Equipment advice: ski touring

Ascent at Alpbachtal. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Ascent at Alpbachtal. | Photo: Julian Rohn
No other type of winter sport has found as many new friends as ski touring. A lot has happened with equipment, too. Globetrotter expert Florian Sagadin knows what to look for.

ust as it should be for someone in Munich, Florian Sagadin (32) learned how to ski at the age of four. After a while pursuing snowboarding, he discovered ski touring. He has done everything from day trips in the Bavarian Alps to 4,000er ski ascents in the Western Alps. His goal is to have more than 30 days touring each winter. | Photo: Julian Rohn
ust as it should be for someone in Munich, Florian Sagadin (32) learned how to ski at the age of four. After a while pursuing snowboarding, he discovered ski touring. He has done everything from day trips in the Bavarian Alps to 4,000er ski ascents in the Western Alps. His goal is to have more than 30 days touring each winter. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Florian, the last ski touring advice in 4-Seasons was quite a while ago. What has changed with touring skis?

In general, broader skis are now also used for touring. Over the years, the shape has changed a little too. Almost all models have a so-called rocker. To put that in simple terms, the tip at the front is curved up more and is somewhat longer so that the ski can float easier in deep snow. It is easier to turn and does not eat its way into a hard crust too much. So you could say that basically, the ski is easier to handle.

Sounds good. How do I find a suitable beginner’s model?

Now with a safety release on the toe pins: Radical 2 from Dynafit is a revised classic (left). Pin at the front, heel release in the back: The Kingpin from Marker combines a touring ski capability with down hill performance (right).
Now with a safety release on the toe pins: Radical 2 from Dynafit is a revised classic (left). Pin at the front, heel release in the back: The Kingpin from Marker combines a touring ski capability with down hill performance (right).
We distinguish between all-round skis, models designed to be good for going uphill or those which feature downhill properties. All of them are perfectly fine for ski touring. The ascent-oriented skis are rather narrow and light whereas the descent-oriented skis tend to be broader and a little heavier. It is more difficult to ski downhill with a light and narrow ski. Ascents are more arduous with a heavier and broader ski, but when going downhill, these skis provide good contact with the underground and float better in the deep snow. Back to your question: An all-rounder with a 90mm waist is perfect for beginners or typical ski tourers. Such skis are not heavy and master all kinds of snow conditions well. It is unusual to come across perfect snow from the top to the bottom of one tour. 

Top all-rounder: Scott Superguide with an 88 mm waist. | Photo: Scott
Top all-rounder: Scott Superguide with an 88 mm waist. | Photo: Scott
How do I choose the length?

The old rule of thumb was that they should come up to the tip of your nose. Nowadays, with rocker skis, you choose according to your body size. They are more fun going downhill, but kick turns on steep hills get a bit tricky. 

I also need a binding for my ski, what do I have to consider?

There are two types. On the one hand, there are frame bindings which are very similar to classic alpine bindings because they are a one-piece design. And on the other hand, there are minimalistic tech – or pin – bindings which hold the shoe in place with a set of little metal pins. As even the lightest tech bindings guarantee an improved power transfer and security release, the trend is definitely heading towards such bindings. Getting into the binding needs to be practised at first but on the positive side, heel-to-toe movement feels very natural when going uphill. I recommend a frame binding to people who regularly ski down-hill and only want to walk up hill occasionally. When trying ski touring for the first time, you can even use normal piste boots. 

What has changed exactly with the tech bindings?

Fritschi Vipec and Dynafit Radical 2 are two models on the market which also have a toe release. The Kingpin from Marker is also interesting as it grips the shoe at the front with pins whilst holding the back firmly in a classic step-in heel piece similar to a downhill binding. The tech bindings give pretty good feedback to the skier. A lot depends on the boot though.

What do you mean?

The boots are made of materials of varying degrees of stiffness depending on the area of application. And we also distinguish between the numbers of buckles. Two-buckle systems are light, but do not transfer the forces between the ski, binding and skier quite as direct as other systems. However, when walking, they are generally very free-moving and flexible which can be nice if you are prone to quickly get blisters and pressure spots. At the other end of the spectrum, there are models with four buckles. They are stiffer, a bit heavier and also provide a lot of control even on fast freeride descents. However, it is important that the boot fits pretty well from day one – there is no way to break them in, so it’s best to try them on as much as possible beforehand. 

And while we are on the subject of blisters, how can I prevent them?

First of all, advice we give to customers depends on the shape of the foot. Every manufacturer has his own lasts, and hence boots made are either wider or narrower. Afterwards, we can make the thermal inner shoe fit and, in the worst case, also work on the shell if need be. However, I always recommend first going on one or two tours before you make any more adjustments. And, I swear by merino socks and good blister plasters which you can apply to areas where rubbing can occur as a preventative measure. 

