To put simply, the act of Ski Touring or Ski Mountaineering imply traveling through any snow covered terrain, using skis to go both downhill and uphill. The Only difference between ski mountaineering and touring is the objective behind the activity. For example, the term mountaineering is usually used to objectify the target of reaching the top whereas touring is simply enjoying the journey even without a set objective. The French call this ‘Randonee’ and is one of the very hip and popular terms used in place of touring.
Before you grab you skis and start moving towards the great backcountry trails you should know that you would need some extra/special equipment that would be highlighted by this article further along the way. Also, you need to be reasonably fit to ski tour.
Skis: The main difference between the Nordic/Alpine skiing skis and the randonee is that the heel of the touring ski set is free that allows the skier to slide forward. The weight of the skis designed especially for backcountry use is lighter in weight to deal with varying snow types and terrains.
Ski Skins: They are pre-cut sections of plush materials that are stuck to the bottom of the skis. They increase the traction between the base of your skis and the snow so in return you can travel uphill with relative ease. The synthetic skins allow increased traction whereas the mohair finish creates a slippery surface that creates enhanced glide. A blended skin should be chosen for your backcountry expeditions.
Bindings: As highlighted above the skis used for touring offer a free heel and to keep this heel in place when its time to ski down the bindings locks down the heel.
Boots: Touring ski boots feature a walk mode that allows the cuffs to pivot freely to allow a better range of motion to you when you are hiking or skinning. The sole of touring boots is extra lugged rubber with lightweight shells that create increased functionality when you want to gain altitude. The modern generation of boots also come in weighty options that have an edge when you are descending, so always make sure to choose the gear that is most suitable to you and keeps you going longer and faster.
Poles: The poles used for skiing are generally the same, but when you are considering touring, it is recommended to select adjustable/collapsible poles, to better meet the demands of the various kinds of terrain you’d encounter. For example, you might need to reduce the pole length when you are ascending.
Backcountry Ski Pack: An ideal backpack should be sufficiently rugged and tough, so if need be it could be used to carry your skis. An allocated mid-sized pocket should be used for your shovel, probe and other avalanche rescue tools for quick access. A good backpack should also have some extra hydration bladder sleeves and other extra compartments so you can stow your helmet away during those sweaty ascents. Contemporary backpacks are being made with extra features like airbags that provide extra oxygen in case you get caught up in an avalanche.
Avalanche Beacon: This is a must-have for all ski tourists and backcountry explorers. The untouched nature is mesmerizing at times, but we must never forget the wrathful aspect of it. Safety should always be your prime concern at all times and if you don’t have an avalanche beacon; it would get impossible to find you in case you get buried under the snow. A GPS enabled beacon should be preferred due to its highly accurate pinging technology and efficient casualty recovery.
Food/Fuel: This is one of the things most amateur backpackers totally ignore until they are skinning to a ridge top and they realize that they haven’t packed any food. Packing a few energy bars at least could do the trick, but for longer tours, you should consider packing proper meals or bring your fuel or other essentials for on-spot cooking. Compact cooking kits are also available in the market that could be used to make a meal within minutes.
Emergency Essentials: Emergency kits are a personal creation and vary from person to person. Some of the generic things you should consider having are a good multi-tool kit, with a knife, a ducttape, a lighter, and a few extra gloves and ski straps.
Apart from having all the tools you need, you also should be skilled in their correct and safe use. You should be an expert in tracking beacons in case of emergency. The use of emergency avalanche kits, including the use of shovel and probes should be practiced to allow smooth sailing in case the snow gives way.
Ski tours in the great backcountry are a fun activity, but always remember to carry your emergency beacon and have a companion with you. Many of the backcountry locations require you to have a permit, emergency kits and a spotter (partner). Make sure you understand the rules and regulations before you embark on the trip.
Remember to always be safe and inform our close ones before you start your tour.
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