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5 Ski Touring Facts

Why Ski Tour?

Many alpine skiers are resistant to the idea of ski touring. At first glance, many think the idea of ski touring just seems like a lot of work. And it is true that climbing uphill isn’t without some effort, but it is an effort spent in the same way that hikers expend energy in the summertime, all while finding enjoyment in the process. The main distinction between ski touring from alpine skiing is that it most often involves an all-encompassing experience of being in nature and skiing on one’s terms. You and the mountain can be where you please, when you please. As a result, it is often possible to access some pretty remarkable skiing. The advantages of ski touring become obvious when viewed through a slightly different lens.

Ski Touring = Better Skiing / Greater Terrain Diversity / Less Crowds

Hundreds of millions of acres of skiable terrain on public land can be accessed by ski touring in the ranges across the western United States and Canada. Downhill ski resorts comprise only a fraction of the terrain compared to the broader scope of things, yet most skiers ski at resorts. This means that there is a growing number of people looking to ski, time and time again, over the same piece of real estate. The idea of powder-skiing is all but a myth at many ski resorts these days, if you’re lucky (or got in line early), you may be in for a single untracked powder run after a big storm! Resort goers pay big money for lift access to wait in line to be put in the same spot where everyone else has already skied… In these simple terms, alpine skiing at ski resorts is often nothing short of a bad joke. It is true that while ski touring, many groups may only take a couple of downhill runs on the best day, but the runs that are taken are hand-picked from a comparatively vast area that contains far fewer people than at any ski resort. The days of skiing the same trails over and over are a foreign concept in ski touring. Nearly every day can be an exploration, to some extent, for the adventurous ski tourer.


Say goodbye to being taken for a ride by the amusement parks that corporately owned ski areas have become in the United States. Once you have the gear and a couple of safety courses (CPR/First Aid and Avalanche I minimum), the skin track is a lot cheaper ride to the top than any chairlift! It’s a sad fact, but resort skiing costs have accelerated so fast that it is no longer accessible for most of the population.

Nature Lovers Dream

There are few better ways to connect with nature in the mountainous wilderness than using your own two feet and traveling on skis through a naked canvas of untouched snow. The sound of skis pressing into deep, glistening virgin snow with each successive step can be mesmerizing. The phenomenon of being part of nature is completely missed with the bustle of modern ski resorts as crowds and development detract from the experience. Just as tourists come to ski at resorts for their own perceived enjoyment, resort visitors are also tourists in respect of nature. They see nature at arms-length but never actually experience it. While ski touring, however, a skier is immersed in the natural world around them, temporarily part of the wilderness. Disconnect from the present- Ski tour.

Ski Touring will Make you Fit, a Different Fit.

Some of the most cardio-fit athletes worldwide spend time skiing and touring in winter. Sure it takes time to get to that level, but the take home is that ski touring is good for you! And it’s good for you in a different way than while alpine skiing, beyond being able to avoid all the cut-up and jarring inbounds snow. Physiologically speaking, there are inherent differences resultant from the activity differences. Ski tourers must travel both uphill and downhill on skis, and consequently, there are some distinct differences in types of fitness achieved compared to downhill only, alpine skiing. For one, different muscle groups are used when traveling uphill on skis vs. when going down. In general, for ski touring uphill, we think about using muscle groups on the back of the upper legs- hamstrings, gluts, etc.- while when going downhill on skis, we think of using more muscle groups on the front of the upper legs, namely the quads. (of note, this is simplified to highlight the difference between modalities- many muscle groups are actually at play) Second, going uphill while ski touring tends to be much more of a cardio-intensive sport than skiing purely downhill while alpine skiing. Alpine skiing has a cardio component but leans more to the anaerobic side compared to ski touring uphill. Both ski touring and alpine skiing require good fitness to achieve maximal performance and to help avoid injury but the mix of different modalities associated with ski touring arguably leaves ski tourers a broader and more balanced fitness level.

Self-Enablement and Personal Growth Opportunity

When people start ski touring in the backcountry, they often sign up for a life-long learning endeavor. The mountains are constantly changing, dictated by the weather and the resultant snowpack (the snow on the ground). No avalanche mitigation work is done outside of the ski areas, and to find slopes that are safe to ski and those with good snow quality for skiing, one needs to adjust when and where they go. No two days in winter are the same, so a keen eye and open mind for interpreting processes are essential. No one will tell you exactly where or when you can go on a particular day, but there are ways of seeking guidance and knowledge. Avalanche forecast centers across North America do their best to describe general trends, but even having the skills to interpret the forecast and then make decisions in the field in real time requires training and mentorship. Avalanche safety courses of various training levels are also widely available throughout the west, and guides are often available for hire. Many folks find the process to be highly engaging. The potential for individual self-growth is a massive benefit of being forced to make critical decisions on your own. Many seasoned individuals feel that this, by itself, is rewarding enough. Let alone reaping the benefits of skiing downhill in fresh powder!

That’s a Wrap

When you ski, you have many options regarding where you go, what you do, and how you do it. Skiing is a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise at the same time. Ski touring is an excellent way to experience skiing in a different light. It’s a great workout, you have to use your head, and you’ll see mountainsides of wilderness that you wouldn’t otherwise come in touch with. Ski touring offers far more freedom than when you alpine ski and comes with the reward of self-fulfillment. If you’re an avid skier, it’s certainly worth trying ski touring out. You may discover a new passion or at the very least have a new story to tell at the end of the day.

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