Ski Mountaineering- where to start

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 Tucker266 15:21 Thu

Hi - great forum. I want to throw myself into some ski mountaineering over the course of this winter. I’ve got some background in other adventure sports - kitesurfing and trail running etc. and am decent piste skier - but acknowledge I have a lot to learn! 

Based in London but with Camper-van and able to get to Alps or Scotland from time to time. I’ve seen some good ski - mo courses being run in Scotland but all seem to be booked up until we’ll into the NY. 

Any tips? What would you do if you were just starting out - but had a bit of time to throw at it and were slightly impatient to make progress? 

Thanks in advance! 

 99ster 15:35 Thu
 cb294 15:53 Thu
In reply to Tucker266:

Same as with climbing: Start at the bottom, move upwards. When reaching the top, turn around and go down again.

Sorry, could not resist.

For a more serious answer, the skiing is not the main issue, but avalanche safety and judging snow conditions very much is. Personally, I am not a great fan of organized courses, and would suggest trying to find more experienced partners with whom you can tag along.


 Doug 16:20 Thu
In reply to Tucker266:

Try the Eagle Ski Club ( )

In reply to Tucker266:

Learn to nordic ski, it'll develop a good glide and kick, combine with your piste skiing (which you'll need to develop to off piste) and the world's your oyster! 

It's a slow game, it will take a couple seasons to become proficient, but learning good skills through slightly repetitive drills early on will pay dividends in the years to come. 

In reply to Tucker266:

As other have said it a mix of skills you need to build up.

Avalanche awareness - I would advise you go on a course for this with a good provider, they will cover what I call the tool box which is all the tools you use to try and keep you out of an avalanche, such as reading and understanding forecast's, planning routes, reading terrain, field ob's and safety riding techniques etc and the rescues skills (what I call the first aid skills), so what to do if you make a mistake (we are all capable of this) and you or a partner get caught in an avalanche. Very often if you go out with others they will just show you how to use a transceiver and Dig etc. Which as I said is a good skill, but only half the package, its the other stuff that stops you getting caught in the first place.

The skiing - The going up is quite straight forward and you should pick its up quite quick,  plenty of youtube vids out there to give you tips, you shouldn't be on the steep stuff anyway as you will need to develop you skiing for the descent. Being a good piste skier will help, but it does take some time to get good off piste, across a wide range of snow types. you just need mileage.

If you keen to get going, one starting place is to find others to head out with, that are happy to show you the ropes. There are a few Facebook groups for this and the eagle ski club is a good shout. Form London I think covid allowing I would head to the alps if you can do a chunk of time in a van then you will pick it up quickly and can move where the good snow is. I would look to do an avalanche course as soon as you can, then you understand the planning and options when out, and you become a valued member of the team.  Also putting you safety in the hands of someone you meet on line who may or may not know that much isn't great.

Or do a course, a course or at least a few lesson can really help speed up the learning, as it tailored to your level and to help your progress, not just following others. It does seam that courses are filling up fast, it seam ski touring is the next big this. but you should be able to find some option if you include the alps. one to one guiding is always an option and you get great one to one teaching but its not cheap.

In terms of Kit, a lot of ski hire places in the alps will rent touring kit (not sure what the options are for Scotland), so you don't need to buy straight away. if you want to take the jump and but well that probably a whole new thread.

I wrote a free ski touring guidebook to the Ecrins area 

if you have any questions feel free to drop me a line.

Post edited at 18:17
In reply to Tucker266:

Learn to ski in the sorts of snow that nature has allowed to form; ie not just firm pisted stuff but also powder, powder below a breakable crust, icy snow, etc. From a skiing point of view I think that is the main difference — you can encounter the full spectrum of crap that simply will not exist on a piste, and while you don't need to ski it in textbook style, you do need to be able to survive it. I think that's the main difference in terms of the downhill skiing; you will encounter all sorts of awfulness that you won't encounter in or around a manicured piste.

The uphill mechanics are comparatively simple — work on them in inconsequential places and I'm sure you'll quickly figure it out. Beyond that, it's all about mountain skills. Awareness of avalanche risk and conditions, of weather, of... the usual things you'd think about any time you're out in the mountains. Crevasses and glacier-related risks are obviously also paramount in the Alps on glaciated terrain. And fundamental ice axe skills are invaluable and shouldn't be ignored just because you're on skis.

But don't listen to me — I have the X-ray to demonstrate why!

 Tucker266 23:23 Thu
In reply to ecrinscollective: this is super generous  - thanks so much for taking the time. I’ll follow up on these tips

 Tucker266 23:25 Thu
In reply to tehmarks:

Really appreciate this - thanks

In reply to Tucker266:

1, learn to piste ski. Including snow plough, carving is sod all use when you absolutely have to make a turn otherwise you crash into a Bush.

2, learn to ski off piste, then practice every chance you get on the side country. Get to the point where you are skiing off piste in all conditions, ski crud and crust, down lift lines, between rocks, off edges, just have fun... 

