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Ski Touring 101: Your backcountry adventure

By TravelFactory , 20/10/2022
Five skiers with ski poles and backpacks going up a snow-covered mountain on a sunny day

As its name suggests, ski touring is an opportunity to take a tour of the backcountry. It’s an activity that is at once contemplative, adventurous, and athletic. Ski touring is a great way to see the beautiful scenery that the mountain has to offer, while staying active and having fun. But what exactly does it involve? As part of our series on Ski Activities, we break it down for you below.

What is Ski Touring? 

You’ll have an infinite number of routes to choose from, as ski touring is an off-piste activity. Ski touring can be done on hiking trails or off the beaten track. Choose a route adapted to your level of physical fitness, based on what kind of terrain you’d like to traverse and what type of scenery you’d like to see. Some routes are easy access, while others require steep climbs and thus more strength and endurance. 

Prerequisites for Ski Touring 

A high level of endurance is essential for ski touring, so it’s not for everyone, and it’s not without risk—routes often traverse terrain far from ski resorts. However, it is a unique skiing challenge and an unrivalled opportunity to get in touch with nature in a pristine and untouched landscape. You’ll see breath taking scenery while putting your skiing expertise to the test. Not sure if you’re ready for ski touring just yet? Let’s have a look at the prerequisites. 

Diverse terrain means diverse skill set. Ski touring requires the mastery of several different techniques, so it shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. We recommend a solid intermediate off-piste level at a minimum. Here are some skills you should be intimately familiar with before attempting ski touring: 

Alpine skiing 

As routes could require you to go down steep slopes, a good level is Alpine (downhill) LIEN skiing is necessary. Skiers should know how to navigate turns, bumps, and avoid obstacles. If you’re at ease on red ski runs, you have the requisite level in Alpine skiing. 

Nordic skiing 

You will spend a lot of time going uphill, so Nordic skiing experience is also essential. Ski touring is often done wearing Nordic ski boots (with detachable heels to facilitate forward momentum and uphill climbs), so it’s best to be familiar with techniques like skating and gliding.

Being off-piste also means you may have to contend with rough and uneven terrain or various types of snow. There are no ski lifts in the backcountry, so you’ll have to get to the summit using your strength and ski prowess alone. 


Some ski touring may even require you to slip on your crampons and scale cliffsides. In this case, mountaineering experience is preferred and a good level of upper body strength is a must. But even if there’s no climbing involved, remember that you’ll be ski touring with a backpack in tow, so make sure your back muscles are ready for the extra weight.  

Tip: Walk or jog in a hilly area or train with a StairMaster before your ski touring holiday. You’ll be glad you did! 


What equipment do I need to go ski touring? 

 A close up of a skier with ski poles, ski goggles, and a helmet on snow-covered mountain path on a sunny day 

The right ski equipment is of the utmost importance in ski touring. Going off-piste brings you face to face with certain risks—unexpected terrain, inclement weather conditions, potential avalanches—and it’s better to be safe than sorry. The right equipment can help facilitate your climbs and decrease the risk of injury. 


While traditional Alpine skis can be used, Nordic skis or touring skis are recommended. These are lighter and easier to manoeuvre. If you’re embarking on a long route (or going on a multi-day trip), you may have to find the right compromise between weight and durability. The sturdier the better. You wouldn’t want to break a ski in the middle of the wilderness! 

Brands to Explore: Black Crows, Dynafit, Salomon 

Ski boots 

As stated earlier, Alpine ski boots can be used, but Nordic ski boots (with detachable heel) are best suited to ski touring. If you like to invest, there are even boots specially designed for ski touring, called touring boots. They’re lighter, more flexible, and will provide more comfort for those uphill climbs. 

Brands to Explore: K2, Scarpa, Dynafit, Atomic 


Frame and AT/Tech/Pin are the two main types of ski touring binding. AT/Tech/Pin is the standard, and a wide range of products are available. If you’re not interested in purchasing additional bindings, you can stick to frame bindings, which will do the trick for those who want to test out ski touring (without committing to long multi-day treks). 

Brands to Explore: Atomic, Marker, Salomon 


If this is your first time ski touring, you may be unfamiliar with skins. Skins are strips of fabric that attach to the bottom of your skis and provide traction for uphill climbs. Back in the day, they were made from animal furs, but now most are composed of synthetic materials. Some are outfitted with clips, but most can be cut to fit your skis. 

Brands to Explore: Pomoca, Contour, Black Diamond 

Ski poles 

Ski touring poles are often adjustable, which allows for maximum versatility on different types of terrain. Again, light and sturdy is key—after all, you’ll be carrying them around all day! Certain models come equipped with wrist straps and comfortable grips for safety and ease. 

Brands to Explore: Leki, Black Diamond, G3 

So, now that you’ve got everything you need, what can you expect from a ski touring session?  

A typical ski touring session 

 A snow-covered path surrounded by spruce trees with the French Alps in the distance 

As ski touring is an off-piste mountain activity, the routes are as varied as the terrain! As first timer, unless you’re an experienced survivalist, we’d highly recommend going on an organised tour with a guide. Group and private tours are available. If you’re going on a private tour, the guide can tailor it to your needs and skill level. If you’re going on a group tour, make sure the pre-planned itinerary lives up to your expectations and is appropriate for your level before committing. 

At the beginning or any session, a competent guide will give a safety briefing and evaluate your level to make sure that you’ll be able to participate without too much difficulty. Participants must keep pace, and guides cannot slow down or stop for those who tire out. 

Half-day sessions 

Half-day sessions last three to four hours. It’s a great way for curious skiers to test out touring. Groups are capped at around 6 skiers, and rates are around 265€ per group

Full-day session 

Full-day sessions can last up to eight hours, with breaks for lunch and snacks. So, make sure you have enough endurance for a whole day of off-piste terrain! Don’t forget to fill your backpack with anything you might need. Rates for full-day sessions are around 375€ per group

Multi-day trips 

Multi-day trips are journeys into the wintry wilderness, which often include accommodation in mountain refuges. Be prepared—you may not see civilization for several days! If you’re ready for the adventure, an all-inclusive 6-day guided tour will cost you around 1400€ per person. And it’s customary to tip your guide. 

Where can I go ski touring in France? 


The Alps is a great place to go ski touring—varied mountain terrain, striking views, and world-class guides await! Whether you’re looking for a half-day session or a multi-day adventure, the Alps is the place to be. Here are some of our favourite ski touring destinations: 

  • Tignes offers vast swathes of wilderness to explore. It’s one of the largest ski areas in Europe. 

  • Chamonix is at the foot of Mount Blanc. Explore this legendary backcountry. There are 21 routes to choose from! 

  • Val d’Isère is home to Alpes de Grand-Serre: ski touring at 2000m above sea level! 


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