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.
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!
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.
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.
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.