopes – you hike up them, and then ski down – letting you explore some of the more peaceful areas in skiing. Whether it be the Brenta Dolomites or even taking the time to follow experienced skiers like Patrick Thorne, this is the skiing of the past and the present!

What equipment is needed for ski touring?

Start your ski touring journey today with the right gear – touring skis, bindings, boots and climbing skins! Get ready for a thrilling adventure.

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