Tech bindings like the Fritschi Diamir Vipec hold the boot in place with metal pins. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Tech bindings like the Fritschi Diamir Vipec hold the boot in place with metal pins. | Photo: Julian Rohn
Subject sticks: Can I also use the trekking models from summer?

If you can exchange the baskets on your stick, then yes. You need a big deep snow basket that does not sink into soft snow. Special ski touring sticks have a longer grip so you can also hold is lower down which is more comfortable when traversing. Also, I can recommend a model with an adjustable pole lock which you can operate well even with your gloves on. 

Carbon or aluminium?

That is a question about your budget in the end. If you purchase carbon sticks, make sure that the bottom part is reinforced or is made of aluminium because carbon is pretty sensitive to knocks from the edges of the skis. 

Two or three segments?

As you actually do not have to fasten your sticks on your backpack on ski tours, two-segment sticks are good enough. It’s a matter of taste.

A trio for savety: avalanche transceiver for professionals - the Pieps DSP Pro, Shovel – The Pro Alu II from Ortovox and very light, very stable - the probe 250 Carbon PFA from Ortovox. | Photo: Pieps, Ortovox
A trio for savety: avalanche transceiver for professionals - the Pieps DSP Pro, Shovel – The Pro Alu II from Ortovox and very light, very stable - the probe 250 Carbon PFA from Ortovox. | Photo: Pieps, Ortovox
So now we have skis, sticks, bindings and boots – that should be enough for the first ski tour on the hill. If I go off-piste, what else do I need?

If you stay on the piste, you will not need avalanche equipment. But as soon as you leave the secured area, you need the complete safety kit which means: avalanche transceivers, shovel and probe. 

Is a shovel a shovel?

No. The shovel’s blade should be sharp and made of metal so it can cut through snow. I prefer the models with a D-grip, I can also hold them with mittens. Telescope handles are handy but you need to make sure they are well made. I think it is even more important that the shovel has a chop function, so you can clear out the area where you are digging easier.

Regular training: Avalanche equipment is only as good as its user. | Photo: Michael Neumann
Regular training: Avalanche equipment is only as good as its user. | Photo: Michael Neumann
What is important about an avalanche probe?

In the shop, test how the probe snaps together and how it works with gloves. They are also available in aluminium and carbon. A good length would be 240 centimetres. If the person buried is at a deeper level, it is going to be difficult to dig him or her out in time. Another tip: The probes come in little bags which you can leave at home because it takes too much time fumbling around with gloves in order to get it out of the bag. It’s better to hold the bunch of rods together with a thin elastic band and put it in the designated holder in the backpack. The thin band will tear apart in an emergency, and you are ready to start…

How often do you check your safety equipment?

At the beginning of the season I always check if my avalanche transceiver needs a software update. You can get the updates for Mammut, Pieps and Ortovox in our stores. Before each tour, I check the transceiver’s batteries at home. Sometimes I run a hand file over the shovel’s blade too. 

After the ascent, the dream of a powder-snow downhill run often comes true. | Photo: Julian Rohn
After the ascent, the dream of a powder-snow downhill run often comes true. | Photo: Julian Rohn
What kind of avalanche transceiver do you recommend?

The three-antenna system is standard. A good marking feature is important and helps when many people have been buried. Some devices also have a hill-slope meter or a compass. These features help beginners to learn to estimate the terrain, but too many functions can also be confusing. No matter which device you have, these things are only as good as an owner’s ability to use them. You should also practise with the shovel and the probe.

How often should one practise with the safety equipment?

At the beginning, you should definitely take an avalanche course at an Alpinist association or at a mountaineering school. I practise several times every winter. Especially when I am travelling with a new group or when I have had a break of several weeks. For example you can practice when you arrive early at a hut and would otherwise just kill time.

You can also remove the airbag from the Scott Air Free AP 30 KIT Alpride backpack. | Photo: Scott
You can also remove the airbag from the Scott Air Free AP 30 KIT Alpride backpack. | Photo: Scott
What properties should a good ski-touring backpack have?

We have backpacks with or without airbag systems. They should all sit well, have a proper ski holder as well as an extra pocket for the avalanche equipment so you can get it quickly and easily. A volume of 30 litres is good enough for a day trip. If you have planned overnight stays in huts or winter rooms, you can also take a 45 litre rucksack. On winter tours I like to have a bit more room for a warm jacket or a spare pair of gloves.

And the bivouac bag and the first-aid-kit…

I also always take a second rescue blanket, as well as a multi-tool that helps me to adjust the binding or to smooth down an damaged area to the surface of a ski. Tape and cable ties can also be helpful. 

Do you recommend an airbag backpack for ski tours?

In general, they are a bit heavier than normal backpacks but recommendable on day trips and for off-piste skiing. When you go on longer tours, consider if you want to carry the extra weight. We have different systems in store which all have their own advantages and disadvantages.

Which systems does Globetrotter have in stock? 

