Adventure is Yours with a Pair of Touring Skis!
Alpine skiing and mountaineering share the same roots. There have always been plenty of reasons for people to pop on a pair of skis – after all, people still have to get themselves from valley to valley in winter. But after years of concentration and hard work we’ve managed to make the mountain experience as comfortable as possible, as proven by our now relatively heavily developed mountain resorts. But don’t worry – the wilderness is still out there!
There’s no question that ski touring is a luxury in its own right. It takes time and experience to be able to get up and down a mountain safely under your own power, but all the effort of getting out in the backcountry is rewarded with an incredible, natural experience that you won’t find on the overcrowded pistes of the resort.
The Evolution of Touring Skis
The classic soft and straight touring ski from the early days of touring are now something of a rarity, having been replaced by a broad spectrum of skis with different characteristics and focuses. In comparison to wide freeride skis or heavy alpine skis, the touring ski experience is all about an enjoyable hike up.
These days, touring skis no longer have to worry about comparisons with downhill skis. Recent trends have developed towards touring skis that are just as good for hiking as they are for the ride down. There’s a lot more room for companies to play, as can be seen with the touring freeride skis from Atomic or Salomon.
Hard on the outside, soft on the inside? Touring Ski Construction
From long hikes to extreme shredding, everything is possible with a pair of touring skis from Blue Tomato and there are almost as many different ski constructions to choose from as there are touring skis:
Dynafit favour the tried and tested sandwich construction with side walls, in which different materials with differing properties are sandwiched together in layers. ABS sidewalls absorb shocks and protect the core of the skis.
The core of a touring ski is generally built using lightweight materials like Paulownia wood or bamboo to make the hike as painless as possible. Similarly, K2’s torsion box construction features carbon fibre or titanium inserts which work in combination with the wood core to give you extra stability and a more enjoyable ride at high speeds.
The Big Question: Hike or Ride Oriented?
Touring skis these days can be separated into two general categories: hike oriented and ride oriented. Thanks to developments and innovations in ski construction touring skis are now lighter than ever and are also wider, leading to a lot more overlap with freeride skis. As shown by brands like Dynafit, you can still ride a ski with a 100mm waist width and have a good time going both uphill and downhill without having to compromise on performance. A narrower ski means less float in powder, but gives you more direct power transmission to your edges for skiing steeper, icier terrain.
Most touring skis are built with a progressive sidecut, which means they get wider towards the nose. The greater the difference in width between the tip/tail and the mid-point of your ski, the larger the side cut and the smaller the radius. Pure freeride skis usually have a less aggressive taper and are designed with a wider radius, although you can also find touring skis with a radius of more than 20m or with quirkier shapes like multi-radius or dual-radius.
Rocker vs. Camber
To make for an even more enjoyable descent, touring skis also come equipped with a variety of camber and rocker technologies like All Terrain rockers, Tip rockers, Powder rockers and many more to help keep those ski tips floating above the powder. This sort of rocker tech also makes hiking through snow less tiresome and gives the skis a shorter contact length that makes them more agile.
Camber is particularly useful for those who love a good hike who want to get up the hill in harder snow conditions as the camber profile helps the skin to grip the whole ski. The longer contact surface will also make for smoother skiing over hard snow, but will be a little harder to turn. A combination of camber and tip rocker will give you grip on hard pack and float in powder.
Look before you leap – Touring ski bindings
The one thing that is common across all touring ski bindings is the hike mode… but that’s where the similarities end. You’re spoilt for choice when it comes to hike and ride oriented bindings and somewhere in the middle ground. You’ll find everything from ultra light touring bindings with and without brakes (to reduce weight) to heavier freeride bindings with touring modes like those from Tyrolia and Marker.
The general idea of touring bindings is that you can release your heel from the main binding mechanism so you can hike more naturally and comfortably. Normally you can make the switch from ride to hike mode without even stepping out of your bindings. You can also easily adjust the angle of the climbing aid with your ski pole. Before your descent all you have to do is clip your heel back in and switch it back to ride mode and it will work just like a classic alpine binding.
Rack up the vertical metres in a pair of ski boots
The touring ski boot is the key element that connects you to your skis. A lighter pair of boots may be more comfortable to hike in, but a boot with four buckles is going to give you more stability than one with two buckles. If you’re looking for a balanced boot that performs just as well uphill as downhill, look for a super light speed touring boot, an all-round boot a bit like an alpine boot that gives you plenty of flexibility and movement for climbing and maximum power transmission for your descent.
It makes sense to only use your touring ski boots with your touring bindings as touring boots will generate more friction in an alpine binding than a normal boot thanks to their rubber soles which will throw off your DIN Values. Some manufacturers offer interchangeable soles.
Climbing aids – Conquer the Hill
Gone are the early days of seal skins and fir branches – modern Mohair and artificial skins would bring tears of joy to the eyes of skiing’s pioneers. Skins can make or break a tour. Climbing aids will give you that important extra push to help with your ascent. Touring skins from manufacturers like K2 and G3 have amazing slide properties and can be bought pre-cut or ready to customise.
Dynafit’s water resistant Speedskins are a particularly durable set of adhesive skins that reduce annoying build-ups thanks to their Anti-Stick technology. Adhesive free touring skins like those from Kohla Tyrol are a mini revolution and don’t require any separating foil thanks to their vacuum base technology. Crampons can also be a huge help in icy conditions, giving you extra grip and stability.
Outerwear and the Onion Principle
Touring is an endurance sport and, despite the winter temperatures, is going to get you heated on the hike up. That means you need thin, breathable clothing to help you deal with all the sweat and steam. Grandma’s famous onion principle comes in handy once again: Layer up. Your best choice is a quick drying base layer, made of something like Merino, a fleece jacket and a functional, wind and water proof outer layer. You will also need a warming layer for the descent to protect you against the cold wind rushing past.
Additional extra layers are always good to have on hand. In the worst case scenario, that extra layer could protect you from life-threatening hypothermia. The right techwear will keep you safe on the mountain. Brands like Mammut, Ortovox and Pyua use materials like Gore Tex and Primaloft to keep you warm and dry.
When skiing in the backcountry it’s important to be up to date with the latest avalanche safety reports, to know the terrain and to be fully equipped for the worst case scenario. You’ll find everything you need for a day in the backcountry at Blue Tomato, including all your avalanche gear and touring backpacks. We can’t help with the appropriate knowledge though, that’s your responsibility.
So, get back to nature, but not without your touring equipment:
- Avalanche transceiver
- Shovel and probe
- Mobile phone
- First aid kit
- Ski helmet
- Avalanche backpack
- Telescopic poles with safety loops
- Optional head lamp, crampons, protectors and bivouac.