/ Beginner Alpine Touring - Buy or hire?

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NeilOMalley - on 10 Jan 2014
Hi all.

A friend and myself are very keen to broach the world of alpine touring, we both ski already and are looking to increase the range of possibilities. As ski touring is completely new to both of us understanding the options is a bit confusing. Buying the touring setup outright seems to cost between £500-750 for a half decent first or second hand setup, does this sound correct? Also we are just on our way to the three valleys ski resort next week and are curious if we'll be able to hire the full setup including the skins from a hire shop to try it out? Also does anyone know of a good resource i.e. books or maps illustrating the tracks and passes recomended for ski tourers in the three valleys area. Finally is there anything else we should be aware of as total beginners? We eventually hope to combine the touring with the mountaineering to access more of the back country.
kmulvany - on 10 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

It makes sense to buy the touring kit to start with, renting costs a lot. Not sure where the three valley resort is that you are referring to but there are two main things you need to think of, avalanche risk and cravasess. You should at least carry a transceiver, shovel and probe and also know how to use it. It is quite an expensive sport and dangerous, so you should probably try it first before committing.
John W - on 10 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

Your estimate of costs may well be very low if you include skis, touring bindings, touring boots, poles, skins, harscheisen, transceiver, shovel, probe,etc. If you add an ABS rucksack,the numbers will give you a nosebleed! Having said that, it's much like climbing gear, in that once you've got it, all you need to pay for is transport.

Hth, JW
OwenM - on 10 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

3 Valley's are in the Vanoise area, ideal touring country. For your first time your best bet could be to hire a guide. He/she will know where to go and will organize the kit for you. He'll also keep you safe. Beware it is addictive.
NeilOMalley - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to John W:

Right yeah i'd neglected the cost of all the safety stuff. Judging by everyone's responses this stuff is totally crucial for all touring excursions. In the past and for pure mountaineering i've rented it from and found that i've not needed it that much, so i'm guessing when touring your activley looking for good powder rather than firm packed snow therfore more important.

I've also learn't the same with climbing gear and easily spent thousands, now just chuck it in the camper and just pay for the good food.
NeilOMalley - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to OwenM:

It seems the best thing to do before committing is to hire the gear/guide for the very first experience and then put the money on the table if it is as addictive as you say. I have an addictive personality for this stuff as well so I already know what going to happen.

Do you have any suspicions as to if all the kit will be hireable separately from a guide? I've tried all the obvious hire shop websites but it's not clear. What would be nice I think would be to hire all the stuff separately and then get a guide for the first few days, soak up all the knowledge and then go off and do some beginners ones on our own for a few days.
kevin stephens - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

you will be able to hire skis with touring bindings and skins from some ski shops. You will be able to skin uphill using normal ski boots for short climbs (maybe on the side of the home run piste in the morning)to get a feel for it, practicing kick turns etc. However for anything longer you will need touring boots with a walk mode to be comfortable and efficient.

I just went for it and bought the whole set up. If you buy carefully you may find that your new boots and skis will also serve you well for all your piste skiing and lift served off piste skiing too
OwenM - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:


> Do you have any suspicions as to if all the kit will be hireable separately from a guide?

No idea, you'll have to ask when you book.

Gael Force - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

Don't waste money on a guide…join a club if you don't think you can do it yourself , but it's not difficult if you already climb.
Stairclimber - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

It's not all doom and gloom when you consider the outgoings. I reckon you can hire the gear to try it for a day in and around a resort for approximately the cost of the day pass you won't need to buy during your week's holiday.
NeilOMalley - on 11 Jan 2014
In reply to Stairclimber:

yeah thanks for the advice, think i'm going to do this, I know we'll take to it because it closes the gap between the alpinism and skiing but trying to decide what to buy straight off the bat and how to access the first few routes without joining a club seems tricky so just going to endeavour to hire kit and guide for the week and browse the shops to get an idea of the bindings and boots for the next trip out.

