The rise of Ski Touring

Going up is the new coming down, well on the slopes it is anyway.

Backcountry skiing, Ski de Randonnée, or ski touring, whatever your name for it there is no denying the huge rise in popularity of this sport across European ski resorts this winter including the place I call home ‘Chamonix’.

Now for reasons I am sure we are all aware of, and need no further discussion the lifts in Chamonix have been closed and remain closed so far this ski season. You might think that means there is not a lot to do here, but you would be mistaken. There is snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, fat biking, winter hiking, biathlon, and much more. Granted most people come for the skiing and with the lifts closed that is a little tough, but ski touring has almost overnight become the must have alpine adventure of 2021!

Everyman, and his dog (a benefit of the lifts being closed) is lugging themselves up a hill somewhere to enjoy those well-earned turns on the way back down. Now I have been lucky enough to call Chamonix home for almost 5 years and although ski touring has always been a sport loved by many here, it is usually reserved for the hardcore seasonaire looking to reach new heights or discover unexplored places. Always on the search of the perfect off-piste adventure. It is a sport not usually entertained by your average holiday skier, or ‘lazy’ local like me. When I say lazy, I mean, would rather take the ski lift than exert myself going uphill, not that I would rather sit on the sofa in my pyjama’s all day!

I feel like I should also acknowledge at this point that ski touring is excellent for keeping your fitness levels up during the winter months, for those of us who love running and hiking it can be hard to find a sport that is as easily accessible during the winter months. When asking people why they go ski touring ‘To keep fit’ is a very common answer!

At the start of this winter, I had never used my skis to go up the mountain, although I have had the full touring set up for, I am embarrassed to say nearly 2 years (I think I had the idea of keeping fit in the winter months! I had never really seen the point in lugging myself up the hill when I could just use the perfectly good lifts to get me there in a fraction of the time. It is ironic really because in the summer months you will often find me on a hiking trail, lift or no lift, but for some reason when there is snow on the ground it just never appealed to me. After all skiing is all about going downhill right? Sitting on the lift having a natter with your pals and then racing them down the perfectly groomed pistes is my idea of heaven.

Forget hiking 3 to 4 hours on high-mountain steep terrain, with nothing but a power bar to keep you going. I am not talking about navigating kick turn after kick turn just to reach the un-touched powder that may or may not be there, or charging up a mountain as fast as you can to ‘keep fit. I am talking about leisurely hikes through pine forests, calm circuits through peaceful terrain to reach a clearing with views fit for a postcard, getting a group of friends together with back packs full of hot chocolate, potatoes, cured meats and camping stoves for an alfresco raclette like no other.  

Obviously, you are still hiking up hill and I am not saying you are not going to break a sweat, you absolutely will, but it is not just the thought of those soft, sweet turns on the way back down keeping you going, it is the company, the unrivalled views, and the quieter and more peaceful way you are enjoying the mountains. It becomes less about who can perform the best trick in the ski park, or who can get down the perfectly groomed pistes the quickest, and more about truly appreciating nature in all its glory!

I cannot believe that all this beauty is on my doorstep and it has taken me this long to go and find it. Ski touring routes have always been there, sign posted and ready for us all to enjoy, but it is only by being forced to take up new ways to explore that myself along with many others have developed a love for this sport. A sport that allows you to explore the mountains during the winter months in a similar way to hiking in the summer. But, and perhaps the best part of it all is you do not have to hike back down! Stop at the top for you well deserved picnic and then a quick and easy slide down and your back where you started!

Now if I am being truly honest when the lifts open again you are sure to find me hitching a ride. I am sure it will be much harder to convince myself to slap on my skins and head up hill, but I am going to make a promise to myself now that ski touring will become a regular for me this winter and every other winter that follows. Not only that I am going to share my enthusiasm for the sport with anyone that will listen!  Hopefully helping others explore the mountains I love so much in new and exciting ways!

Written by: Kayleigh Provins