Ski Touring: Getting it right – What you need to know!

The warm-up phase is over. In alpine and high alpine ski touring athletic fitness is not only more likely to be required but is an absolutely necessity.

Ski mountaineering in Mayrhofen

©Ursula Aichner

Created by Elisabeth Frontull

Of course, avalanche training and equipment are also essential. Half-hearted preparation is definitely not advised. However, in spite of this, or perhaps because of this, a ski tour around Mayrhofen is not only an amazing experience but also a personal achievement. We have summarised the most important things for you to practice and know (in addition to weather and avalanche conditions) if you want to enjoy a ski tour in the Zillertal Alps: skiing ability and the best techniques for ascent and descent. 

©Ursula Aichner

Good Skiing Ability

The Zillertal Alps are part of the main mountain chain of the Alps and stretch from the Tyrolean Wipptal to the mouth of the Krimml river in Salzburg. Many of its most famous peaks, such as the Hochfeiler, Olperer, Turnerkamp or the Hochfernerspitze, are around 3,500m high. Particularly in the spring, experienced ski tourers like to scale these altitudes which frequently involve tours of more than 1,000 altitude metres ascent. For this reason, as well as having a good energy-efficient touring technique, you should be an excellent skiier in order to cope in the backcountry. This is for your own safety: just as you have finished an exhausting climb, you have to make it safely back to the valley. Help is not always easy to come by in the backcountry. You will need to accurately assess the level of fitness required for the tour. If you find yourself exhausted when climbing the mountain, it’s best to turn around and start your descent early. Skiing down on difficult terrain, in deep snow or on rough sub terrain demands high levels of concentration and stamina. If you aren’t able to muster these things, then you will run into problems.

©Ursula Aichner

Energy-efficient touring technique

Anyone can go up, as the local saying goes. But, going up isn’t always quite so easy with skis and skins on your feet. However, the technique of ski touring is actually not that difficult to learn as it is almost the same as when you are walking normally without skis. The simplest mistake you can make is to lift your leg instead of sliding it, and this also wastes a lot of energy. It is best to ski with your feet hip-width apart and adjust your stride to the gradient of the slope. When it gets steeper, you should use your bindings to help you and -very importantly – your poles for balance and to save energy. 

‘One man’s sorrow, is another man’s joy’: another basic element of ski touring is the technique of kick turns which you must be able to do on all terrain. If you are not sure that you have fully mastered kick turns yet, then it is better to get some more practice before you head into the backcountry. Not only will you save a lot of energy using this technique, but it is also very important for your safety. You don’t want to end up sliding down the mountain sides of the Zillertal Alps. Kick turns are used when it is not possible to walk around a turn to change direction – mostly because it is too steep. You’d like to change direction but don’t know how. Basically, for a kick turn, you need to find a solid position and balance your body with your poles. Then move your uphill ski upwards and forwards, turning your foot towards the mountain so that the front of the ski now faces in the other direction. Now switch your weight to allow you to kick the downhill ski around to face the same way. And don’t fall over…

The right way to ski down

Expertise in off-piste skiing is an absolute must for alpine ski touring. Powder snow will be the least of your problems. When skiing on snow with a frozen crust or irregular, moguled terrain, you must have a feeling for the sub terrain and adjust your body position accordingly. In the backcountry it is important to distribute your weight evenly on your skis, make smooth movements and always ski with a higher tension in your body than you would need on the piste. Quite simply, speed control, ski line, choice of speed, rhythm and a balanced, low body position all need to be coordinated when skiing so that you can master any terrain. 


Still unsure?

If you would like to try ski touring but aren’t sure if you have the skills, get in touch with a mountain or ski guide. Not only do the Ski- und Alpine Schools in Mayrhofen run guided ski tours, they also offer courses to practice your touring technique and avalanche safety courses.