Joining the club as gael force suggests is obviously the best plan, i've been trying to do the same for the mountaineering recently and been pondering over 'the alpine club' 'the austrian alpine club' of which i'm already a member, hard part is finding when their frequent local socials are for meeting other like-minded adventurers and then managing to meet at convenient times outside of work. Going to continue down this path though also.
Morgan Woods - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

> Right yeah i'd neglected the cost of all the safety stuff. Judging by everyone's responses this stuff is totally crucial for all touring excursions. In the past and for pure mountaineering i've rented it from and found that i've not needed it that much, so i'm guessing when touring your activley looking for good powder rather than firm packed snow therfore more important.

That package looks like good value for occasional use but you still need to do an Avy safety course.

Not sure i agree that you need transceiver etc because you're looking for a certain type of snow. For touring and off-piste you pack safety gear no matter what the conditions.
Morgan Woods - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

Also keep in mind some shops will deduct the price you have paid for the hire from any least they do in Chamonix.
NeilOMalley - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to Morgan Woods:

Ahh yeah so if I really like the stuff I might be able to buy a new version of it minus the hire price, good tip.

In reference to the transceiver I was comparing the fact that in mountaineering the safety gear can often be left out whereas it seems with ski touring it is more of an essential.
NeilOMalley - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

what do people make of the price of these for an entry level?
Bruce Hooker - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:
What I did was to buy second hand skis with the fixings and skins but hire the safety gear - shovel, probe and transceiver - for not much money. This was in La Grave, so at the Trois Vallées you'll find the same. If you have a bit of winter climbing and alpine experience and can ski - skiing ability off piste being the big problem for a lot of people, myself included - then a guide (person) is not necessary but a guide book certainly is. There are many good ones available which start off at quite easy level. I recommend the Ski de Randonnée by Editions Olizane, I think it's the Savoie one you need but you'd better check this as I don't have one myself for this site. I've been there several times just skiing downhill but not for touring. The guides are in French but there are probably ones in English. You need th IGN 1/25000 map too, of course. I'd suggest being modest in you choice at first if you are new to it.

It's a lovely region to start in and there is such a huge number of lifts that if you get stuck you can find your way back.. best to avoid getting stuck to begin with though. Once you get a bit away from the crowds the atmosphere changes completely… there are even wolves about if you are lucky.

PS. The safety equipment is pretty essential but unless you are sure you'll take the activity up long term it's easiest to hire it at first, the shops do a package deal which is not dear.
Post edited at 11:28
NeilOMalley - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

ok, I'm reconsidering now, if there are some relatively straight forward routes in the guidebook you suggest. Going on friday so a bit limited on time for finding decent second hand skis. what do you make of these

if you paste that into the url bar with www. in front as ukc wants to charge for ebay links.

might have to move fast on buying this stuff now.

i could get this stuff again for pretty cheap. I already have the map so it would be poles boots and a guidebook left to get.
earlsdonwhu - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

If you are going soon, please note that, from all the info I have seen, avalanche risks this season so far are incredibly high.

Have fun. Stay safe.
NeilOMalley - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to earlsdonwhu:

right thanks for the heads up, I was wondering that the other day as looking at the forecasts you can see there is a lot of freeze thaw at higher altitudes presumably making some 'icey slidey layers' inside the snowpack? not sure how technical or true that actually is.
Bruce Hooker - on 12 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

I can't get that link to work and anyway my gear and knowledge of it is pretty out of date. The problem is you haven't got much time left to look for second hand gear - if you had I've got two sets if skis and bindings, three if you are into antiques - I want to get rid of but you'd probably want something more recent, I'm near Paris BTW.

I reckon you'd do best to hire at the station, probably be cheaper and as said above avalanche warnings are on the French news every evening at present - it would be a pity to hire a lot of gear then find out you couldn't use it when you got there. The Trois Vallées will use dynamite to make their runs safe but off piste will not only be advised against if snow conditions are bad it will genuinely be dangerous.

