Last season I did my first ski tours. As someone who has done a lot of resort skiing, both on and off the piste I was been keen to explore further afield than just the ski resort and head out into the quieter areas of the mountains. So if you fancy giving touring a go or perhaps you’ve got a bit bored of piste bashing then hopefully this will answer the obvious questions about how to go about getting into a different way to enjoy the mountains on skis.
Are you a good enough skier? You don’t have to be able to huck massive cliffs or make those massive sweeping high speed turns over a huge powder field to go to touring. If you can get down the hill off piste in most conditions then you’ll be fine. If you’ve never really strayed off piste before then I would recommend getting some practice in before you head away from the resort. If you’re confident on black runs then it shouldn’t take too much time to adjust your technique a bit. Just be wary of where it is safe to head off piste and where it isn’t. There are courses and/or lessons available for off piste skiing which are great to get you started or give your technique a bit more polish.
Do you know enough? If you haven’t been on a course or haven’t been out with someone who does know their stuff, then probably not yet. The good news is, there’s not that much to learn and there are all sorts of courses designed to give you the knowledge needed to get out by yourself. I have been on a number of different courses including an avalanche talk, an avalanche training course and an introduction to touring course. That might sound like a lot of time and expense, but it’s not as much as it seems. There are usually a few avalanche talks and training days running round the country as winter starts to kick in. The BMC website is usually a good place to look and many courses tend to run in the evening and usually don’t cost much more than twenty pounds.
The introduction to touring course I did was a 3 day course in Chamonix with Mountain Tracks. It was a great course and 3 days is the perfect amount of time for any competent skier to learn enough to get out touring by themselves, though if you feel you would benefit from doing a bit more then there are longer courses available.
The big danger when touring is avalanches and I would highly recommend doing a course which goes through rescue techniques and the chance to practice using a transceiver. There are also plenty of books and guides for all things touring and having some of these for reference and to refresh your memory is always worth it, though this should be backed up with real world experience.
Are you fit enough? You don’t need to be mega fit to do shorter day tours, if you’re comfortable with a day hill walking in the Lakes, Dales or Wales without too many stops and with a mid size pack then there’s no reason you can’t have day out touring. If you go on a course then they will usually suggest how fit you should be, or if you’re out with mates then just make sure you’re all of a similar level and you know what you’re all capable of.
Do you have the kit? Read our Ski Touring Equipment Guide for a list of what you need to get out touring. If you’re a keen skier then you’ll probably find that some of your current kit is perfectly adequate. Although it is quite a big expense to start off with most of the kit you need you only really need to buy once, so once you’ve made that initial outlay it will last years if you look after it.
Is it worth it? I guess this is really a question of how much are you going to enjoy it. I was pretty confident I was going to love touring as I am already a keen skier, mountaineer, hillwalker and general outdoors enthusiast; there was nothing involved that I wasn’t going to like. Touring can appeal to several different mindsets and there’s something under the pretty large bracket of ‘touring’ for most who are prepared to venture outside of the resort. Touring can really encompass anything, from sneaking in a run off the back of the resort and skinning back up, to a full multi day tour across the Alps. So, if you love fresh powder and the quieter parts of the mountain, but can’t imagine the horror of dragging your skis to a 4000m summit or slogging it out for a week across the Alps from Chamonix to Zermatt via the Haute Route, that’s fine, they’ll still be some tours you’ll enjoy. A touring lift pass is possible at most resorts, this will give you a lift to the top and from there you can head out of the resort and away from the crowds in search of some fresh snow (plus it’s cheaper than a standard day ticket). Of course if you have dreams of spending day after day in the mountains then a short day tour is just a starting point.
That’s about all there is to it. If you have further doubts or questions then there’s plenty of material on the internet on forums and blogs, calling a guiding company to discuss what a course involves can also be really useful. Of course if you have any queries about kit then you can always give us at Facewest a call.
Many thanks to Facewest & Olly Allen at Mountain Tracks for a great few days in Chamonix on my first touring experience.