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Ski touring

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Ski touring

Skiers in western Norway.

Ski touring is a form of skiing where both uphill and downhill travel are possible without needing to remove skis.[1] Typically touring is done off-piste and outside of ski resorts. Tours can often extend over a period of more than one day. Typically, skis, bindings, and boots allow for free movement of the heel to enable a walking pace, as in Nordic, and unlike in alpine skiing.

Ski touring and ski mountaineering have grown in popularity. It has been adopted by skiers looking for new snow, by alpinists, and by those seeking to avoid the high costs of traditional alpine skiing at resorts.[2]

Touring involves independently navigating and route finding through potential avalanche terrain, and often requires familiarity with meteorology along with skiing skills. Ski touring can also be faster and easier than summer hiking in some terrain allowing for traverses and ascents that would be harder in the summer. Skis can also be used to access backcountry alpine climbing routes when snow is off the technical route, but still covers the hiking trail.


  • History 1
  • Technique 2
  • Equipment 3
  • Ski Touring Regions 4
    • Nordic Countries 4.1
      • Iceland 4.1.1
      • Norway 4.1.2
      • Sweden 4.1.3
    • Alps 4.2
      • Popular ski-touring areas 4.2.1
    • Pyrenees 4.3
    • Canada 4.4
    • U.S. 4.5
      • Popular ski-touring areas 4.5.1
    • Andes 4.6
      • Cordillera Blanca 4.6.1
    • New Zealand 4.7
    • Australia 4.8
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The sport's pioneers include:


As the slope angles increase, the climbing ski-tourer will make switchbacks, using kick turns to change direction, typically resulting in a line that climbs at a moderate angle of 20-30 degrees. Skin tracks can be seen as zig-zags heading up a snowy mountain. Ski-tourers try to maintain the up-tracks in avalanche-safe zones as they head up the mountain, staying out from under dangerous cornices or slide paths. Setting a proper and safe skin track requires a great deal of skill and avalanche knowledge as the tourer spends most of their time climbing. Traveling quickly up the hill is important for safety as well. Thus physical fitness is one of the most important elements of safe mountain travel in potential avalanche terrain.

Ski touring requires the ability to ski off-piste, good navigation skills, and good awareness of the risks of the mountain environment in winter. In particular it requires the knowledge to assess and test snow conditions to minimise the risk of avalanche.


Alpine touring ski boot, binding, and ski crampon
  • Avalanche rescue equipment.
  • Going uphill or across a flat also requires grip, so that the ski will glide forward but not slide backwards when weighted. Dedicated cross-country touring skis may have a fish-scale pattern engraved into the base of the ski to enable the ski to grip, but most types of ski require the use of sticky wax or climbing skins for their smooth surface to grip.
  • If the snow is particularly icy or the skin track very steep, then the ski tourer may choose to attach ski crampons, sometimes called Harscheisen (German), couteau (French), or rampant (Italian). Crampons are like knives that cut deeper into the snow.

Styles of equipment:

  • Nordic ski touring is skiing with bindings that leave the heels free all the time. Thus, Nordic skiers do not have to change back and forth between uphill and downhill modes, which can be advantageous in rolling terrain. At the lighter, simpler end of the scale, Nordic skis may be narrow and edgeless cross-country types for groomed trails or ideal snow conditions, used with boots that resemble soft shoes or low boots.
  • Backcountry Nordic: heavier than a traditional Nordic setup, but not as big and heavy as a full Telemark setup.
  • At the heavier end of the Nordic skiing equipment spectrum lie Telemark skis for steep backcountry terrain or ski-area use.
  • Alpine Touring (AT) or randonnée equipment is specifically designed for ski touring in steep terrain. A special alpine touring binding is used that allows the heel to be clipped down for more support when skiing downhill, and allows it to be released to swing resistance-free from the toe when climbing.
  • Alpine skiing equipment can be used for ski touring with the addition of a removable binding insert that allows for free heel swing on ascents.

Ski Touring Regions

Nordic Countries


Activities center on the Troll Peninsula in northern Iceland.[3]


Spring ski touring on Hardangervidda, Norway

Ski touring in Norway has a long tradition. Skiing was originally a practical means of winter transportation. Ski touring formed the basis of the polar expeditions of Norwegian explorers like Fridtjof Nansen and Roald Amundsen.

