Intro to Ski Touring

Ski touring for the first time 

‘A little walk on skis’ takes you away from lift-accessed snow slopes and opens the door to so much more adventure on skis on the winter and spring-time alpine slopes and peaks.

Ski touring in the St Bernard’s Hospice area

Journeying up-hill is so much more pleasurable on skinning skis than walking. Then you have your planks readily available for the rewarding ski descent back down.

 

Where to start?

It’s great to get used to some of the skills of ski-touring bit by bit and not launch into a hut-to-hut tour straight away. A series of day-tours with the option of going for a overnight hut stay as part of a 2-day tour is the perfect way to get started.

It’s the best, non-committing way to learn and get used to all the new skills, and not least get used to your own or hired touring equipment. When changing between ‘up-hill mode’ and ‘down-hill mode’ and back, there is plenty of opportunity for phaffing… Sorting out your skins, adjusting boots and bindings, lunch, photos and a glance at the map all take a while, yet with a few go’s you can realise a good system of organising your kit, which becomes fairly crucial for those windy cols and summits!

Kick turns can feel a bit precarious…
Quick or cold? Sorting out kit

How to travel safely in the mountains on skis. Learn everything from skinning technique and kick-turns to map-reading and route-choice. Avalanche awareness is naturally part of the course, and glacier travel and crevasse rescue becomes more important as you journey higher on your tours.

The reward for your touring efforts…lots of untracked powder!

It’s also a good time to keep working on your skiing technique; finding approaches to tackle whatever snow comes along… Hopefully finding some nice snow too, but it’s great to realise how skiing in control and with few falls is attainable and significantly keeps you safe when touring through remote areas.

What keeps it fun is finding a good valley base with comfortable accommodation. The location then has a good variety of touring objectives on the door step and also has good potential of alternatives within an hour’s drive away to accommodate the change in the weather. As it would be a series of day tours, it is not mountain hut dependant, therefore as a holiday it can work at anytime in the winter, typically from Christmas through to Easter. There are always one or two mountain huts open right through the winter season to enable you to try the hut experience at some point.

Here are a selection of good valley bases in the western Alps:

The Val de Bagnes 

In south-west Switzerland this is a great area for you to learn about ski-touring. Basically, it’s the area that includes the ski resort of Verbier. The extended valley stretches southwards from the town of Martigny all the way up to the Italian border. Here there is a good variety of great tours in the hills sandwiched between the Mont Blanc Massif and the Grand Combin. Fine journeys, good skiing and amazing views of these fine mountains. Some tours have lift access to help start the day while others just start from the road end.

Ski-touring above Arolla

Arolla

At the far end of the Val d’Hérens, in the Suisse Valais, Arolla also has great scope for learning ski-touring skills. Serviced by two simple lifts there is a great variety of terrain can be covered in one area, including access to glaciated terrain and some cols and peaks to explore. In the early season on January to February the ski-tours do lead to some fantastic powder skiing descents.

The Chamonix Valley

This is a great central base for ski-touring trips using the local ski-lift infrastructure. Equally, down the valley you have St Gervais and Megeve as good bases as well as across the border into Italy or Switzerland. The tours around Chamonix are a little more adventurous (but manageable!), introducing you to some easy mountaineering and to some fine glacial terrain. To the west is the Aravis mountain chain; the valley base of St Gervais has great access to some lower level tours in a splendid location. Through the Mont Blanc tunnel there are some great day tours above the town of Courmayeur.

Touring above the Vallée Blanche, with the Tour Ronde behind, Mont Blanc Massif

Guiding Details

Tailor-made Ski-touring Courses – Intro or Intermediate Level

These courses would be based in either the Chamonix Mont Blanc ski area, the Val de Bagnes and Verbier ski area or from Arolla. They would run as a series of day tours and would return each evening back to the valley base. Later on in the season it also would be possble to include an overnight stay in a mountain hut. It is also possible to run these courses from any of the other ski touring venues desribed elsewhere on this website.

There needs to be a minimum of 4 people in a booking, with the maximum group size being 6. A ski-touring course can be run at any time through the winter season, but generally there is more time available December through to February and certainly this is the best time of year to make the most of good touring conditions in less remote locations.

2 day course – £160 per person

3 day course – £240 per person

4 day course – £320 per person

The price includes the hire of avalanche safety equipment (transceiver, shovel, probe)