3. Learn up hill by not paying for a lift pass. Walk up to the top of the runs and ski down the piste. Walk up in safe areas, amongst trees etc. It will force you to get better at kick turns.

4. Do all that other avalanche stuff

5 put it all together.

 subtle 09:07 Fri
In reply to Tucker266:

Has anyone mentioned practicing sk-ing, in your ski mountaineering gear, carrying a full pack of climbing gear - it makes a huge difference, especially when going down hill and having to make turns!

Good luck, its a great way to access climbs in the alps in winter 

In reply to ecrinscollective:

Great response Rob.

In reply to cb294:

> For a more serious answer, the skiing is not the main issue, but avalanche safety and judging snow conditions very much is.

My thoughts - avalanche risk is a huge difference compared to piste skiing.

> Personally, I am not a great fan of organized courses, and would suggest trying to find more experienced partners with whom you can tag along.

That's assuming the experienced people actually know what they're doing and haven't simply been 'getting away with it'.  I think a blend of course-led and mate-led instruction is best.

 cb294 11:44 Fri
In reply to Toerag:

Tagging along with experienced people for a few years (ideally from childhood) will always teach you more than a two week course, whether we are talking about climbing, mountaineering, or ski touring. Whether that is feasible will depend on your circumstances, and London certainly is not ideally suited.


In reply to Tucker266:

It would appear most don't believe nordic skiing is of benefit. I can only say try it. It will help massively in learning to weight correctly to the gripping ski, any glide whilst travelling on the flat or up a modest gradient is free distance, even just getting good diagonal technique means you're optimising pole and feet use in synch. You can take it further skating across a hard packed plateau is just skating, it transfers from one form to another. 2 years ago was a fickle winter in Scandinavia, it hit pluses in Feb, rained, then froze, I was crossing frozen lakes at 500m asl that had ice rink smooth ice, hundreds of metres of just double poling, another efficient technique from nordic skiing. 

Granted learning off piste skiing and snow craft is more important, but each form of skiing has plenty to offer the other. Besides I try to avoid looking like the clichéd Brit in alpine and snow sports, heavy bag, heavy legs, wooden body and technique!  

Post edited at 11:58
 OwenM 16:59 Fri
In reply to Tucker266:

If you are based in London then you're better going south to the Alps, better snow conditions, better weather, more places to go to and much better food. Scotland is great if you live nearby but it's too fickle if you need to book in advance. 

The better you can ski off piste the more you'll enjoy it. Having to pick yourself up and dust off loads of wet snow looses it's appeal after the umpteenth time.   

 abr1966 18:38 Fri
In reply to Tucker266:

All good stuff stated already! Scotland is very different from the Alps or further north so will require different approach to kit and problem solving.

Practice of technique is crucial...everything varies when you also have weight to carry....lots of mileage and experiences develops the skills etc...just like winter mountaineering.

Avalanche awareness and good judgement alongside awareness of weather conditions. Good navigation....Good drills.....lots of good admin with kit, temperature regulation, taking in calories. If caming don't underestimate the pitch/setup time. 

There is lots to learn....I haven't done any in a long time but did a lot of long range patrolling in the its best its an awesome experience but small mistakes can cost a lot...!

 Gem 10:23 Sat
In reply to Tucker266:

I found myself in a similar position about eighteen months ago when I moved to Austria and discovered both skiing and ski-touring.  Where we differ is that I had zero skiing experience.  For me, piste touring was a great place to start just to get used to the absolute basics.  I also found it helpful to spend a significant amount of time practicing kick-turns on a variety of different snow, transitions, fitting ski crampons and other gear-related technical skills.  I've done an avalanche course but I'm under no illusion that I lack a huge amount of knowledge and experience to travel through the backcountry safely.  My skiing ability has acted as constraint but I've done a couple of big days with experienced groups that were both instructive and, at times, terrifying.

The most important thing I brought to Austria was some fitness.  A life of cycling and running provided a certain amount of durability that's really helped accelerate the physical/technical side of things.  Whilst there are many alternatives, I found this guided course really helpful to cover up some weaknesses:

Knowledge-wise, there are a few online courses that might be worth a look:

In my case, they served to illustrate how much I have to learn rather than being a useful how-to.  If you're heading to the Alps, I'd strongly urge to do a couple of days with a guide, this could save you a lot of trial and error. A lot of the Alps-based accomplished skiers I know will do this as a matter of course if they're heading to an area they don't know so they can make the most of their time.

We've just had our first decent snow-fall here in the Eastern Alps and touring is booming for good reason, it's so compelling.  Have a blast and stay safe

 wbo2 10:42 Sat
In reply to Tucker266: One place I would absolutely prefer a course to learning form friends is an avalanche course.  Your friends you learn from might be good, they might not

In reply to Gem:

Following on from Gem’s great advice. Apart from all the avalanche knowledge, really good technique and fitness up hill will save you so much pain, time and frustration. Learn good kick and glide and practice those kick turns, especially on steep hard/icy snow. Learn about your skins how to care for them and cut your own once you know how. Courses are a must, but definitely find an experienced partner, there are so many tips that a course won’t give you

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