Ski touring tips to get you to the top

For many people, ski touring may seem like it’s only for the advanced. Though it definitely requires a good deal of basic knowledge and preparation, we hope that more people will be able to enjoy touring to the top by their own power and experience the well deserved feeling of skiing back down again. With the right equipment and basic knowledge, you can go a long way.

We asked Jonathan Axelsson Sandström, founder of All Mtn Guide, a trained mountain leader, licensed avalanche instructor and experienced ski tourer, to give us some tips to help you on your way to the top.

What should you keep in mind when going ski touring?

– It’s all about being prepared before heading out. Practice using your own equipment in different weather conditions in a safe place to make sure the equipment works perfectly and that you’re used to using it. It’s also important to make sure you’re in good physical shape. Ski touring is a demanding activity that requires its hours at the gym before heading out.

From a safety point of view, what is it important to keep in mind?

– You should never set off without one or more friends. The slightest mishap could lead to a critical situation if you are out on the mountain alone. It is also important to make sure you have the right equipment: avalanche equipment, with a transceiver, probe and shovel. If you have an avalanche backpack with an airbag, that’s a good addition to your equipment. Make sure that the people with you also know first aid and buddy rescue techniques. Taking an avalanche course with licensed instructors will help you to be prepared for ski touring.   

Asking questions to yourself and your friends before heading out is also a simple strategy to ensure that you are well prepared. Do I have the right clothing for today’s weather? Do I know the avalanche forecast for today? Will everybody be able to manage today’s goals? Is the group familiar with the terrain we will be moving through during the day? Do we have a plan for the day?

Ski Touring to the top and back

What is the best way to dress for ski touring?

– There is a big difference between what to wear for a day on the slopes and how to dress for touring. You will be moving almost all day when touring, and there are no warm huts waiting for you when you start to feel cold, so it’s important that you choose the right clothes for the tour. 

While on the tour, you will want to dress to avoid getting sweaty and feeling uncomfortable in the clothes you are wearing, but at the same time you don’t want to freeze while taking breaks. That is why it’s important to consider every layer of clothing. Start with a base layer that transports moisture away from the body and retains heat when you stop moving, as sweat will quickly cool you down. Over your base layer you should wear something that is flexible and highly breathable, such as a softshell garment that’s comfortable and works well on ski tours. If there is no wind, rain or snow, it might be nice just to have a fleece sweater over a base layer on your upper body. In your backpack, you could take a jacket that is waterproof and windproof and that doesn’t take up a lot of space, and a warm garment that is insulated with either down or synthetic material. You will usually want to use these garments during your breaks and lunch to stay warm. A warm hat is also a good thing to have for when you take a break.

What tips do you have for topping up energy during the tour?

– Since you don’t want to carry unnecessary weight and your backpack space is limited, I tend to think about taking things that contain a lot of energy but are lightweight and have a small volume. I always bring almond paste with me. It may feel a little odd for a lot of people, but it works incredibly well. Nuts are also high in energy and don’t take up much space. I also always bring a hot drink in a thermos. Your body can be a bit tricky in that it doesn’t signal thirst in the same way when it’s cold, which makes it easy to forget to top up with water. Keep that in mind and take regular drinks. 
Last but, in my opinion, perhaps most important of all, do not forget that ski touring is all about enjoyment and having fun, so a nice Swedish fika is always welcome and will put you in a great mood when it’s time to take a break. 

What are the most common mistakes people make when going ski touring?

– Walking too quickly without taking a break, especially at the start of the day, and dressing too warm so you get sweaty when you climb are two very common mistakes. Being a bit cold just before you start walking is usually a good starting point to ensure that you are at a comfortable temperature once you get going. You should also always listen out for any signals that conditions are not good, and if anything doesn’t feel right, turn back. Many accidents on mountains could have been avoided if the people had simply turned back when something felt wrong. There is nothing wrong with turning back before getting to the top or the day’s goal. The mountain will still be there next time, I promise.