Ski touring advice and techniques to save energy, prevent pain and take your ski touring experience to a whole new and more enjoyable level
1) LIGHTEN UP
Today's touring skis and bindings have cut the fat as in weight but gained fat as in wider waists resulting in easier ascents with freeride float in the powder on the way down. This winter's lightest skis include the Pagoda Tour line from DPS at 1440g weight per ski for 106s / 171 length, compared to 2675g for Nordica Santa Anas 110s /169 length. That's over a kilo difference, like taking a bag of sugar off each foot on the uphill without losing performance coming down. Similarly with touring bindings, the Fritschi Xenics at 280g weigh much less than, say, Salomon Shifts at 750g mounted on each ski.
2) SLIDE AND GLIDE
Don't try and step as you go uphill. Slide the ski along in a straight line pushing with your toe so the skins do not leave the surface. This is ultimately far less effort over a long distance than raising each ski. When it gets steeper use the lifts on your bindings to increase the height of your heels and give your calves a break.
3) POLE POSITIONS
Your poles need to be longer for going up so you need telescopic ones. If you feel that you are bending every time you pole plant as you climb then they are too short. Your elbow should be perpendicular to the slope with your hand around the top of each pole, but bear in mind that when the snow is soft they will need to be longer. Also when traversing across a slope grab the upper pole lower down. And for going up a significant rise or side stepping higher, place your hand over the top of the lower pole so you can push down on it.
4) HARD LESSONS
When the snow is hard and/or icy going up, touring skis are likely to slip even though you have skins on. This is where you need to master using the edges more to go diagonally across the slippery face - or have crampons. It's also when you may wish your fat skis were thinner!
5) KICKING, THE HABIT
When it gets steeper you're ultimately going to need to turn in order to zigzag upwards. This is a kick turn, requiring you to flip the uphill ski almost horizontally in the opposite direction, followed by swinging the downhill one around using your poles to change your weight. Sounds hard? Too right it can be. It takes practise (which is worth doing on a snowy slope before you actually ski tour) and, even when mastered can make gnar men cry when faced with an icy steep section or deep heavy powder. Mountain guide, Per As, smoothly demonstrates how it's done.
A big favourite of ours is the Japanese kick turn, which involves hanging onto the branch of any convenient tree branch to help pivot you around.
6) STAY COOL
Layering is essential when ski touring, to stay cool climbing and to warm up transitioning on windy ridges. Take one layer off before you start because you're going to warm up pretty quickly. A puffa gilet and jacket are perfect for de-layering as they pack down into your backpack and weigh very little. A bandana works best for climbing to keep sweat out of your eyes. Never wear goggles on your head on the uphill as your heat will create a murky misty world if you want to wear them on the way down.
7) AND STOP
No pain no gain? Not when it comes to blisters where there is no gain in the pain. Walking uphill in touring or snowboard boots, especially in the spring when it's warmer and your feet get sweaty, is a recipe for cooking a blister on your heel. So stop and deal with it. Tip No 7b is always take Compeed. Ouch, too late? Here's how to treat a blister when you get home. Warning, graphic image, not for the faint-hearted.
8) ENJOY THE UPLINES
It's not a race to the top unless you have weather issues as in it's closing in or getting too warm, in which case what are you doing on the hill? Checking the weather is rule No 1 for ski touring. The beauty of touring is enjoying the beauty of the mountains. Yes, we say it's 'earning your turns', making it sound like a ball ache to pay for those first tracks by slogging uphill, but the uplines can be just as enjoyable as the ski down. Appreciate the amazing scenery, breathe the fresh air, stop for a snack, listen to the silence and send a photo to all your ski/snowboard friends to give them FOMO.
9) CHOOSE YOUR CREW
If the rest of your group is on a mission to do the peak/ridge in one hit in record time, when you just wanted a leisurely day out, as above, then you're going to feel the pressure, be starved of snacks, not notice the frolicking marmots - and/or be left behind.
But always go with someone who knows what they're doing, make sure you have safety equipment and know how to use it. Ideally if you're not experienced, go with a mountain guide. You'll not only stay safe but, if you pay attention, you'll learn how to glide, climb and kick turn from a pro.
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