“Earn you turns!” Photo: Niko Pettersson
That’s the mantra of the growing number of backcountry skiers who get just as jacked up about going up the hill as they do skiing down.
But hold on a minute. Why sweat your way uphill when there are plenty of ski resorts around the world who will happily take your money to ferry you up the hill in a mind-boggling variety of people-moving technology from cable cars and gondolas to chair lifts to t-bars and rope tows?
Well, in addition to the obvious workout benefits of charging uphill at an altitude of 2000 meters or more, there are loads of people who go ski touring because it’s the best way to find untracked powder or as a way to escape the massive lift queues at a ski resort that can turn what should be a relaxing spring day in the mountains into a soul-crushing grind.
So if you’re thinking a peaceful workout breathing clean alpine air and surrounded by stunningly beautiful mountains followed by some nice powder turns sounds like a good day out, but you’re still in the dark about some of the more fundamental elements like … ummm … how it all works, then you’ve come to the right place. Read on!
For many who are checking into ski touring for the first time, the biggest mystery is how the hell anybody is able to ski uphill. So it may be surprising to learn that mountain folk have been skiing uphill for as long, or longer, than they’ve been skiing down. The secret is the humble climbing skin. Called a ‘skin’ because they were first made from seal skin, climbing skins are a long strip of fabric that perfectly matches the footprint of the ski. One side is super sticky for attaching the skin to the base of the ski while on the other side short, angled bristles lay flat as the ski slides uphill. When the ski wants to slide back down, the bristles extend and ‘grip’ the snow to keep it in place. Pretty cool, eh? And as an added bonus for seals everywhere, most skins these days are made from nylon and mohair.
There is a bit of technique involved, especially when the snow is hard, so for beginners – as well as experts who want added security on sketchy sections – a climbing crampon that digs into the snow or ice for extra traction can be easily attached to the binding.
As when hiking, trail running or mountain biking, the quickest path to the top of the mountain is rarely a straight line. And when the trail starts zig-zagging up a steep slope it can be especially challenging to maneuver your skis around sharp switchbacks. I could go into detail here but as they say, a picture is worth a thousand words, and when it comes to learning to do a kick turn, a video is worth more like a million, so here’s a video to show you how it’s done.
Avalanches And How To Avoid Them
With all this talk about the fun of ski touring, it is super important to understand that the backcountry is an extremely dangerous place that can be navigated safely with a healthy dose of caution and common sense. So before venturing into the backcountry it’s essential to learn as much as possible about the causes behind avalanches as well as what to do if one of your team gets caught in one. Of course, there is loads of valuable information to be gathered on the internet and in addition, it’s also highly advisable to take an avalanche course that teaches avalanche rescue techniques and provides the opportunity to practice them. Mountain guides are also an extremely valuable resource and highly recommended for your first few forays until you gain the confidence to go on your own.
And after a long day of ski touring, after your legs are fried, your skin is burnt and your body is bathing in the warm afterglow of healthy overdoses of clean mountain air, sunshine, powder turns and stoke, it’s always fun to see how far, how high and how fast you skied – both up and down.
Sports Tracker’s Ski Touring mode is packed with data that not only helps you deep dive into the details of your day but also to share your ‘best day ever!’ with friends.
“To find the details about your workout, open Sports Tracker and click the Diary icon at the bottom of the Home page. You find the map of your route as well as data like duration, total distance, average pace (min/km), average speed and more. Click on the map to get an expanded view of your route with a graph showing speed and altitude at the bottom. On the graph at bottom, touch and drag the orange cursor to find out how your speed corresponds to changes in altitude and where it occurs on your route. “
But you’re never going to need that, right? Because every day you go ski touring is going to be nothing but awesome! So time to close the computer and get out there and earn some turns!