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Skin Up - Ski Tour Diary Part 1

Written by Dan Morgan, Wednesday, 08 February 2012

Over recent months Ski-Review have published a couple of guides on the basics of ski touring. We are approaching the topic from the angle of typical resort skier, who probably has no interest in ski tours a day or more in duration, but wants to access the backcountry in the pursuit of more challenging terrain and fresh lines but has little to no idea of where to get started.

That description happened to fit me perfectly, so we decided to document my own on-snow ski touring experiences in order to bring some real life advice from the personal experience from a newbie ski tourer. So last weekend, I was joined for a 2-day backcountry weekend by Rich from our sister site, Rich had recently made his own split board in an effort to earn his turns and other than differing hardware we were starting from the same spot in terms of experience going uphill - absolutely none.

Ski Tour Destination

Montafon in the Voralberg region of Austria. Montafon has some of the most incredible and vast natural terrain which is relatively easy to access. From our experience the area is something of a hidden gem, and despite amazing snow conditions, it was empty, but that maybe something to do with too many aging boneshaker two-man chairs, despite some obvious efforts to improve the infrastructure, like new eight-man chairs with covers and heated seats. Heated seats! I kid you not. We’d love to comment on the future plans for the region but we failed to get a response when we tried to contact them.

Our Ski Gear

I had a pair of Salomon Sentinels mounted with Marker Duke bindings. The Salomon Sentinel is a serious ski, and the Marker is probably the most robust touring binding you can buy today. Rich had an Option Freeplus 174 which he has transformed into two (asymmetrical - always check your saw guide…) skis. Check the link for all the details.

The selection of the Marker Duke, a rugged, alpine binding that happens to tour, along with the Sentinel, an incredibly stiff and not particularly light alpine ski that has no obvious touring benefits are together an indication of how alpine downhill focused our kit was - e.g. 95% resort and 5% touring. Other than the fact most in the same situation would probably opt for a slightly softer freeride, or freeride/tour crossover model this is a fairly common setup. We figured we would not be touring for much longer than an hour at a time.

For boots I picked my comfortable and softest - the Lange L10. If you know your ski boots you probably take offence at soft and Lange L10 being used together. More than 10 years old, still going strong and nowhere near as stiff as they used to be (thankfully). The occasional ski tourer probably doesn’t want to choose from the dedicated AT boot rack for the odd hike or tour, so I went for standard alpine.

I selected G3 Alpinist nylon skins, and to help form an opinion of the shaped versus straight skin debate, I went straight with 85mm wide skins for the Sentinels which are 94mm underfoot giving me an edge clearance of at least 4.5mm either side of the ski.

Avalanche Safety

It goes without saying that we all had avalanche transceivers, probes and shovels as the bare minimum kit. Taking it with you and ensuring it is turned on is not enough - you need to know how to use it. There is no kudos for having the slickest avalanche transceiver, the coolest spade and the lightest probe if you have no clue how to use it. Being in a situation where you are in rescue mode is bad enough without freaking out because you cannot use your equipment. If you are buried you want your buddy clued up too. We won’t give any more advice than that as we are not qualified to do so and there are better resources a search away.

Ski Conditions

In a word, freezing. -23 degrees Celsius on the hill. That’s -9.4 degrees Fahrenheit for our US readers. Thankfully the wind was forecast to be almost non-existent. We were layered up, mindful that touring is hard work and despite the unusually cold temperatures due to the Siberian weather front that was visiting Europe, we may need to de-layer. It was so cold that the snow was in excellent shape - perfect groomers/pistes and plenty of powder that was tracked to varying degrees depending how accessible it was. Of course we had a plan for that…

The Plan

The plan was to meet the guide, orientate ourselves with the resort and pack in as many steep and deep lines as our legs would allow over two days. After an initial chat about our aims we followed our guide’s recommendations until the moment we left.

To be continued…

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