The gear you linked to was what we hired, pole, shovel and transceiver but we paid a bit less IIRC. Whatever happens you won't lack snow by the look of it
NeilOMalley - on 13 Jan 2014
In reply to Bruce Hooker:

Wow took me ages but managed to find some free guided meetups with experienced british leaders from Val Thoren and ONE shop out of hundreds AND HUNDREDS that advertise as hiring out randonnee. So booked that, bought the map and two guidebooks. Just going to try and understand the intricacies of the avalanche situation now. Thanks for everyones help.

earlsdonwhu - on 13 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

From an email to Eagle ski club members....

Graham Frost says:
“As well as avalanche risk there's a much higher than normal risk of
hitting rocks when skiing or falling, and some popular descents are virtually un-skiable. Obviously this also increases the consequences of being avalanched too - 3 of the 4 deaths at les Masseray were from trauma, not burial. I've been avoiding any big slopes and definitely avoiding steep shady slopes. However, I'm skiing with Eagles in Grimentz this week and we've still found plenty of good snow”.

*How can we all manage this risk?* Rick Marchant comments:

“I have not dared to do any ski tours recently that go onto terrain where
the slopes crossed are big or prone to slide. I am only trying to choose
tours with no terrain subject to avalanches. i.e. nothing steep, no big
slopes, terrain traps, big convexities etc. Almost everywhere I have been in the last 10 days has shown a very hollow and poor snowpack. I would advise people not to expose themselves to any large slopes, which also means giving a wide berth when traversing on flat ground with suspect slopes above. Good spacing between members of a group is vital with these weak layers.

All that said, the warm weather this week is settling things down rapidly. I have been amazed at the improvements in some places I have revisited in the last days. It will improve the situation but many weak layers will remain and they will cause problems throughout the winter and especially when the isotherm rises dramatically as it often does in the spring
NeilOMalley - on 14 Jan 2014
In reply to earlsdonwhu:

The warnings are loud and clear this and from numerous other sources so I'm thinking instead of looking to minimise the risk by deciding what we can't do it's going to be about what we can do. Thanks for the info on hitting rocks though, didn't really entertain that thought before now. Maybe I should take a rope;P
John W - on 14 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

Ok, given the above, here's my two bob's worth. This is how I was introduced to the black art of touring by my g/f.

1. Go into a hire shop on Day 1 and hire touring boots and skis with Fritschi-type touring bindings - not because I have anything against Dynafit, but because they'll be more like the normal bindings you're used to. Also hire skins to fit the skis and poles with big baskets. Explain that you're just starting to get into "ski rando". Make sure you get full insurance for the kit you are hiring. Don't bother hiring transceivers, probes etc at this stage.

2. Spend the first day skiing "abseits der piste" as it's known in German - in other words, get the lifts up, then rather than skiing down the pistes, ski in the gaps between them, down the sides, across from one piste to another, etc etc - in other words, anything that isn't groomed, but where you can see where you're going and can always get to the bottom of the lift. Make sure you ski with a rucksack, just to get used to it.

3. The more crud, chop, bruckharsch and generally difficult snow you can find, the better - it's what you'll eventually have to cop ewith on a tour.

4. Once you've got the hang of that, find a safe slope with good visibility, ideally just below the upper limit of your "steepness comfort" zone. Now practice "turn, stop, turn, stop, turn, stop". In other words, find a stable point, visualise the turn, and work out exactly where you want to stop before you repeat the process. Remember that there are no style marks - all that matters is stability and control. The idea is that you "read the slope" to pick the safest line.

5. Repeat the above as often as you can. If you're only used to skiing on pistes, you'll probably fall over a lot, and be knackered, but practice makes perfect.

