Ever seen people walking up a piste on skis and wondered what on Earth they’re doing? Welcome to the world of ski touring. This popular winter sport involves hiking up a mountain on special touring skis, before skiing back down to the bottom, preferably through fresh powder. The ski touring trend has grown exponentially in the last 10 years and once you’ve tried it, you’ll understand why.
Never done ski touring before and want to give it a try? Here is our complete beginner’s guide to ski touring in and around Innsbruck.
What Is Ski Touring?
As mentioned above, ski touring is a winter sport which involves hiking to the top of a mountain on skis and then skiing back down. Before ski lifts were invented, this was basically the only way to go skiing. But in recent years, people have rediscovered this wonderful sport and the great feeling of satisfaction you get from reaching the top of a mountain under your own steam and ‘earning your turns’!
Ski touring is typically done outside of ski areas. You don’t need lifts, so you can ski on pretty much any mountain you choose (depending on the weather conditions, the avalanche situation (read the daily avalanche report for Tirol here) and your skiing ability, of course). If you’re a beginner though, it’s best to start ski touring on the piste. That way, you get a feel for the sport before trying trickier off-piste tours.
What Equipment Do You Need For Skitouring?
Having the right equipment will make the ski touring experience so much more enjoyable. A full ski touring set can cost well over a thousand euros, so it’s probably better to rent equipment for your first tour.
Skis: Touring skis are very lightweight so you can go quicker uphill. The bindings allow you to either attach just your toes to the ski (for going uphill) or both your toes and your heel (for going downhill).
Skins: These are long pieces of fabric that are the same shape and size as your skis. One side of the skins is sticky, and you stick this side to the bottom of your ski. The other side is furry and grips the snow when walking uphill. Once you reach the top of the mountain, you remove the skins so you can have a smooth ski back down.
Boots: Probably the most important part of your setup. If your boots hurt or rub, you are going to be very miserable indeed. Make sure they fit you and also your bindings. Touring boots have a “walk” and a “ski” mode; check you are comfortable in both before leaving the rental shop.
Poles: Adjustable telescopic poles are best for skitouring, so you can make them longer for going uphill and shorter for going downhill. For your first tour, sturdy hiking poles will do, or even your normal ski poles in a pinch.
Backpack: Ski touring involves carrying lots of stuff up the mountain (like extra clothes, water, snacks, helmets etc). Make sure you have a comfy backpack that doesn’t rub.
Avalanche Equipment: You probably won’t need this for your first on-piste tour. But if you are ski touring anywhere off-piste, you should have full avalanche equipment (a transceiver, shovel, probe and maybe an ABS rucksack) with you at all times – know how to use it.
Navigation Equipment: Whether an old school paper map and compass or a more sophisticated GPS set-up, if you’re skitouring anywhere but on a piste you should carry the necessary tools to find your way of weather or visibility deteriorates, or to communicate your location accurately if one of your party has an accident and you need to call for rescue. Which leads us to…
Mobile Phone: mobiles aren’t just for taking selfies and posting #earnyourtourns stories to Instagram. Even if you leave it turned off in your backpack the whole time, when in the mountains you should always have the means of calling in mountain rescue if necessary.
What Should I Wear For Ski Touring?
The million-dollar question. Generally, while ski touring you get hot and sweaty going up the mountain, and cold coming back down. That means you need to wear and/or carry different layers of insulation, and have a backpack big enough to carry them all in.
Here are some of the layers you could take with you:
- Thermal top and leggings or base layers (highly recommended)
- Ski touring shell pants (like regular ski pants but without the insulation), either hard or soft shell
- Fleece or polartec mid layers
- Down or synthetic insulation jacket (also highly recommended)
- Thin, waterproof shell jacket
- Two pairs of gloves – lighter pair for uphill and normal ski gloves for downhill
- Sunglasses and ski goggles
- Hat or headband, scarf or buff, helmet
- Close fitting ski socks (the snugger they fit the smaller the chance of blisters)
Many people also take a spare thermal top or T-shirt, so that they can change out of their sweaty one at the top of the mountain. This stops you cooling down too fast on the way down.
On-Piste Ski Tours For Beginners Near Innsbruck
Innsbruck’s ski areas offer plenty of beginner ski tours; here are three of the best.
Ski touring up Innsbruck’s home mountain takes over well over three hours—not for beginners. But doing the “Vitalweg” section is an ideal first ski tour for beginners. Take the Patscherkofelbahn lift up to the mid-station, and then traverse across the piste to the Patscher Alm hut. Follow the path up behind the Patscher Alm and enjoy the forest scenery. After about 45 minutes, you will reach the top station of the lift and be treated to an absolutely epic view down the Inntal Valley.
To ski down, you have the choice of either a long blue or long red piste all the way back down to the valley.
Slightly longer than the Patscherkofel is the tour up the Muttereralm. Starting at the bottom station of the Muttereralmbahn lift, follow the signs for ski tourers all the way up the blue piste. Be sure to keep turning around to admire the views behind you! Bottom to top, the tour takes just over an hour. The slopes are closed to ski tourers at the weekends, however they are open until 10pm on Wednesday evenings, making this the ideal place for an after-work ski tour (don’t forget your head torch).
The Rangger Köpfl ski area in Oberperfuss offers some absolutely amazing views over Innsbruck, and a ski tour here will really connect you to nature. Take the cable car up to the mid-station. On the right-hand side of the piste you will see a separate track—this is especially for ski tourers. Follow the track up until you meet the drag lift. From here you can just hike up the side of the piste until you reach the cross at the top. This is a longer tour of almost two hours, but the effort is well worth it! For the way down, you can take the long blue piste back down to the mid-station, and then a slightly steeper red piste (or the lift) back down to the valley.
Tips For Your First Ski Tour
Some final tips to make your first ski tour a success.
- Practise taking your skins on and off and adjusting your bindings before you go. Changing your skis from uphill to downhill mode at the top of the mountains is one of the hardest parts for beginners (particularly if it’s windy and your fingers are about to freeze off). Having a practice in your living room before you go makes the process a bit easier.
- Take lots of snacks and water. Ski touring can burn up to 1000 calories an hour so you’re going to get hungry. Be sure to pack plenty of energy bars to stave off hunger at the top.
- Don’t be put off by super-fit 70-year-old Austrian men. No matter how fit you think you are, there will always be an Austrian twice your age who is fitter and faster. It’s important to just go at your own pace—slow and steady wins the race!