A constant “whipwhipwhip” accompanies me, while the sweat is running down my back. My eyes wander off to the beautiful mountain world around me, only to return abruptly to reality: “Push the skis, don’t lift them” my inner voice admonishes me, “stay focussed” as I try to find my rhythm. All beginnings are difficult – and this is one, because I have just set off on the first ski tour of my life, fully packed with ski gear, backpack and avalanche equipment.
Of women's power and surprises – how it all began
Nearly all my friends alreday had catched the ski touring fever – and I wanted to join in. So in 2019, a few colleagues spontaneously invited me to join them for the first time as a newbie. No cablecars, only powered by legs. And as in most “first times”, I gained a lot of new insights on that day – for example, that you can walk relatively comfortably with touring ski boots and even climb, that everything is much lighter than in the alpine area (skis, boots) and at the same time much heavier (avalanche equipment). That you push the skis and don’t lift them and that all this was nevertheless much more exhausting than expected. And although the feelings at the top (pride, freedom) and during the descent (ohgodokIcandothatOhitsfun) remained in my memory for a long time, my conclusion after the first time was – cool thing, but so much equipment … And yet another new hobby? No thanks.
Stop stop stop... Or go?
One season later: again I see so many people touring. On my snowshoe hikes they rush by on their skis as I slowly trudge downhill. I remember again the feeling of freedom from my first (and only) time skitouring…. And admit to myself: I want to be up there on skis again! And that’s how it all began – or rather, that’s how it continued. Because this time I was determined not just to run along with friends, but to learn all the necessary skills myself. But one thing still stood in my way – the subject of deep snow.
Ski touring often results in photographically exciting perspectives.
I didn’t grow up in the mountains, but I was lucky enough to be on skis for the first time when I was about 3 years old. And to be allowed to plunge down the slope once a year under the eyes of a ski instructor – anyone who has ever seen children skiing knows what I mean: speed is everything, fear doesn’t exist. This was until I once followed the instructor into deep snow, rolled over and woke up “under” the snow – convinced that this was heaven and I was dead. Since then, I avoided deep snow like a cat avoids a full bath, telling myself “someday” I would surely try it again. Someday, but not now. And since then I limited myself to slopes of all colors. Until “someday” knocked on the door after 25 years – because ski touring and deep powder snow simply belong together….
7 courses, tools and tips for starting ski touring
Accordingly, it was necessary to address this fear in particular and my ignorance of dangers in the snow in general. Read further to learn how I started my (short) ski touring career so far and what has helped me gain more knowledge. Please note that these are only my personal experiences so far and I am still learning.
Impressions of various training courses with Grindelwald Sports.
1. Free avalanche info evenings: First I started with two visits (back then physical events) of avalanche info evenings – these are mostly free and currently replaced by online events, like those of Transa or Bächli Bergsport (mostly at the beginning of the winter season). This gave me a good first introduction to the subject of “snow”. From then on I knew that I was relatively safe on slopes below 30 degrees, how to find them on maps, and also that as a snowshoe hiker I was by no means immune to avalanches. Mammut has recorded such an online training, you can watch it here in English for free. Such evenings are not enough to plan a tour yourself, but offer a good first impression.
2. Test material: If you have experienced (!) friends that are willing to take you on a trip, you can borrow equipment from Transa or Bächli. If you don’t have such friends, jump to point 3.
3. Inexpensive beginner courses incl. equipment: If you want to start with skitouring, Ruedi Bergsport in Zurich is a good option. They offer various day ski tours “for beginners and connoisseurs”, as well as courses on avalanche awareness and deep snow skiing at a reasonable cost – and above all they usually include rental equipment. This was a good start for me, but the courses are always quite large and from the theory part of avalanche awareness not a lot stuck with me (frontal teaching). I therefore recommend to combine the otherwise good practical part with point 6.
4. Own equipment: If you are convinced that your love for ski touring will last, you should buy your own equipment. Ski boots must fit well and can be customized, e.g. in larger Transa stores, by inserts, glue on the inner boot (e.g. for narrow heels) or expansion. Completely customized inner shoes are much more expensive, but then fit properly – you can find something like that here or here, but the inner shoe costs quickly from CHF 700 upwards. Ski and also the binding I recommend to try out on test days on the slopes, here I had some “Aha” experiences. Transa and Bächli offer these usually at the beginning of the season, and they are really worth the little fee to really feel confident with your ski choice. For other equipment (backpack, clothing, probe, shovel, avalanche transceiver), etc. I recommend looking at outdoor second hand stores like 2nd Peak or online marketplaces. Also, keeping your eyes open for end-of-season sales at popular outdoor outfitters is a good idea!
5. Advanced training: If you want to learn more in small groups, I recommend the courses from Grindelwaldsports. In particular, the two-day deep snow course was extremely helpful to me – here we practiced first on the slopes, then implemented the learnings off-piste. I also appreciated the fact that the mountain guide was also a ski instructor.
6. Learning to plan tours myself: I probably had the greatest learning effect with whiterisk.ch (also as an app), I would recommend the site to everyone (also snowshoe hikers). In addition to a route planning tool, the online platform of the Institute for Snow and Avalanche Research (SLF) has created six training modules in which you can interactively practice avalanche knowledge and train your assessments of different situations. This has helped me enormously to be able to confidently plan easy tours at avalanche level 1-2 and below 30 degrees. The version is free for 7 days, after that it is CHF 29 per year – definitely money well spent.
7. Other helpful tools: When I plan a tour, I usually first filter in Skitourenguru for suitable criteria (starting altitude? distance? ascent?), then check it on the SAC route portal for further details and then draw it myself on Whiterisk.ch. This way I study the terrain properly and know potential critical spots. Then I discuss them with my tour colleagues and if everything is ok I transfer the track on my Garmin watch. Zack ready!
I hope my tips will help you to get started in the world of ski touring. At the latest when you have stood on a summit for the first time, without the crowds of summer, and your gaze has wandered over the white mountains, you know what I’m talking about when I say: Attention, danger of addiction! 😉
Disclaimer: This post was not sponsored by any of the brands or companies mentioned.
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