We stock the Alpride system from Scott and the one from ABS. With the Alpride system, a balloon opens up at neck level to provides buoyancy. With some models, you can take the airbag system out so that you can also use the backpack in summer. Alpride is quite light and the cartridge can easily be carried in a plane. However, the ABS system has two buoyancy aids on the sides which are usually permanent features. A handy feature with ABS is that the Vario system enables you to zip bags of different sizes onto the basic unit. 

Should I cut my own climbing skin or buy it ready-cut, what is better?

Almost all manufacturers offer skins to correctly fit each model of ski. So you can start straight away. But cutting skins yourself is no big deal either. You can also adjust the skin individually, for example if you have a wide tip with a lot of camber, you can simply cut the unused part at the front to be narrower – that saves weight. If you already have a skin, you can adjust it even more with a cutting tool and do not have to purchase the original skin. Do not forget to seal the edges with a soldering iron so they do not fringe.

How do I apply the skin?

It should cover the surface well, especially underneath the binding. Only the edges need to stay free, otherwise you slip away on hard steep traverses. The length needs to be sufficient and the glue needs to stick.

Can you renew the glue?

A mate of mine has glued his for the fifth time. We clamped up the old skin and removed the old glue with a hot air blower and a scraper. Afterwards, we ironed on transfer tape sold by Contour, removed the plastic foil and the job was done.

On sky alpine tours, you need to add glacier equipment. | Photo: Julian Rohn
On sky alpine tours, you need to add glacier equipment. | Photo: Julian Rohn
How do skins differ?

If I want to be fast, I use mohair because it glides really well. However, it is not as sturdy as a synthetic skin, but that does not glide that well. A good alternative is mix skin which combines the advantages of both skins. It is important to impregnate the skins well beforehand so they do not soak up water, freeze or become soft.

How do you impregnate the skins?

We have sprays, or waxes, which you pull against the fur. You can also simply use a candle which contains a lot of paraffin. Especially in spring when you often travel through wet snow, I always have a piece of wax in my first-aid kit.

Are glued ski skins still state of the art?

There are also silicone and adhesive skins. You can separate them without much force and clean them under the tap. Sometimes that can result in them not sticking as well to the ski as glued skins. 

Do you always take crampons with you?

Yes, we recommend to buy crampons with your binding. It’s too late if you are already standing on a steep and icy hill, then you’re off downhill fast… Sure, you do not need any crampons in perfect powder-snow conditions but as soon as the snow is hard and the hills are steep, you should have them with you.

Ski goggles like the Notice OTG from Scott help you see clearly on a tour with snowfall and head wind. | Photo: Scott
Ski goggles like the Notice OTG from Scott help you see clearly on a tour with snowfall and head wind. | Photo: Scott
What do you say about leashes?

I do not like them much because in case of an accident, they can spin the sharp edges of the ski around your calves and shins. Also, you will not be able to get rid of your skis if you are in an avalanche, they will pull you down like an anchor. Deep snow bands are very handy but a bit uncool. You fix them to the binding and put the other end in the bottom of your trousers. As soon as you loose a ski, the ribbon will unwind and lead the way to the ski.

What do you say about helmets on ski tours?

When I go downhill, I always wear one! There are now light ski touring helmets available. They are well ventilated, so you can also wear them going uphill. Some of those helmets also fulfil the norms which climbing helmets have to meet. 

Sun glasses or ski goggles?

I always take sun glasses for going uphill and ski goggles for going downhill when it is stormy and snowy.

What else do I need for a ski alpine tour?

In addition to avalanche equipment and a helmet, you will also need glacier goggles, a harness, ice screws, an ice axe, crampons, slings, carabiners – the standard equipment for glaciers just as you would need for such a tour in the summer. I also always take a GPS with me in case I get into fog or a snow storm. Then you cannot see a thing anymore. Especially on a glacier, it is hard to find landmarks. I have already walked up to within three metres of a hut without seeing it earlier. 

Only 320 grams, so on the K2 route, “Helmets are too heavy for the ski tour” is no excuse. | Photo: K2
Only 320 grams, so on the K2 route, “Helmets are too heavy for the ski tour” is no excuse. | Photo: K2
What do I need to consider as regards clothes?

Take special ski touring socks because they are a bit thinner than alpine ski socks. I favour merino wool for long underwear. On top, trousers and a jacket designed as a soft-shell or wind-stopper. I carry a pair of over-trousers and a hardshell jacket in my backpack while going uphill, and I also take a thick warm jacket for breaks and in case of an emergency. And I also have a pair of thin and thick gloves as well as a beanie, head band and a Buff scarf.

Do you have one last piece of advice?

I always take a Spot Gen 3 satellite messenger, which, in the event of an emergency, will notify the rescue services at the touch of a button without mobile phone reception. And besides all the equipment, you need a certain amount of know how. For example, I would never allow you to go off-piste without having previously done an avalanche course.

 

 
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