To kick this one off, I want to say a huge thanks to Freezepro in Edinburgh for sorting me out with a set of touring boots this season. I’ve been saving pennies for months to buy all the new kit I needed to go touring, and having support from Freezepro really helped me at the final hurdle.
I was told, no one forgets their first ski touring experience and I now know why! Nothing I have ever done can compare to the feeling of freedom and oneness I felt the first day I put skins on my skis and began to walk uphill. The mountain was quiet and it made me feel so tiny. It felt like we were a million miles from the ski resort we had just left; with its cosy mountain restaurants and heated chairlifts. Maybe that scared me for a second, what if something happened out here, am I insured if I need rescued? (I was; I did triple check).
My first day touring and backcountry skiing was in Val Mesdi, which is part of the Sella massif in the Dolomites. Neither Callum or I have much experience off piste so we hired a mountain guide as well as extra safety equipment for the day. Going out with a guide was a fairly educational experience, Manuel confirmed all my fears for me (i.e., avalanche risk, falling into crevasses, the usual Wednesday morning stuff), but he also reassured me with his knowledge of safety and experience and I ended up learning a lot from him.
At the top of Sass Pordoi, we had a short descent before we skinned up and began a 45minute hike to reach Boe refuge. In hindsight, I should have practiced putting my skins on, and switching my boots & binding to walk mode; but thankfully watching YouTube vids saved me from embarrassment on this occasion. At first, walking uphill on skis was the thing that blew my mind. But once sweat started to pour from every inch of my body, I needed to stop for a breath. The view of the Sella massif stole my amazement from the uphill ski and plastered a smile from one side of my face to the other. It was incredible and I felt like the luckiest person in the world.
Val Mesdi. I reached the top of the steep, narrow, icy couloir with horror on my face. There may have been slight miscommunication when the guide told us there were fantastic off piste conditions, fresh lines to be made and powder in Val Mesdi. Did I mention the moguls? I mean, I shouldn’t have been so gullible. It hadn’t snowed in a week, and it’s a popular route for backcountry skiers. Doh!
However, I did make it down. Complete with skis, poles and no broken bones. I’m not shy to admit I shed a few fearful tears during the descent and a few more of relief when I made it to the bottom. But despite my lack of grace skidding down that gulley, the views were beautiful and I had great company to enjoy it with. Every so often the three of us stopped in our tracks, sometimes lying down on the ice (lets not pretend it was snow) and in silence we got our breath back with the most unspoilt views.
Although Val Mesdi was a challenge for the most part, it was the most rewarding challenge I have ever completed and a place I am desperate to revisit next year (maybe with more snow)!
Ski touring, what is it and what do I need?
Ski touring, also known as backcountry skiing is a way to explore mountains on skis outwith a ski resort (i.e., no need to buy a £250 ski pass). Instead of using chair lifts, gondolas or other means of transport, ski touring involves using skins on the bottom of the ski that allow you to walk up the mountain. Before the descent, the skins are removed. Alternately, depending on the terrain; skis can be attached to a backpack and hiking up in boots can be more efficient.
Touring is attractive for many reasons, leaving the crowds and comfort of a resort brings a sense of adventure and expedition to a days skiing. The slow and physically demanding uphill is rewarded with views and the beauty of surrounding nature. And after the intense physical effort uphill, the downhill provides the thrill of skiing in complete solitude, in fresh snow (usually)!
The basic gear for ski touring should cover the following
Safety equipment (which I still need to buy, I have been hiring)
Transceiver – mini computer worn under clothing, it must always be on in case of avalanche. The Transceiver sends a signal to whoever is looking for you, making you easier to find.
Shovel – for obvious digging reasons
Probe – leads you to find the exact location of an avalanche victim
Touring boots – are lightweight and have different settings for uphill and downhill skiing. They become more flexible in ‘walk’ mode, and stiffer like a regular alpine boot when they are clipped up tight. They also have a curved rubber sole similar to walking boots to aid walking on slippery, icy and rocky surfaces. As I mentioned, I got my boots from Freezepro in Edinburgh where they were heat moulded to my feet.
Skins – made from nylon or mohair, climbing skins are strips that attach to the bottom of the ski. They allow the ski to slide forward, but not backward.
Touring bindings – fall into two categories; frame and tech. Frame binding (that I have) connect toe and heel pieces with a frame or rail, as you walk the whole frame lifts. Tech bindings hold the boot in place with a set of pins, as you walk only your boot lifts.
Touring skis – are much lighter than your regular alpine ski, the lighter they are the easier it is to walk them up a mountain/carry them on your back. In theory, any ski can be used with a touring binding; it just makes the climb harder work with a heavier ski.
Ski touring is a magical experience and if you haven’t already tried it I would absolutely recommend giving it a go the next time we get snow in Scotland. Going out with a guide, and hiring all the relevant equipment is also a good idea for first timers. Any questions about touring give me a shout on Instagram, always happy to chat over there!
Ski boots Scarpa Gea RS Women’s Ski Boots (gifted)
Helmet Salomon Quest Helmet
Goggles Smith I/O Snow Goggles
Skis Scott Superguide 95 Backcountry Skis
Ski pants & jacket Nalau Ski jacket and pants (gifted)