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Ski Touring - Part 1

The French call it ‘randonnée’, the North Americans call it ‘back-country skiing’ and we call it ski touring. Whatever your preferred term, it is the branch of ski that is truly having its moment in the limelight. The last five years have seen a growth of interest and participation in ski touring but in the current, lift-less conditions in many parts of the Alps, it has become the only option



Put simply, ski-touring is a way of exploring the mountains on skis, without using the ski lifts. On the way up, you use ski skins that are attached to the underside of your skis to give you traction. On the way down, you are rewarded for your efforts, with an enjoyable descent. A defining characteristic is that the skier's heels are "free" in order to allow a natural gliding motion while traversing and ascending terrain which may range from perfectly flat to extremely steep. As with all forms of skiing, it can be done at very different levels from following tracked trails and climbing alongside pisted routes to going completely off-piste into unmarked areas of the mountain.

So why do people go ski-touring? For some, it’s to be able to enjoy the untouched and freshly fallen powder snow. For others, it’s about the calm, peace-and-quiet and the chance to connect with nature. For thrill-seekers, it’s an adventure, a discovery. And for those looking for a challenge, it’s about the pleasure of pushing your limits.

In many ways ski touring is a return to traditional skiing and way of getting around the mountains. One of the earliest written mentions of ski touring dates back to the year 1555, when historian, Olaus Magnus wrote a description of Norwegians attaching long skis to their feet, and fawn skins to the bottom of the skis. These early skins provided traction on uphill climbs, "because the hair of the skin will rise like spears, or Hedg-Hog Bristles, and by an admirable power of nature hinder them from falling down”.

Recently touring has made a massive comeback (some will say it never left). Maybe this is due to the increasingly high price of lift passes or the chance to get away from the busy slopes. Or perhaps it is due to the Alpinist's never satiated desire for fresh powder. Currently it is also the only way in France to enjoy a ski – at the moment you really have to work to earn those turns. But whatever the reason alpine touring in the side or backcountry is once again ‘au courant’.

Meditative and physical, we're drawn to touring for the escape it provides from the hustle and bustle of the resort. Providing a more intimate way to interact with the mountains, and nature itself, touring is a simple pursuit that brings with it such joy and fulfilment. With only your breath, and perhaps the chatter of friends in your ears, and a hot thermos of coffee stowed in your pack, this is the best way to experience skiing. Sometimes the old ways are the best.