Free Riders or Free Loaders?


What happens when a friend of a friend arrives in resort wanting to go ski touring with you? Should you share your precious ski tour routes?

"Hi, I am a friend of Steve (name changed), arriving in Serre Chevalier, this weekend. Steve says that you could take me ski touring?"

We're having breakfast as Gav reads out the message that has just pinged on his What's App and looks at me quizzically. I reply with an eyeroll.

This isn't the first time that a friend of a friend has asked to come ski touring. And it won't be the last. As you know if you follow our ski blogs, Gav is an experienced ski tourer with many a local route and secret stash up his Gore-Tex sleeve.

But he is not a mountain guide. Mountain guides are qualified for good reason. Guiding is a professional job with years of training and working as an aspirant. They are not free, but their professional experience is priceless.

Gav has paid his dues having done countless tours with mountain guides, learning from them about snow conditions, slope aspect, avalanche risks as well as where to find the best backcountry snow. And, now, after many seasons, he knows a thing or two about ski touring in our area, sussing out when and where to go according to conditions. But should he share this knowledge with FOAFs?

So what does he do about Steve's friend? Take him ski touring, not knowing exactly how good a skier he is and whether he would be a liability? It's not like meeting a friend of a friend, FOAF to show him/her around the resort. Agreeing to go up the hill on skins with them is a much bigger deal.

If the FOAF is Swedish, there's every chance Gav will say, yes. Most Swedes are pretty good skiers and, if Gav can, also, see his/her fitness stats on Strava, then he knows they'll most likely have an enjoyable day out - and even some competition when it comes to how many metres per hour they climb.

And he has had good days with friends of friends who have even ended up friends of ours. But he has also agreed to ski tour with FOAFs who don't know how to use their safety gear (borrowed from their mate) and you really need everyone you ski tour with to be totally au fait with rescue in case it's you who is buried. And, then, there are the FOAFs who can't ski/snowboard in technical snow.

There's, also, many a free-loading free rider who doesn't grasp the etiquette of being shown the best snow via backcountry routes by someone who knows their stuff. For free. The etiquette is that they at least buy their free guide a beer, if not lunch or dinner.

More and more skiers and snowboarders want to ski tour - and who can blame them with the price of ski passes? But the beauty of ski touring is the remoteness, away from the crowds plus, of course, the thrill of scoring fresh tracks in powder. 

So you have to draw the line somewhere. If Gav shows free loaders our favourite ski tour routes, then soon everyone will know about them. One free loader might take another five free loaders on those routes next winter and, boom, there are six fresh tracks in the powder ahead of us.