What is Ski Touring?
Ski Touring sometimes goes by the name of backcountry skiing or snowboarding. This refers to skiing on unmarked and unpatrolled runs typically outside of a ski resort. The biggest difference between ski touring and backcountry skiing is that ski touring doesn’t incorporate a gondola, lift, or any other form of transport.
If you’re going to start ski touring it’s imperative to know survival skills, avalanche training, and independent navigation skills. Ski touring incorporates hiking, wilderness backpacking, and mountaineering.
Ski touring can be single-day or even multi-day adventures. There are plenty of companies that you can book tours with that will also make sure you know what you’re doing before going out in your own group.
Terminology to Know:
- Frontcountry- is any terrain that is off-trail but still within a ski area’s boundaries. Ski lifts, gondolas, and other transport up the mountain are provided and emergency services are typically close by in case of injury.
- Slackcountry- is any terrain outside of a ski area, accessed from a lift without having to use skins or bootpack.
- Sidecountry- is terrain that is outside of any ski area accessible via a ski lift where the skier has to hike, skin, or climb within boundaries to get to and from sidecountry.
- Backcountry- is any terrain in remote areas outside of a ski area’s boundaries and not accessible from the ski lift.
- Apron – a big section of wide-open terrain.
- Bed Surface – the area across from an avalanche release site.
- Bootpack – refers to removing skis or snowboards in order to climb up the slope.
- Skins – goes under skis and provides traction when climbing.
- Crevasse – a gap or fracture in glacial ice.
- Chute – also known as a Couloir, this is a narrow passage between steep walls or cliffs.
- Whiteout – refers to heavy blizzard-like conditions where you can’t see anything around you.
Where are the Best Places to Go Ski Touring?
Ski touring can be found all over the world. The terrain can include mountains, glaciers, and even volcanoes. Some of the best and most popular places to visit are:
In Iceland check out the Troll Peninsula, Glacial Fjords, and/or the East Fjords. You can also explore Hvannadalshnukur, Iceland’s highest peak.
Norway has many options for most levels of skiers and snowboarders. There are dozens of places in Norway to ski tour including Sogndal, Stranda, Orsta, Andalsnes, Lyngen, Narvik, Lofoten, Vesteralen, Senja, Gudbrandsdalen Valley, and the Jotunheimen Mountains. Other ski touring destinations include Hemsedal and the Rondane Mountains.
- European Alps
It’s easy to get around Europe as all the countries are connected. Some of the most popular are Chamonix to Zermatt known as the Haute Route, The Bernese Oberland Traverse, Elbrus, Gran Paradiso National Park, The Italian Haute Route, The Austrian Alps also known as the Silvretta Route, Dolomites Circuit, and The Queras National Park Traverse.
- Kosovo, Albania, and North Macedonia
The Sharr Mountain range is the place to go ski touring if you are in Kosovo, Albania, or North Macedonia. The mountains run through all three countries. You can also go to Korab Peak, Radomire, Prevaila, Kleq Peak, The Balkans, The Accursed Mountains, Montenegro, Bakrdan, Small Turk, Kobilica, and Ljuboten mountain.
Canada has numerous options for ski touring including Jasper National Park, Rogers Pass, Wapta, Revelstoke, Golden, Purcell Mountains, Selkirk Mountains, Kananaskis Country, Skeena Mountains, Chic-Choc Mountains, and Gros Morne National Park.
The USA has a surprising amount of places to go ski touring like Lake Tahoe, Sawtooth Range, San Juan Mountains, White Mountains, Stevens Pass, Hatcher Pass, Jackson Hole, and Central Wasatch Range.
- New Zealand
New Zealand is an incredible country that offers a lot in Ski Touring. You can go to Arthur’s Pass National Park, Central Otago, Fiordland, Aoraki-Mount Cook National Park, Mount Ruapehu, Nelson, Ohau, Wanaka, and the Arrowsmith Range, all on the South Island.
In Argentina, you can go to Cerro Catedral, Las Leñas, Penitentes, Chapelco, Cerro Castor, Cerro Bayo, and La Hoya
Chile has some incredible ski touring as well. Visit Corralco, Volcan Lonquimay, and the Chilean Lake District.
Japan gets some of the most amazing snow in the world and this has some of the best ski touring. You can explore Niseko, Kiroro, Asahidake, Hakkoda, and Nozawa Onsen.
Russia is another place where ski touring is growing in popularity. You can explore the Elbrus Region, Mamay, Luzhba, Sheregesh, Khibiny Mountains, Krasnaya Polyana, Kamchatka, Lago-Naki Plateau, Arkhyz, and Dombay.
What are the Dangers of Ski Touring?
There are plenty of real dangers when ski touring and while some things are preventable and avoidable, there is still a risk. Some of the biggest dangers are:
- Injury and exposure
- Getting lost
- Unpredictable weather conditions
What Gear Do You Need to Go Ski Touring?
Many of the dangers associated with Ski Touring can be minimized by packing, having, and knowing how to use the proper gear. While it’s dependent on how long you plan to be, there is some essential gear to use and have. It’s also important to actually know how to use your gear, so spend time practicing with them before heading out into the backcountry.
- Backcountry skis and/or freestyle snowboards: there are many companies that have models specifically for use in backcountry terrain.
- Skins: strips of material that attach to the bottom of your skis to prevent you from sliding backward.
- Bindings: there are specifically made bindings that allow your back heel to move up and down. There are also hybrid bindings available.
- Boots: similar to the skis and bindings, there are boots that are special for backcountry riding.
- Poles: the main difference between regular ski poles and ski touring ski poles is that the touring poles are typically collapsible.
- Backcountry Ski Pack: should be durable and weatherproof.
- Avalanche Beacon: helps rescuers locate you if you’re caught up in an avalanche.
- Shove: must be aluminum
- Probe: helps locate someone who has been caught in an avalanche.
- Proper jacket, pants, and gloves: it’s a good idea to put extra layers in your pack.
- Food and Water: may sound obvious but it’s super essential.
- Headlamp and extra batteries
- First Aid Kit ( check its fully stocked with fresh material)
- Navigation tools like a map, compass, and GPS (and know how to use them)
- Goggles/sunglasses and helmet
- Sunscreen/lip balm
- Firestarter tools like a lighter or matches
- Repair kit and tools
- Emergency Shelter can include a tent, tarp, bivouac, and/or reflective (solar) blanket
- Avalanche airbag survival kit
- Ice ax
- gaiters/face and neck covering
How Else Can I Prepare for Ski Touring?
Being prepared for anything that can go wrong is your best way to minimize risk and maximize your experience. There are various ways to prepare for a ski touring trip, especially if you’re a beginner. Some of the most important are:
- Take avalanche survival and awareness classes
- Take a wilderness survival class
- Always check the weather and avalanche bulletin
- Learn and know first aid and CPR
- Know your course and don’t divert from it if possible
- Let someone know your plans and when to expect you back
- Wear the right gear, things should be weather and waterproof.
- Carry enough food and water and then extra
- Don’t go alone and make sure you trust your guide or team
- Don’t overestimate your skill level