Ski Touring - How to Get Better
By Martin Chester & Rob Spencer
In a nutshell, here a the four most important tips you need to know for ski touring:
1. Get as much skiing done as possible.
2. Have as many lessons as you can afford.
3. Go on a Ski Touring or Ski Mountaineering course.
4. Use the best, most functional lightest kit available.
In this article, we will focus our attention on Tip 4 - the kit.
You need everything going for you when you have several hours and several hundred metres of ascent in front of you. You probably need even more going for you when you have a thousand metres of ski descent ahead of you. That.s why you need the right kit and to make sure it weighs as little as possible.
The idea here is to talk about what you wear and what you carry on your back. We have no intention of talking about skis, boots, skins and bindings here. Give us a call or drop us an e-mail if you want advice on these.
We have a very simple philosophy:
Heavy pack = bad day
Light pack = good day
Rucksacks are important, carry a big one and you will fill it. Some folk manage with a 35L sack, some use 55L, anymore is too big. You.ll need some bells and whistles but remember they weigh something. Whatever you use check that you can get all you need in it, plus a bit of group kit. Things you will need are straps for carrying skis (compression straps are fine). A waist belt and chest strap ensure a snug fit for downhill skiing. Put the pack on full of kit, tighten everything up and jump around. If the pack moves around it.s no good for skiing. . Weight distribution should be low not high. Small easy access pockets are good to keep bits and bobs in but big sidepockets are unnecessary and hinder poling. A separate compartment for snow shovel and probe are handy but by no means essential.
Some examples to try would be Mountain Equipment Solstice or Solitude, any Ortovox ski pack, Osprey Switch 45+5, the North Face Spire, Black Diamond Revelation 45, Berghaus Ski Tour II, Lowe Alpine Contour Mountain 35, Crux AK37 & 47 etc.
Avalanche transceivers all work on the same frequency, so all models are fine. PYB students have the most success with the Ortovox M1 and M2, however digital technology is changing all the time, so watch this space. At the moment we find that it is easier to use a digital transceiver like the BCA Tracker for single burial searches. This is not the case for multiple burials where we find that analogue transceivers with an LED menu like the M2 work best with less skilled users.
You need a shovel to dig people out once you.ve found them. Again light is right, but very light plastic shovels are more difficult to dig with. Lots of manufacturers make them , just make sure it fits in your pack. Lightweight metal shovels are ultimately better to dig with. Check out Black Diamond BCA, Voile and Ortovox for more shovels than you can poke an avalanche probe at..
Avalanche probes are vital for the last few minutes of a search. They are light and fold up very small. 2 metres is long enough but you can get longer ones if you wish. The shovel manufacturers all make them, sometimes ones which you stash into the handle of the shovel. Beware ski poles as probes. They can be great but are rarely effective as probes for a variety of reasons. There are some very light, sexy carbon fibre ones out there too . every gram helps!
Clothing is obviously very personal but all the PYB ski guides pretty much use the same sort of things:
Base layers . need to have long sleeves for protection from the sun. Light colours reflect the sun and so are better than dark ones. They should be quick drying and wicking. Some folk take long johns for extra warmth and to wear as pyjamas in the huts. We never find it necessary though. Martin buys tops one size too big for skiing and often uses a trekking shirt if it.s really hot and sweaty.
Insulating layers are usually fleece or .soft shell.. We find that 2 mid weight tops are more versatile than one thick one. If one is windproof so much the better. The highly packable , yet warm insulated jacket sits in the bottom of the rucksack for emergencies, windy cols and the odd day when its really cold. It really replaces the big heavy fleece. Obviously a lot depends on how much you feel the cold. Down or synthetic? You choose. Try Mountain Equipment Lightline, Helium, Dewline or Polarloft, Rab Quantum range, Patagonia Puffball. Most manufactures have something like this but remember small pack size is important.
Pants . touring pants should be windproof, stretchy and quick drying. Schoeller material is fantastic but expensive. Mountain Equipment Stretchlite pants or G2 pants are good. Thick fleece pants are just too warm. If it gets cold you put on your overtrousers.
Shell . lightweight Goretex or other breathable materials are the way to go e.g. Goretex Paclite. A good hood on the jacket and full-length zips on the pants are all you need. Bibs are unnecessary. Make sure the pants will go over ski boots when zipped up.
Socks . a single pair is all you need, wearing 2 pairs can lead to blisters (and your boots are too big!). The trick is to get nice new ones as often as you can afford.
Gloves . a thin pair made of Windstopper is probably all you.ll use for 90% of the time. You.ll also need a proper pair of thick ski or mountaineering gloves for when its really cold. Leather palms are good for grip. Mitts are warmer but it.s difficult to do anything other than hold ski poles, so are only really needed by the cold of hand. Buy the mitts or thick gloves big so that they go over your thinnies with them. Always, always carry 2 pairs of gloves. What happens if you lose one?
Warm hat . make sure it covers your ears.
Sun hat . essential. Light colours are best. Neck protection is good too or you will need a scarf or something similar.
Neck gaiters are really useful either the thin .Buff. type and/or a snugly fleece one . they are also good spare hats.
You don.t need anything else other than your underwear, (and you don.t need much of that!). Remember that you have to be able to cope with really hot sun and very cold conditions so think carefully about your clothing. Nine times out of ten people are too hot, rarely too cold.
Ski poles . we know we said we wouldn.t talk about this sort of thing, however, we.d like to quash a few myths. Collapsible poles are not good for ski-touring, they tend to break and hardly anyone can be bothered to adjust them anyway. Single piece poles are better. Telescopic poles are great to carry as a spare.
Water bottles . a bit of a hobby-horse this one. Hydration systems e.g. Camelbacks freeze, despite insulation. A bottle (1 Litre) is light, cheap (use a fizzy pop bottle) and means you get a rest when you want. Trust us on this one.
Mountaineering harness. Light is right . you can get lots of really light, low bulk sit harnesses. You don.t need lots of padding or gear loops. Make sure you can get it on and off with your boots on. Try . Black Diamond Alpine Bod, Wild Country Lightweight Alpinist, DMM Alpine Petzl Pandion, Beal Aero Team, the list goes on and on.
Ice Axes need to be very light and packable because most of the time you.ll be carrying it. When you do use it you don.t want it to break, so beware the super light. 45-50cm shaft length is all you need. Try the Grivel Air Tech Racing or Evolution, Charlet Snowracer Lucky Snow Light, DMM Vapour. Etc.
The lightness issue is the same with crampons. If you are only ever going to use crampons for ski-touring then super lightweight alloy is the way to go, try the Grivel Air Tech Light or Stubai Trek Light Pro. If you intend to use the same crampons for winter walking and glacial travel then a 10 point steel crampon might be best. All the manufacturers do these. It.s best to use a strap on system to allow easy fitting to ski and walking boots. Heel bails tend to get in the way of many ski touring boots . straps are lighter too. Skiers choose alloy (for carrying!), mountaineers choose steel (for using!).
A head torch is needed for hut living. A small LED type will be perfect.
There is obviously a lot more things you need to take, we.ve just looked at some things which folk often get wrong and end up carrying unnecessary weight and bulk. PYB students get a comprehensive kit list and the opportunity to spend some time with some of the most obsessive gear freaks in the land!
Rob Spencer . 5 shovels and still looking
Martin Chester . 12 pairs of skis (only uses one set at a time).