There are thousands of kilometers of marked Skiforeningen in the Oslomarka area and Norwegian Trekking Association nationally including Hardangervidda, Rondane and Jotunheimen. The Norwegian Trekking Association (Norwegian: Den norske turistforening, DNT) maintains mountain trails and cabins in Norway. The association was founded in 1868. DNT has more than 200,000 members.


Although most of Sweden is relatively flat in the fells, there are wide mountainous areas in the west to practise ski touring. Most Swedish mountains have gentle slopes suitable for ski touring. The northern half of Sweden is usually snow-covered from December to at least March, but in areas like Abisko National Park snow may last until May in the lowlands and until August in the massifs.


The European Alps are popular for ski touring, with tremendous terrain changes, an elaborate and interconnected ski lift system for high mountain access, open ski area boundaries and excellent public transportation within and between mountain valleys, allowing for unplanned escapes & elaborate link-ups.

The extreme elevation gain of the Alps—over 3600 metres (12,000 vertical feet) in Chamonix, for example—leads to a long season, glaciers and dramatic descents. This challenging alpine environment favors the greater stability of spring snow and many routes are in a dangerous condition until then.

Point-to-point ski tours are facilitated by a system of manned alpine huts that provide food, heat and shelter, eliminating the need for carrying massive packs of camping gear and enabling skiers to go high and stay high over long distances rather than having to drop way down into a valley at night. Many point-to-point and multi-day Alpine ski tours have become popular and famous, the best known undoubtedly being the spectacular Haute Route. Examples of other tours of this type in the Alps include the Berner Oberland, Western Bernese Alps, Monte Rosa Circuit and Tour Soleil.

Skiers touring from point-to-point encounter highly variable snow conditions and potentially extreme terrain.

Popular ski-touring areas

Name Country Comments
St. Moritz   Switzerland
Chamonix  France
La Grave  France
Zermatt   Switzerland
Davos/Klosters   Switzerland
Haute Route
Alps  Italy
Dolomites  Italy
Campo Imperatore  Italy
Gran Sasso  Italy
Hochkönig  Austria
Zakopane  Poland
High Tatras  Slovakia
Arêches-Beaufort  France


Many of peaks or passes to climb from November or December to June. Wonderful place for (Alpine!) ski touring.



Ski touring takes place anywhere there is snow in the U.S. In much of the country, this means skiing in low-angle terrain, often on snow-covered roads packed down by snowmobiles. Skiing along prepared tracks on golf courses, proprietary developments or in city, county or state parks is generally referred to as cross-country skiing rather than ski touring; the difference is that the decision of where to ski is predetermined by the track setters.

In steeper terrain, U.S. ski touring is in large part driven by the desire for pleasant descent conditions such as powder snow or spring corn snow. Mountain access typically takes place from high paved and plowed roads and passes (or from ski areas boundaries), so elevation gain and loss is moderate and horizontal distance traveled tends to be minimized. A typical tour may rise 1,000-3,000 vertical feet over 3–5 horizontal miles, and skiers may "yo-yo" to make several runs on the best descent sections, increasing the elevation gain for the day. It is, however, possible to find much more striking vertical relief in places like the Pacific Rim volcanoes, e.g. Mount Rainier, Mount Shasta and in abrupt fault-block mountains like the High Sierra and the Tetons where up to 7,000 feet (2,100 m) of descent (and ascent) is possible for the truly energetic in some seasons.

The taste for backcountry powder skiing has caused several problems. First, in-area skiers crossing over to the backcountry for off-piste or lift-assisted ski touring without learning the additional skills of avalanche awareness, first aid, self-rescue and winter mountaineering frequently run into serious, media-grabbing problems as they slip under ski area ropelines. Second, the skiers come into conflict with ski area operators, who are understandably unwilling to accept liability for injuries and deaths in the backcountry outside the ski area's controlled terrain. Attempting to minimize this potential liability in the past, resort managers typically enacted blanket prohibitions on backcountry access via their boundaries. While skiers are entirely free to hike into these same areas from the parking lots, most U.S. backcountry skiers prefer to spend as much of their day as possible making downhill turns rather than slogging up long approaches. Since most ski areas are partially or entirely on public land, the issue failed to die and many ski areas are accommodating with open boundaries or backcountry gates as they receive support in the courts against claims resulting from backcountry accidents.

