No one forgets their first ski touring experience. There’s a realization that no, you don’t actually need a chair lift to ski powder. There are some things to learn, however. A lot of things actually, too much to learn in a single day. That’s probably the reason most people venture out with experienced friends or guides the first time. The following is an account of the author’s Day 1 beginner ski touring experience.
I’m not really sure what I’m doing here, but it probably has something to do with powder. I’m tired of skiing in people’s tracks all the time and I don’t mind hiking up a hill to see the view from the top. So I decided to give this ski touring thing a go.
First challenge: skins. I borrowed these from a friend who has a similar size and shape of skis as me, but man they’re hard to pull apart. I border on dislocating my shoulder as they finally separate with a loud tearing sound. I carefully apply the sticky side of the skin to the base of my skis, but it takes me four attempts before I finally have them lined up properly with my edges.
Second challenge: bindings. I’m using the AT-style binding with my regular ski boots so they clip in without too much trouble. I understand that freeing the heel lets me walk more efficiently, but I still can’t figure out how to adjust the heel raisers without reaching for them and almost falling over in the process. About five people have passed me on the skin track already, who seem to magically trigger their heel raisers with a shake of their ski pole. I shake my head and keep laboring up the hill.
Third challenge: clothing. It was quite cold when I started so I left my jacket on. Now I’m sweating so I take my jacket off. After a few dozen steps I realize I’m too cold again. I don’t have anything else to wear so I just start marching faster in order to warm up. My cotton t-shirt is soaked now and doesn’t seem to be drying out very quickly. Come to think of it, my friends did mention cotton wasn’t any good when you’re skiing.
I’m almost at the top and I’m feeling it. I keep breathing in time with my steps, but man, this is hard work. I wonder how all these people go out to do this for an entire day. I crest over the last horizon and see my friends casually taking a break sitting down, sipping water and eating snacks. I unclip my bindings and sit down for a rest myself, pulling my water bottle out of my pack and taking a swig.
“Glad you made it,” one of my experienced friends comments to me, tongue firmly in cheek.
“Yeah, I’m loving this!” I reply, faking smile despite my physical anguish after the first climb of the day.
“Guess we’d better get moving with those clouds rolling in,” says my friend, gazing at the peaks in the distance slowly getting enveloped by encroaching weather.
The party stands up and clicks into their skis and I realize I haven’t even made my transition yet. I scramble to pull the skins off my skis, get my jacket on and quickly pack away my things. They all wait patiently for me, discussing ski lines across the valley. one day I’ll ski those, too.
I double check that my transceiver is flashing its transmit light and zip my jacket up.
I nod my head.
One at a time our group of four takes off down the slope, the only tracks I can see I could count on one hand. I’m last to drop in but I still have more fresh snow around me than I’ve ever seen in my life. The downhill part of skiing I can do. I start with small turns to feel out the slope before I stretch them into wide arcs. I let out a loud “woohoo!” in sync with my friends, who are obviously all having as much fun as me. I reach to the bottom and everyone has the biggest smiles I’ve ever seen. We high five and stare back up at the slope comparing tracks.
Is that even a question? The frustration of my first skin track experience fades as I start thinking about how much powder I’ll ski on the the next run. I’m sold on this ski touring thing.
Ready to experience the backcountry for the first time? This winter MSAA is offering its new Intro to Ski Touring and Splitboarding tour. The only prerequisite is being able to confidently ski or ride intermediate (blue) runs and a good level of physical fitness. It’s also the perfect introductory field day before taking the Avalanche Skills Training (AST) 1 course.
Written By: Vince Shuley