Is Ski Touring About To Break Into The Mass-Market?
Is ski touring a niche activity for a hardy few, or will it be the way we all experience the mountains soon?
What is Ski Touring?
Ski touring is off-piste skiing which involves both uphill and downhill travel. Special ski equipment is used to walk up and then ski down slopes with skis attached at all times. The discipline combines Nordic and alpine ski techniques, the key feature being the heel of the skier is free from the ski to tour on flat ground or uphill, with just the toe-piece attached at the binding. Ski touring often takes places in more remote areas than usual off-piste skiing, indeed the function of a touring ski set-up is to be able to access these more remote areas, and consequently more adventurous skiing lines.
As an activity, it is more akin to hiking and mountaineering than regular piste skiing, and often takes place outside the boundaries of a ski resort. Trips can be taken over a period of days, featuring overnight stays in huts along pre-planned routes.
Ski Touring Essential Equipment
Touring requires special kit, such as skins - pieces of grippy material attached to the underside of a ski, so that it has more traction when going uphill, rather than sliding back down the slope after each step. You will also require all the necessary avalanche safety equipment, of a shovel, probe and transceiver. And until now, skiers have required special ski bindings, exclusively for touring - but thanks to Salomon, after nearly a decade of research and development, touring is now likely to be more accessible to every skier on the mountain.
The Salomon S/LAB SHIFT MNC binding is the first touring binding to be truly the equal of any alpine binding when going downhill, and to be compatible with all norm boots on the market - it is fully certified to full alpine release and safety standards.
In Salomon's own words:
"The Shift ushers in a new generation of freeride capability by delivering downhill performance, touring capability and lightness so skiers can earn their turns by touring uphill, then confidently charge big lines and stomp big air on the descent. It is the first ever truly compromise-free solution for skiers looking to push the boundaries of the mountain and their skiing, blending the freedom and touring efficiency of a pin binding with the power and transmission of a Salomon Alpine binding."
These bindings could be the trailblazer for all that follow, and purely alpine bindings which don't offer the ability to detach the boot heel and walk easily over snow may fall out of use, with all mass-market bindings having a 'walk-mode'. The Shift Binding will be available from September 2018.
Networks of huts (or 'refuges') serve as ready-made itineraries for multi-day touring trips. Often fairly basic, they usually feature bunk beds with bedding provided, so there is no need to carry bulky sleeping bags while touring, and meals are on a set menu basis. These are some well-known and less well-known routes which are easy for aspiring ski-tourers to arrange.
The Silvretta Traverse, Austria
Duration: 5-6 days
With no previous mountaineering experience needed, this is where many come for their first taste of hut-to-hut ski touring. Huts on the trail feature hot showers and beer, and peaks are lower than in the Western Alps meaning you can ski right to the top. An ideal stepping-stone for a keen off-piste skier looking take it further into the backcountry.
Duration: 5-6 days
You have heard of taking the high road, well literally meaning the 'High Route', this is one of the most iconic tours in the Alps. Set against a backdrop of some of Europe's most stunning mountain scenery, this international tour has to be top of any keen alpinist's bucket list.
Italy's Gran Paradiso National Park
Duration: 3-6 days
At 4061m the Gran Paradiso is the highest mountain entirely within Italy, and makes up part of one of the Alps' most tranquil national parks. The trails are generally quieter than in France and Switzerland, and the national park status means that flora and fauna are protected, and there is no ski infrastructure. The choice for those who use ski touring as a way to get back to nature.
Duration: 7 days
Between two of Switzerland's most high-profile resorts, lies some of its most untouched landscape. The quality of the skiing is phenomenal, with north-facing descents which you often have all to yourself. Enjoy the Alps at their most Swiss - beautifully preserved historic villages with picturesque Italianate architecture, and the distinctive Romansch dialect, this being the only part of Switzerland where it is the first language.
Dolomites Circuit, Italy
Duration: 5-6 days
Cortina forms the base for this route, which is known for its distinctive limestone peaks and pinnacles. This tour offers much historical interest as well as geographical. These hills were the scene of bitter First World War battles to secure strategic passes from 1915 to 1917. Ski touring is now the best way to access these most remote alpine battlefields, and see the long-abandoned fortresses that would otherwise lie largely hidden to the modern world.
We hope this article has shed a little more light on the world of Ski Touring for you, and inspired you to take up the challenge. We promise you won't be disappointed if you do. Just let us know where you want to go and we'll be happy to match you to one of our highly qualified and experienced guides.
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