SARL Peak Transfer
44a Chemin du Lai
Chamonix Mt Blanc
Peak Transfer were extremely helpful. Always answered the phone, and were great when our plane was delayed.read more
Skiing powder is one of the best experiences to be had in the alpine world. And you do not need us to tell you that once you go off-piste, you never go back. Once you’ve experienced the feeling of your skis or board shredding, bouncing and floating upon the fluffy untracked white pow off-piste, you will never want to ride anything else.
So if you consider yourself an off-piste connoisseur, having sampled the delicious tempting fruit that is powder skiing or snowboarding, and like a drug you’re searching for your next fix. But we all know (especially us in the Chamonix Valley) as soon as you see fat soft flakes falling from the sky, everyone else has too and that lift accessible fresh powder gets tracked out or pretty much obliterated within minutes, which is like a stab to the heart for the true powder lovers amongst us.
However, do not despair, as that is where the beauty of ski touring and splitboarding come into play and should definitely be your next move to take your skiing or boarding to the next level. There is nothing quite like the adventure, euphoria and beautiful untouched powder that normally inaccessible backcountry terrain can provide.
You have seen those crazy individuals skiing UP the mountain rather than the fun downhill way…. well they were probably touring. And although this may seem ridiculously insane at first thought…. they have actually quietly had the upper hand all along! Ski touring can offer access to thousands of acres of epic backcountry skiing terrain for all abilities and some of the greatest steep powder skiing, prestigious mountain refuges and sense of adventure around. We could go on, but all you need to know is if you like off-piste skiing, ski touring is your next step.
Earn your turns! Photo: Lance Koudele
Ski touring or split boarding involves specialist equipment such as touring bindings and boots that allow you raise your heel and conduct a walking motion whilst on your skis and ‘skins’; a synthetic carpet like material that sticks to the base of your skis that prevent them sliding backwards down the hill as you walk up it. Once you have reached the high point of your climb, simply peel your skins off the base of your skis, switch your boots to ski mode and lock in your heel at the bindings (skiing is a bit tricky in walk mode….trust us from experience!!!) and hey presto… you’re ready to shred some S’s in that unblemished slope of powder.
Ski touring can get you into areas considered inaccessible offering a completely unique mountain experience. With the necessary equipment and a bit of hard work, you can escape the crowds of the pistes, observe nature as it was intended to be seen and find some great skiing. Like many things there are different horses for courses in the ski touring world to suit different mindsets and desired outcomes.
Firstly, there is the Free-Touring enthusiasts comprised of those that tour as a means to an end on the quest for that holy grail. They gain altitude merely in search of the perfect downhill line inaccessible from lifts. This group may not enjoy the ups as much as others but they embrace the adventure and efforts of hiking up will be rewarded with the achievement of the ultimate goal… the descent. They consist of those who crave the excitement of untouched powder and are likely only to want to go ‘skinning up’ for a couple of hours each time rather than a whole day or multiple days.
Secondly there is the Ski Touring/ Ski-Mountaineering way of thinking. These are individuals that love the fact that they can access backcountry terrain under their own steam taking as much pleasure in the ups as well as the adrenaline fuelled desired downs. It’s the sense of achievement in the physical challenge, beautiful scenery, and real sense of adventure in the remote environment at altitude giving a natural high. The efforts of hiking up will be rewarded with spectacular scenery of the snow-capped peaks. Perfect if you like to get away from the bustling ski resort to the peaceful tranquil mountains, to be at one with nature in all it’s glory. These consist more of those wanting to explore the backcountry for all it has to offer from a full day to multi-day, hut-to-hut tours and classic routes such as the Haute Route.
There is a third camp namely the Speed Tourers, but this is mainly by those wishing to race in ski mountaineering, or specifically for uphill off-season training… not necessarily for exploring the backcountry. For these guys it’s usually more about the getting up first (king of the hill style) than the descents or exploring new backcountry terrain.
Those of you destined for that crisp crunch of spring snow, floating on top of the powder, and embracing the sunshine with fellow tourers, there are plenty of opportunities to introduce yourself to ski touring. Firstly, you can hire a fully trained mountain guide, if you are already travelling with a small ‘like-minded’ group this is perfect and can work out to a reasonable cost. If you are a couple or going solo then there are a number of ‘Introductory Ski Touring Courses’ usually lasting between 3 – 5 days to show you the ropes and give you a taste for what ski touring or splitboarding is all about, with a small group of others wishing to do the same.
Don’t worry if you do not have the equipment as it is really easy to hire very good touring set ups including touring boots, light skis (with specialist touring bindings), skins, ski crampons, harnesses (if you are rapelling), telescopic poles and avalanche safety gear, usually without breaking the bank too.
If you’ve got the taste for off-piste skiing and are looking for a new challenge, why not consider a multi-day ski tour? In many resorts you can experience off-piste terrain by hiring a guide to show you the way and teach you how to travel safely in the backcountry, gaining the skills necessary to conquer and ride virtually any terrain in the world.
Touring offers much more than the skiing itself, it’s a liberating experience feeling the isolation in a wilderness, with just you and your skis, away from the crowds. You will also experience genuine camaraderie and develop great relationships with fellow tourers and mountaineers both on the mountain and in the refuges. Making it a great recipe for adventure and why exploring the off-piste terrain is ultimately rewarding and should be on every ski and snowboard enthusiasts bucket list. The hard slog up is worth the fresh powder turns down…we promise it doesn’t get better than that!