Ski touring for dummies
In a time where lift tickets are becoming more expensive and there's more competition on the mountain for first tracks, ski touring is growing rapidly. It used to be primarily the domain of mountaineers, with the climb itself as the main objective. But today, ski touring is more about the down and the great feeling when you venture out in the backcountry. With the growth of ski touring there's a lot of choice when it comes to gear. In this article you will find the main differences between the basic gear that you need when you go out ski touring. We try to keep it simple. So no talk about crampons and ice axes, but about skis, boots and bindings and the basic safety gear.
There's one golden rule when it comes to choosing the right gear to go touring:
'Lighter is better'
Weight is very important. That's quite obvious, because you drag all that stuff up the mountain. But as light as possible has it effect on the downhill performance of your skis. Extremely lightweight skis that are optimized to skin up the mountain generally have less downhill performance than normal freeride skis. It's as simple as that. In this sense, the choice of a ski just became a bit easier. If you want a ski that really performs when skiing down, well, go for that one. It might be the ski that you're already skiing on right now. But if you want a ski that's designed specifically for touring, you might choose a more lightweight model. Examples include the MTN line of Salomon, the Wayback of K2 or Alptracks of Movement. Great skis for both riding down ánd skinning up. They all have a traditional shape. Skis with five dimensions (like the Armada JJ for example) are less suitable for touring, simply because you have less hold with the edges when skinning up. Think carefully about the width of your ski. Something between 90 and 100 mm will do the job.
To make a long story short: weight is important with touring bindings as well. The good old pin binding of Dynafit is well known and extremely light, but unfortunately not as safe as a 'normal' binding. That pin binding was perfect to ski up, but not that perfect to ski down with Mach 7. And you also need a special ski boot for it. Brands like Fritschi (Diamir), Salomon (Guardian) and Marker (Duke) came in and introduced a touring binding that you could use to skin up, but also to charge down the mountain. You don't have to buy a special touring boot. The only disadvantage was the simple fact that it's a lot heavier than a pin binding.
However, if you are really serious about ski touring (as in: skin a lot to get deep into the backcountry) you should try the new generation pin bindings. These bindings require a special touring boot (see below), but you do have the advantage of a lightweight binding, that won't stop you from charging down that mountain. Some models, like the Fritschi Vipec, have a safety release built in the front part of the binding. Many other models only have a safety release in the back. It's definitely not a problem anymore to ski some big lines on those bindings. Dynafit remains market leader, but a lot of other brands offer great products, such as Marker with the Kingpin and Salomon with the MTN binding.
As you have read above you need special boots when using pin bindings. Touring boots have some adjustments in the toe and heel piece, so that you can click them in the pin binding. In addition, touring boots often have a slightly larger angle in the shaft, because this makes it easier skinning up and, you guessed it, they are much lighter than normal skiing boots.
Finding the right touring boot is no different from finding the right 'normal' ski boot. That means you have to try a lot of models. Brands like Scarpa and Dynafit used to be the leading brands when it comes to ski touring boots, but since the more mainstream brands are offering touring boots as well, you can also try a boot of Movement, Atomic, Lange, Nordica, Fischer and Salomon.
To get up the mountain you obviously need skins. The majority of the skins are made of mohair (goat hair), nylon, or a blend of both. In general, nylon gives you more grip and is more durable, but mohair slides better and is much lighter. In most cases the mix version is giving the best results. Remember that if you use very wide skis to walk up you need more grip than with narrower skis, therefore it's not a great idea to skin up with racing skins. There are all kinds of brands making skins. Black Diamond is known for its robust, nearly indestructible skins, but they tend to be a bit heavy. Pomoca and Coll-Tex on the other hand are sliding like crazy, but have a shorter life span. Skins should be custom made to your skis to be as effective as possible. Take the time or have it done by a specialist in a ski shop. Skins that don't fit will give you a hard time getting up the mountain.
It is clear that you are venturing into the backcountry when you're ski touring. Searching for untracked powder fields, a steep couloir or some nice mellow lines. This means that you always have to go out with an avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. And of course, make you sure that you have the right knowledge!