Ski touring: why it’s growing more popular, and five essentials you need to go off piste
- It’s the purest form of skiing – you hike uphill on skis, then ski back down. We take you through the kit you need, and recommend some best buys
- Skis, boots, bindings, rescue kit and backpack – we’ve got you covered
For the uninitiated, ski touring can mean everything from cross-country skiing to ski mountaineering.
But authentic ski touring, or “ski randonnee” as the French call it, is simply hiking uphill on skis and then skiing back down. No ski lifts are involved, it’s all about hitting the hills under your own steam.
It is the biggest niche market worldwide in skiing at present, according to the Ski Club of Great Britain.
One of the main reasons for its growth in popularity has been the quantum leap in the design of ski touring equipment – everything has become lighter and easier to use, from skis, bindings and boots to clothing and rucksacks, while essential safety equipment – avalanche airbags and avalanche transceivers in particular – have also become more user-friendly and affordable.
It also helps that these days much of the gear used for ski touring also works perfectly well on ski slopes, so you do not necessarily need to have one set for use at the resort and one for use in the back country or remote areas.
Part of the reward of ski touring is the added workout involved, but the real attraction is that it allows you to encounter pristine mountain environments where the only tracks on the snow are your own.
However, because the back country can be a dangerous place, there has been an increased focus on safety within the sport.
There is now plenty of information online on how to travel safely in avalanche terrain and how to use safety equipment (see henrysavalanchetalk.com), and ski resorts such as Val Thorens in France are introducing ski touring slopes where novices can learn the basics.
When venturing off-piste, particularly into unknown terrain, you should always go with a guide who knows the lay of the land intimately and who can ensure you have a memorable adventure on your touring skis for all the right reasons.
Here is a selection of the best ski touring gear for this season.
1. Ortovox 3+ Avalanche Rescue Kit
This essential rescue kit (HK$2,370, see ortovox.com) costs less than buying transceiver, shovel and probe separately. It consists of an Ortovox 3+ transceiver, an Ortovox Badger shovel and an Ortovox 240 Light PFA probe, along with an Ortovox Safety Academy Guidebook which explains the basics of avalanche rescue and other useful background information.
2. Scott Alpride 24 ABS pack
The 24-litre pack (HK$6,380, see scott-sports.com) is one of the lightest ABS bags on the market at 1.24kg and is a good size for day trips. Should you get caught in an avalanche, after pulling the easily accessible trigger the airbag inflates in just three seconds to help you “float” to the top.
The system uses cartridges based on the same technology as those in aeroplane life jackets, which means you can fly with it.
3. Salomon S Lab Shift bindings
The Shift (HK$4,120, see salomon.com) is unique in combining the touring efficiency of traditional low-tech “pin bindings”, which allow the heel to lift free of the skis, with the performance of downhill bindings (which lock the heel in place).
Users switch from a pin-style binding for climbing to a downhill-style binding for descending, and the system can be used with all types of ski boots.
4. The Black Diamond Helio 95 skis
The Black Diamond Helio 95 (HK$7,200, see blackdiamondequipment.com) has an ultralight balsa flax wood core to reduce weight when climbing, along with carbon fibre for improved damping, torsional stiffness and balanced flex when skiing; these factors help reduce vibration and improve and control turning respectively.
5. Lange XT 130 free boots
This new model from Lange (HK$5,665, see lange-boots.com) has been designed to incorporate the power of an alpine boot for confident descending with the low weight and walk function of the best ski touring boots (walking in regular alpine boots for any length of time is very uncomfortable, if not almost impossible).