6. Practice putting your skins on (and taking them off again) in the comfort of the ski room before you try it for real. Once you've done that, find a lift that stops a couple of hundred metres downhill from a nice viewpoint, and skin up to it. Practice your kick turns, and generally get used to what you can and can't do. Play about with the uphill settings on your bindings just to get the feel of it.

7. Now that you've (hopefully) got the basics cracked in the safety of the patrolled area, hire a guide for two days. I know this is almost seen as the equivalent of devil worship and baby boiling by us in Blighty, but to our continental cousins, it's perfectly normal. Tell the guide what you want to get out of it - do you want to spend your day walking uphill to get that one run of perfect powder, or do you want to use the lifts to get as many runs as possible? Don't overeggagerate your level of skill or experience. Ask the guide to provide transceiver, probe and shovel for you (and probably an ABS or Avalung rucksack) if you don't already have them.

8. The guide will tell you where and when to meet him/her the next morning, and will do some transceiver practice with you, followed by some basic "do's and dont's", such as where to stand, where to stop, what his/her signals mean, etc etc.

9. Remember that you are hiring a guide, not a ski instructor - the guide will assess your skills and techniques and plan an appropriate route. Above all, s/he is responsible for your safety, which is why you've spent that time previously practicing skiing on all types of snow, being in control, and being able to stop exactly where you're told to.

8. And off you go! Have fun, enjoy yourself!

Please bear in mind that this is just my personal experience - other people may have very different opinions


NeilOMalley - on 14 Jan 2014
In reply to John WSo I think we'll follow this more or less to a T. we thought some good practice might be to just get from val thoren to courchevel without lifts. How do you do turns going uphill on steep slopes? Also I'm keen to rip open that snowpack for a closer examination, something i've been meaning to do for a while but if it is the season of avalanches maybe this is the best time.

Thanks for your advice, it was exactly what I needed because since hiring the skis online a couple of days ago i've been considering the potential futility of hiring them as a novice, probably a bit too early in the season and at a high avalanche time and was wondering if our endeavours might end up being a bit fruitless. It's good to know lots of practice can be had on the resort.

So your g/f introduced you to it, and then did you hire a guide together and go on a mini tour? two separate one day round trips? Did you use ESF guides?

Any more information by anyone in regards to practicing stuff like this would be very appreciated. In fact I feel like i've learn't a lot over the last week and will download this thread before going so I can acess it whilst over there if I don't get any wifi.
Doug on 15 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

uphill kick turns are fairly easy although a little practise helps, this might help -

As far as I know, ESF only employ 'monitors' who aren't qualified to take you touring, for that you need a Guide de montagne. You can contact British guides through the British Mountain Guides website or French guides via the equivalent website for French guides (Syndicat National des Guides de Montagne. Most resorts will also have a Bureau des Guides - for Val Thorens see .
John W - on 15 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

Hi Neil.

My g/f is in the fortunate position of being able to have around eight weeks skiing per year, while I can only manage four at best. She goes with a group of four friends and a guide for the weeks I can't make it, where they go on day tours, either on "round trips" or "out and back by train/ taxi/bus". She'll use the same couple of guides year on year, rather than finding a guide in the local area.

We then tend to go to the places she's been, and repeat the tours without a guide (condition dependent of course).

As for uphill kick turns, just do a YouTube search - the German equivalent is "Spitzkehre" and there are some nice clear "how to do it" clips.

Have fun, JW
birdman - on 15 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

Also worth googling ASARC to look at their avalanche tests… Note how important Fracture Character is regardless of the number of taps on the shovel head!

Carolyn - on 15 Jan 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

Re: Hiring gear - I know SkiSet in Meribel hire Alpine Touring kit - I imagine somewhere in the Val Thorens Valley will too - maybe ask the Bureau des Guides for a recommendation?
John W - on 05 Feb 2014
In reply to NeilOMalley:

So how was your trip and your search for the wonders of the off-piste world?

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