Due to the almost complete absence of public transportation in remote U.S. mountain areas, ski touring from point-to-point requires often lengthy and onerous car shuttles; a spectacular example is the 5 hour car shuttle required for the Sierra High Route: that's 5 hours there to drop a car, 5 hours back and 5 hours to return with the car at the end...15 hours of driving.

Although most U.S. ski touring is out-and-back, multi-day hut trips are becoming more and more popular. Colorado has the most extensive network of huts, but several good options also exist in Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana and California. There are also some skiers who are willing to carry all required camping gear, food and fuel for multi-day trips. And Spring "corn camps" are reasonably popular in the west, with skiers packing in and setting up a base camp for several days of ski touring in the area during this period of warmer weather, stable snow and longer days.

In the east, a skier can tour from Massachusetts to Canada on Vermont's 300+ mile Catamount Trail. The Catamount Trail is divided into 31 sections, each of which can be reasonably skied point-to-point in a day, using a car shuttle. There are also some sections that are routed to make overnight inn-to-inn trips possible.

Popular ski-touring areas

Name State Comment / Reference
The "East Side"  California California's High Sierra
Big Cottonwood Canyon and
Little Cottonwood Canyon
 Utah Salt Lake City
Teton Pass  Wyoming Jackson Hole[10]
Tuckerman Ravine  New Hampshire Mount Washington
Loveland Pass  Colorado [11]
Berthoud Pass  Colorado [12]
Paradise - Camp Muir  Washington South side of Mount Rainier


The Andes offer a wide variety of back country skiing possibilities.

Most ski centres in Chile and Argentina operate from June through September (the southernmost resorts have longer seasons) and there are endless opportunities year round in mountains, inner valleys, reserves like (Huilo-Huilo Biological Reserve, volcanoes such as Villarrica (volcano), etc.

Backcountry skiing can also be done in Perú and Bolivia.

Cordillera Blanca

The Cordillera Blanca with the mountain Perlilla is a prime destination for cross-country skiing and snowboarding practice.

New Zealand

Ski areas of New Zealand include Arthur's Pass National Park, Central Otago, Fiordland, Aoraki-Mount Cook National Park, Mount Ruapehu, Nelson, Ohau, Wanaka, and the Arrowsmith Range.[13]


Ski touring is popular in the Victorian and New South Wales alps, with the season running from late June to October. New South Wales, in particular, has extensive rolling snow country in Kosciuszko National Park which is well suited to this activity. Most of this park is designated wilderness, and skiers require snow camping skills to access much of it. The Victorian alps are somewhat more broken than those of New South Wales, often with deep snowless valleys between the ski fields. However, excellent ski touring opportunities are found at places such as Mount Bogong, Mt Feathertop, and Falls Creek.

See also


  1. ^ A Complete Guide to Alpine Ski Touring Ski Mountaineering and Nordic Ski Touring Including Useful Information for Off Piste Skiers and Snow Boarders. Authorhouse. 2014. p. xvii.  
  2. ^ Volken, Martin; Schnell, Scott; Wheeler, Margaret (2007). Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering. Mountaineers Books. p. 12.  
  3. ^ "Ski Touring". Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  4. ^ "Ski Touring in Rogers Pass and The Winter Permit System". Parks Canada. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  5. ^ "The Wapta Traverse". Yamnuska. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  6. ^ "Backcountry Skiing". Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  7. ^ "Backcountry Huts". Ski Golden. Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  8. ^ "Kananaskis Country". Retrieved 12 July 2014. 
  9. ^ "Backcountry Ski Huts". Parks Canada. Retrieved 8 February 2015. 
  10. ^ "Online guide to backcountry skiing on Teton Pass". Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  11. ^ "Online guide to backcountry skiing on Loveland Pass". Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  12. ^ "Online guide to backcountry skiing on Berthoud Pass". Retrieved 2010-04-09. 
  13. ^ "Ski Touring New Zealand". Retrieved 28 September 2015. 

External links

  • United States Ski Mountaineering Association
  • Backcountry and avalanche safety info for backcountry adventurers
  • International Mountaineering and Climbing Federation
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