Our Ski Touring Top Tricks & Tips.
Going ski touring for the first time and learning the skills can be a baptism of fire, I still have clear memories of my first ski touring experience in Chamonix back in ohh something like 1999. Heavy equipment, fell over at every kick-turn, too hot, too cold, not fit enough….
I don’t think I tried it again for some long time!
Fortunately, now many things have changed for the better, certainly in regards to the equipment and its ease of use and that it is designed for the job, it can make life much more enjoyable for the newbie ski tourer. Aspects like clothing management, fitness, nutrition, drinking enough water still comes down to the person and needs to be learnt over time. Seeking professional advice from a guide is always the best way to start with any new sport or aspect of a sport. You can learn invaluable skills and knowledge from a guide who will be able to teach you the basics of ski touring. At Smart Guides we have a passion for passing on our knowledge and skills in the mountains to our guests. All our IFMGA guides are chosen for their knowledge, skills, friendly personality and passion for their job and the mountains. Any day spent in the mountains with them is a rewarding, learning experience.
Here we give you a few of our top tricks and tips for ski touring.
Transitions – make a routine, remember the routine & stick to it.
A transition in ski touring is swapping from ski mode to uphill walk mode and visa versa. Many a mistake is made here by anyone new to the sport. The key to good transitions is to make a routine of what you need to do, do it in that order each time and stick to it. If in doubt copy your guide as their routine will have been done hundreds of times and they will have down to a fine art.
Here is my routine (stolen off a guide) and which I now do every time on every transition. Starting with changing from downhill ski mode to uphill walk mode.
Once you have chosen your spot to stop, probably near your guide but not so close you are going to hit each other or anyone else in the group with your kit. The first thing I do it to take my rucksack off and place it carefully in a suitable place on the ground where it is not going to roll off down the hill.
Now I change my ski boots from ski mode to uphill walk mode. So I loosen the buckles, power strap and flick the ski/walk mode into walk mode (while I keep my skis on).
Next, I remove one or both skis (depends if you are on a glacier or not). On the ski I have removed I turn the binding into uphill walk mode, I now place it in vertically in the snow, ideally if possible, with the base facing the sun (not essential). I brush any loose snow off the base and around the binding (keeping my gloves on). I take my skin out of my rucksack and place it onto the ski ensuring it is fitted well and correctly and both tip and tail attachments are in place. I now place it back on the snow and clip my boot back in.
Now do exactly the same with the other ski. If you need to use your couteaux (ski crampons) then you fit them now. If not they should be easily accessible near the top of your rucksack if you think you are going to need them.
Once you have both skis back on its now time to change your clothing. It is far better to do this after your skis/boots especially if it is cold and windy. Unless it is a roasting hot day stripping off all your clothes at the start of a transition will nearly always lead you to be cold by the end of it. Remove any outer and insulation layers as you will nearly always warm-up on the uphill, change your gloves for a lighter weight pair, swap a helmet/hat for a headband or cap and goggles for sunglasses. If you are waiting for others in your group then pop a jacket back on briefly to keep warm.
Next it is always a good idea to eat a small amount of food and have a drink of water.
Once all the group is ready to go, take your jacket off put it in your rucksack, get your rucksack on and be ready to go.
To change back from uphill walk mode to ski mode its easy, just reverse the process the other way. Put on warm clothing first, take off your skis then your skins, put your skis back on, do up your boots then have something to eat and drink.
A pair of ski poles with a long grip.
Having a pair of ski poles with a grip that runs down below the main handle is a great help when ski touring. Most of the time your uphill hand will feel more comfortable if it is placed somewhere down the shaft of the ski pole rather then on the handle as you will be better balanced. A longer grip or some kind of added grip tape is ideal as it will stop your hand from slipping. Many manufacturers now make poles for ski touring like the Black Diamond Traverse Ski Poles.
Thin gloves for the uphill part & warm days.
I always have about 4 pairs of gloves with me on any day while skiing or ski touring, you don’t have to carry that many but you do need to have 1 warm pair and 1 thin pair. Do not ski tour uphill in your big warm ski gloves or mits, they will get super sweaty and then your hands will be cold and wet for the rest of the day. A thin pair of gloves made out of a softshell or wind stopper material are best (I usually stay away from fleece gloves), they should have a grippy palm so it makes it easy to hold your pole and allow you to be dexterous with your fingers. One of my top glove hacks for touring is to use a pair of long fingered mountain biking gloves as they are never too hot, usually have some kind of grip on the palm and are close fitting.
Use dry bags to separate your kit in your rucksack.
Using small dry bags in your rucksacks to help to separate your kit is a great way to know where things are and to prevent it all from falling out into the snow when your searching for something. I always put my extra warm layer, spare gloves, sunglasses and/or goggles, hat/headband/cap into a dry bag. They will be easy to find plus they are kept dry if you are putting wet skins and couteaux back into your rucksack.
Skin Proof or Skin Wax.
Over time your skins will lose their water repellence and you can end up with a socking wet skin on hot spring days or you get snow build up on the skin which causes drag and extra weight. By applying a water-repellent spray or wax to your skin once in a while is a good way to maintain them in good working order. Something like Colltex Skinproof Spray or Natural Skin & Ski Wax is ideal. It’s simple to apply and comes in a small container you can even carry in your rucksack.
We hope you find these tricks and tips useful and can apply them this winter in your ski touring adventures. Join us on one of our Steep Ski Camps, ski touring trips or take a guide for some private guiding to learn new skills and gain more mountain knowledge.