HEADING FOR THE BACKCOUNTRY? CHECK OUT OUR TOUR GUIDE AND 10 TIPS FOR TOURING
Is it because of the queues? The ridiculous price of a weekly lift pass? The epic vids of riders ripping untracked powder and hucking pillows of snow? Or is it just the natural desire for man – and woman - to explore outside the boundaries? The snow is always whiter and deeper on the other side.Whatever the reason, the trend for ski touring and backcountry riding has never been greater; not since someone thought what a great idea it would be to have power assisted ascent and the first chairlift was created in Sun Valley in 1936. Taking the pain out of gaining altitude was a genius idea until it became just a way of funnelling more and more people up to the same place to come down on the same runs – and charging extortionately for the service.
Of course, there have always been those who have shunned the resorts and taken the slower back routes to unpeopled peaks; pioneers of nether regions, who will go where no Trespass-decked punter has gone before – or after.
Jeremy Jones goes where no man - or woman - has boot-packed before
But now going ‘backcountry’ has become the quest of city dudes, whose one-week ski holiday chat and posts extend beyond the ropes that say ‘Danger’ and ‘Out Of Resort’. Selfies are taken in front of first tracks instead of black piste markers. Because, it’s no longer about which black run did you do and how big were the moguls? It’s how much vertical did you do (and did you upload it)? How much powder did you score on the descent (and did you video it)? And how gnarly were the couloirs (and did you huck it)?
Ski and board manufacturers are right there ahead of them, smoothing the way. Currently it’s a big brand race to make lighter kit – boots, bindings and skis – that makes for easier climbing but without forsaking performance on the way down. While for snowboard makers, the holy grail is the perfect board that splits into two for the ascent with the perfect bindings that adapt accordingly - and quickly - for the ride down.
Split board touring
The lighter ski tech bindings market has been dominated by Dynafit. Until recently. Now there's Fritschi, Marker and G2 right on their heels.
The latest innovation is for a lateral toe release tech binding – and hence avoiding potential knee and ligament injury from the former tech bindings releasing only from the heal.
Currently one of the most ground-breaking lightweight touring binding to combine the pin system of a tech binding with the pre-defined safety release of an alpine binding is the Diamir Vipec 12, compatible with all standard ski touring boots with inserts. The second generation model has solved some of last year's teething problems- such as, one case we heard about when the binding went into complete lock down on the boot that only a ski guide's ice axe would remove.
Diamir Vipec 12
But this is the issue with buying first generation tech kit as in any new technology. Dynafit actually withdrew the new FT2 Radical 2.0 from retail the first year (2014/15 winter season) because of technical problems, postponing the launch until the next winter.
On the ski and boot front, it's a case of the lighter the better because who wants to climb up with heavy kit on their feet? So it's lighter carbon shell boots, like skis.. Every extra pound takes more energy in the climb. For coming down, light float and a wider waist is good on fresh powder and corn. But for hitting crud, ice, wind crusted or heavy powder, a less lightweight , more aggressive set up is preferable.
It also depends on your weight, experience and style of skiing as well as the terrain. The fact is that it's nigh on impossible for one ski to be all things to all people. In all conditions.
And conditions are going to be varied as it's not just about touring in spring on corn snow. More people are opting to get out of the resort and go touring during the winter months to seek powder. This means that not only is the snow likely to be colder and, hopefully powdery, but also the conditions will be more volatile. And so carrying avy safety equipment is a given. Again the major brands are competing to produce the lightest avy bags with the easiest triggers mechanisms to release the airbags.
TOP 10 TIPS FOR TOURING
SCOTT Powd'Air and Crus'Air skis, Diamir Vipec 12 bindings. extendable ski poles
1. Lighten up as much as you can. Skis, boots, bindings, avy bag.
2. Take extendible ski poles so you can adjust height as you will need longer ones for going up and you can have one higher for traversing slopes.
3. Wear jacket and pants that have zip ventilation, a quick way to cool down on a sweat-inducing ascent.
Underarm vents featuring on a Volcom jacket
4. Use Compeed on a potential blister. At the first sign of a 'hot spot' take the time to stop and administer even mid-tour.
5. Have a packable down jacket in case you need an extra layer at the top or to put on for a mid-climb snack break.
Fjorm grey goose down jacket from Jottnar
6. Take duck tape for emergency taping but instead of weighing your bag down with a roll, wind strips around the top of your ski pole.
7. Wear two pairs of gloves; lightweight ones for skinning up and adjusting kit; warmer ones for the descent . Or 10 Peaks so you can quickly have hands free.
8. Pack cable ties and a small length or wire – very light to carry and good for running repairs eg broken binding.
9. Have an extra ski pole basket. They're easy to lose in powder and surprisingly hard to tour up without.
10. It's not a race – or shouldn't be. Appreciate the scenery, take photos and enjoy the uplines as much as the descent.
Enjoy the uplines
And stay safe. Check the terrain, snow conditions and weather. Take rescue equipment – and know how to use it.