Late Season can often have the best conditions for touring. A decent snow base has often built up and the days are longer (especially in Scotland!). As the temperatures start to rise you can often get away with less ‘serious’ clothing layers and swap out Waterproof shell layers for more breathable and stretch softshell layers.
Skis & Bindings
Yep, you’ll be needing some of those. There’s a few differences between a touring ski and a regular downhill ski, but also many overlaps. Basically, the fatter the ski the better it will float in powder but the heavier it will be. These days around 90mm seems to be the sweet spot for touring.
To pick a ski, think about what you’re going to want to do with it. If you’re planning on hut-to-hut touring trips with little emphasis on the downhill and more on the distance travelled, go for a lighter and skinnier ski. If you’re going to ski tour only to access the best untouched powder runs then something heavier and more downhill focused will be the way to go. If you’re already a regular off-piste skier then your current skis may well do the job with different bindings mounted.
The binding is really what changes a ski set up from a lift-accessed only set to a touring set-up. Touring bindings differ in design and mechanism, but all have the function of being able to release your heel from the back of the binding and pivot around the toe end in order to walk uphill with the skis on your feet. When it’s time to ski down, your heel clicks back in and functions like a regular downhill ski binding.
The two main styles of binding are ‘step in’ and ‘pin’ styles. Step in styles such as Markers and Diamirs are the easiest for beginners to use as you step and click into them like a regular binding. For going uphill, the whole back end of the binding releases from the ski and pivots around the toe end – so the binding is still attached to your boot. These are compatible with all ski boots, including downhill boots, so are the only option if you’re planning on using your regular boots
Skins are what make skis stick to the snow when you’re going uphill. There are different makes and styles of skin, but they all essentially do the same job. All are two-sided, with a sticky surface (glue) on one side, and a ‘hairy’ surface on the other (this can be synthetic, mohair or a combination of the two). A tip loop attaches the skin to the front end of your ski. The glue then sticks the skin to the base of your ski. Most skins also have a tail attachment that snaps over the back of the ski to hold it in place. The hairy side of the skin has two directions – when pushing the ski uphill the hairs will all flatten down meaning you don’t have to push it too hard (this is referred to as the ‘glide’), but the hairs push back the other way when the ski tries to slide back downhill, providing friction against the snow and stopping the ski obeying gravity. If this sounds a little complicated, imagine stroking a dog’s back. Going towards it’s tail is very smooth (ie. pushing the skin uphill), but stroking it from it’s tail towards the head would push all the hair the ‘wrong’ way and provide friction (ie. stop your ski sliding back downhill).
Skins generally will need to be cut to fit the curves of your ski, to ensure that the whole base is covered for maximum friction
The Snow pack may have consolidated a bit but there are still avalanche risks when venturing off piste. You should carry the absolute minimum Avalanche safety kit which is a Transceiver, shovel & Probe. Getting some practice in before your trip is also essential.
We have a whole article covering the basics of avalanche rescue which you can read here.
You won’t want to be wearing your insulated downhill ski gear, it will be way too hot as soon as you’re headed uphill.
For the top half, a base layer, fleece and softshell jacket provide a more versatile layering system for changing conditions and exertion levels. Add in a thin down or synthetic jacket to keep you warm while you’re eating lunch. The Rab Khroma range of ski shells are an excellent choice for spring touring. Their stretch waterproof material is a breathable as a softshell, but offers excellent protection should the weather turn.
On your legs, thin thermals and softshell pants are the best option. Add a pair of waterproof pants you can put over the top if you think it might get wet or cold. Your regular ski socks will be fine. For gloves, a thin liner pair teamed with a pair of softshell gloves will see you through most things; add a thicker pair in your pack for cold days and descents. Keep your ears warm with a beanie or Buff (also good for your neck).
Spring Ski touring is a fantastic way to see some beautiful areas, ski some great lines and spend time in the mountains with friends, well away from the hustle and bustle of resorts. Getting into the sport can seem a little overwhelming with the kit and knowledge required, but if you’ve got some ski and hiking gear already then there isn’t too huge an outlay to get the basics. Booking yourself onto an avalanche safety course is an absolute must, and an intro to ski touring course with a guide will give you a huge amount of knowledge, skills and fun it would take many years to build up without.