Ski touring and backcountry skiing

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Ski touring and backcountry skiing offer additional dimensions to travelling in the outdoors.

Ski touring could be regarded as “bushwalking on skis” while backcountry skiing focuses on skiing up and descending steeper slopes.  Specialist ski gear and some additional equipment is required to safely ski steep slopes.

Departing from prepared ski trails and resorts to make fresh tracks provides new challenges,  experiences and a sense of adventure in wild and remote locations. 

Basic skills such as diagonal stride, traversing, kick turns, side stepping, side slipping and snowplough turns allow you to leave groomed trails and experience the thrills of ski touring.  Specialist ski gear and some additional equipment is required to safely ski steep slopes.

More advanced skills such as telemark or parallel turns are needed for backcountry skiing.

Day tours

Day or half-day tours are an ideal way to start ski touring as they provide a choice of the good weather and snow conditions rather than risking inclement weather and more difficult snow conditions that may be encountered during a multi-day tour. 

Day tours have the following advantages:

  • Experience skiing in varying snow conditions and weather for short periods
  • Light packs and less equipment allow more freedom of movement and energy to practice skiing techniques
  • Staying close to resorts provides proximity to refuge and assistance in the event of an emergency or bad weather

Multi day ski tours

As skills and confidence are gained, longer trips with more difficult terrain and variable snow conditions and weather can be undertaken. 

Skiing with a heavy pack is difficult.

Setting up a base camp in a sheltered location provides the opportunity to do day trips without heavy gear.

Skiing safely

Travelling through difficult terrain and in different snow conditions requires appropriate use of skiing techniques and the knowledge and judgement about when to use them. 

Errors while skiing may result in a fall. However, falling is always tiring and sometimes dangerous, so learning appropriate techniques and when to use each is very important.

Skiing with a heavy pack requires good technique and a good level of fitness.

Undertaking progressively more remote and demanding trips will enhance skills and minimise exposure to unnecessary or undue risks.

Hazards that may be encountered during ski touring and backcountry skiing include:

  • Steep icy slopes.  South facing slopes are often icy.  A fall on a steep icy slope is very dangerous.  It is important to know how to self arrest. Avoid skiing icy shaded slopes.
  • Breakable crust.  A thin layer of icy crust on the surface of softer snow makes turning very difficult and falling much more likely.
  • Avalanches.  Although not common in Australia, avalanches do occur and have resulted in fatalities.
  • Snow covered creeks.  Beware of crossing snow covered rivers and creeks – the snow can collapse resulting in a fall into water and uneven rocky creek bed.
  • Skiing in trees can be fun, but catching a pole tip on buried branches can yank your shoulder.  Ski with your hands out of pole straps.
  • Rocks and obstacles can be buried just below the surface.  Take care in soft deep snow.
  • Cornices develop where wind deposits snow on the lee side of a ridge.  They can break off without warning. Don’t ski near or below cornices.
  • Whiteout conditions make navigation very difficult.  Ski slowly guided by a GPS or map and compass.  Dropping below the tree line (if possible) makes navigation easier.

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