A First Go at Ski Touring

Written by on October 6, 2020 in Blog

A busy day on the ski slopes

Skiing doesn’t have to be all downhill

I have never been a skiing virtuoso. I am more than a little bit afraid of speed and I haven’t really had proper lessons. At least not from anyone who actually knows what they are talking about (sorry Ian).

My skiing motto is “relax and enjoy the view”. The only time I feel confident on the mountain is when I am sitting in a bar with a Bombardino. Having said that, after living in Gressan for 5 years, at the foot of the Pila ski resort, my skiing has improved a lot. Pila is a perfect resort for learning, for families and for me.

But the longer we are here, the more people we meet who do what is known as Sci Alpinismo, or ski touring. This is when you walk up the mountain with the skies on and when you reach your destination you ski back down again. Needless to say, my two sons who are ski racers and my husband who is very unfit, do not understand the logic of this. Why would you want to walk up the mountain when you have ski lifts? Fair question I suppose. For my part, I really enjoy walking and hiking in nature. Since speed and mastering the skiing technique aren’t my bag, I thought touring could be a good option for me, not to mention it is environment friendly.

First experience at ski touring

So for a while now I have wanted to try it out. I finally decided to give it a go this season and rented some kit from our favourite ski shop, Technosport.

We had friends over from the UK at the time. I didn’t have the courage to try out going uphill on the first day with my new equipment. I just skied about with the group around Pila. It was a bit weird as the touring skis and boots are much lighter than normal. I felt a bit wobbly to start with but quickly got used to it.

first experience in Ski touring or sci alpinismo

First ascent

The second day we went to another nearby ski resort, Champoluc, on Monte Rosa, approximately one hour’s drive from home. As it turns out this is the perfect place for an easy introduction to ski touring. There are a number of specially designated tracks, marked in green on the piste map.

We all skied altogether in the morning. Then whilst the others were having lunch I put the skins on the skis and headed off up one of the green tracks on my own.

It started off with a pretty steep section. I immediately enjoyed the smooth gliding motion of the skis over the snow and the feeling that the alternate movements of my hands and feet were nicely synchronized.

At one point I had to stop and wait for my lungs and heart to catch up with me. But over time it got better and easier. I know this feeling from going hiking, how you get a kind of second wind. This, like hiking, was clearly very good exercise.

Skiing back down

I went on climbing for about forty-five minutes. After the strong initial ascent, the slope became a little more gentle. Then when I figured the others had probably finished their lunch I decided it was time for the skiing phase. I removed the skins from the skis, put them in my backpack. I changed the bindings to downhill mode and clicked down the heels of my boots. Now back in downhill mode, I rejoined the adjacent piste and skied back down to the restaurant.

Skiing down was a very strange feeling after walking uphill for so long. I struggled at first to control my skis, maybe because my legs were tired. But I made it back to the restaurant and felt quite proud of myself. I think that next season I am going to get myself kitted out again and make sci alpinismo my winter thing.

my first go at ski touring - walking up the mountain

The equipment

The choice of skis is very important and is influenced by the type of activity you intend to perform. To tackle the climbs comfortably the weight and width of the skis must be reduced. On the other hand, if the priority is the descent in fresh snow, the width of the ski must be greater. You are basically going to want a ski for both ascent and descent so will probably opt for an intermediate solution like I did.

The bindings on the skies can be set in two different positions. That of ascent with a mobile heel to allow progression and that of descent in which the heel is locked down. Actually, it is a very simple system and is easy to use. Mine even had a metal bit under the sole of boots that you can lift up when you go up a steep part, it really helps.

The special boots have two modes, ascent walking mode and the descent skiing mode. They are way lighter, more flexible and softer than alpine boots. The flexibility of the boot itself depends on its special characteristics. These can be geared towards all-round, up-hill, freeride or racing modes. The ones I had were all-round boots and they were very comfortable

Pelli di foca – seal skins

You attach the seal skins, ‘pelli di foca’, to the skis with special adhesive glue. They have a “hair and a counter hair” under-surface. This allows you to slide them smoothly going forwards but not backwards. Nowadays the skins are typically made from nylon or mohair or a combination of the two. It is considered a good skin if it is made up of 30% synthetic and 70% mohair. This gives it good smoothness but also a good ‘hold’. 100% mohair skins are mostly used by ski touring competitors looking for extra speed and efficiency, with less hold. The skins are usually narrower than the ski to allow the ski edges to grip. They are really easy to put on and take off. They attach to the skis via a loop on the ski trip and a hook on the tail.

equipment for ski touring - my first go at ski touring or sci alpinismo

Some price indications

The price of skis and boots are about the same as that of normal skies. Skis are about 300 – 800 euros. Plus skins at 120 – 150 euros. Plus bindings at 250 – 500 euros. But if you shop around you can probably buy the whole set for around 800 euros. Boots range from 400 – 700 euros. However, as when you are considering buying any kind of ski equipment it is worth taking advantage of the end-of-season sales. Of course, price depends a lot on the level of the equipment you need. The most popular brands in the touring world are Dynafit, Scarpa, La Sportiva, Scott, Fischer or Salomon.

Clothing

Regarding your clothing, I recommend the “onion” method, i.e. layering. So when you walk uphill you can take off some layers and when you ski down you can put them back on. Think lightweight jackets, mid-layers and base layers. These tops are so light, using thin fabrics and don’t worry. Even though this would be categorised as ‘technical clothing’ you can still remain extremely stylish.

Finally, you will need a lightweight backpack to carry your skins, discarded top layers, some water, a snack and also a helmet.

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