Special equipment for the backcountry skiing

For the ski mountaineering it is necessary a special equipment. On the skis is mounted a skialpinistic binding, which has a free heel, while uphill, with an adjustable restrains and on downhill it just turns up to the safe regime of bindings (same like classic alpine skis). For uphill we put a climbing skins on the base. Before, it were seals skins and today they are synthetic. Those will be putten off before the downhill. Boots for backcountry skiing are very light, they allows you to bend your ankle comfortly and they can be uses in the mode for walk or ski.

On icy or frozen snow we are putting a crampons on skis, cold „harscheisen“- they are basicelly climbing crampons on skis. When it’s not possible to climb up a steep slope on the skis, we can pinch the skis and poles on a backpack and climb up with ice axe in a hand and on boots we have crampons. It is conveniently to use telescopic poles, because a longer mode is better for ascent and shorter for descent.

On the ski tour always with a backpack

In a backpack, which is often cold avalanche backpack (with airbags), has a skialpinist, except a thermos or camelback, some snack, replacement clothes and mostly an emergency equipment for rescue from the avalanche – shovel and probe, on your body you have an avalanche transceiver, cold beeper.

When a trip leads through a glacier, there is threatening the fall into the glacier crack. For that there is another equipment: ice axe, crampons, rope, sitting harness, carabiners, auxiliary cords, ice screws, rope clamp, pulleys etc.

For active ski touring is necessary to have some knowledge and skills – to be able to skiing on average at least, have a physical condition, control walking in mountainous terrain, to be able to assess the real avalanche risk, to manage the planning of the ski tour, to perfectly control the orientation in the mountain terrain and the map, to acquire skimo equipment that corresponds to capabilities and priorities and routinely control it.

History of skialpinism

Beginnings of the skialpinism are same like beginnings of skiing in Scandinavia. Not by chance an old wooden skis has the „smoker“ on a tip, on which the belts of sealing leather were attached. A first skis werent’t for fun at all, but mostly for transporting in snowed lanscape.

Until the first half of the 20th century, skiing was slowly changing in sport and the greatest boom occurred in the sixties and seventies, of the last century. Massed on the slopes and only a few enthusiasts were skiing up the hill. The first races were slowly being created, and a lot of admirers of skialpinism were recruited from climbers.

Over the years, equipment has been improved and hikes on belts have been gaining popularity. In Europe, especially in the Alps, Scandinavia and North America, in recent years, skitouring is been pushing out of free slopes, until recently a dominant, telemark.

Today, the equipment is on the top level, there are using a hi-tech technologies and materials, even there is a sophisticated methodology of backcountry skiing and avalanche prevention.

Disciplines of backcountry skiing

Backcountry skiing is divided into a several categories: racing skialpinism, classic skialpinism (more aptly skitouring), expedition ski mountaineering, freeride, freeride touring, extreme skiing and fitness skitouring.

Racing skialpinism/skimo

Skiers try to cross the set track as quickly as possible, and they only need a few seconds to handle climbing skins. The equipment must be super-light but also fully functional. They race in individuals, pairs and trikes on different types of tracks.

Classic ski touring
The most widespread form of backcountry skiing. It's actually hiking on skis, but you change your hiking shoes to ski boots and skis with climbing skins. Usually it is a slower and longer ascent and your reward is a great descent. It runs in the form of star tours from a mountain huts or multi-day traverses from hut to hut, called haute route.

In most cases, there is not much danger, no extreme skiing, no climbing. For the fitness and technically competent skiers, this is the ideal sport. Especially for those who are already bored on the slopes or have already reached the ceiling of their skills.

Having lightweight, high-quality equipment saves power while making a ride more enjoyable. It's not a bad idea to get the best equipment. Choosing this is not easy, so it can helps you a tool filter for each of the nine categories.

Expedition ski mountaineering
This concept of skiing is about climbing mountain peaks or other challenges. In some way, the racing concept is transferred here, just quickly up and down in the mountainous terrain. The royal discipline of this concept of skiing is the 8,000 m.a.s. peaks-expedition. It is right here to spend the shortest time in the danger zone and this reduce the risk. Speed is equal to safety there. At the same time, it is important for the skier to be able to rely on the most lightweight equipment on a variety of terrain.

Freeride
In the forefront of freeriding enthusiasts' interest is the quality of the downhill. Driving with intact powder is much more than just the conquest of the top for them. Very wide skis (more than 100 mm under bindings) will provide for a sufficient buoyancy and therefore comfortable ride with long turns. If it is not far to the selected downhill runs, the freeriders runs from the chairlift station, to the tracks, on the skins. Mostly it is a traverses and small elevations. The use of the helicopter also isn’t an exception. Planning of downhill skiing is of great importance, mainly due to the assessment of avalanche dangers. Even lighter equipment for freeride makes it easy to ride in difficult snow and off-road conditions.

Freeride Touring
It can be compared to the surfing at the sea. You swap the water in the snow and the horizontal sea in the vertically. „Freetourer" is a downhill oriented skialpinist, who enjoys a great ride in powder as a reward for an exhausting uphill. It is not about reaching the top cross, but the beginning of the downhill. The equipment is more downhill (wider ski with excellent driving characteristics) but also with "reasonable" weight.

Extreme skiing
A skier must get to the beginning of the downhill by his own strenght, usually using the climbing technique. The general boundary of the extreme is meant, the sloping slope 45 °, therefore 100% descending. Simply said: extreme downhill is, when the person mustn’t fall, because it is so steep, that potencional fall couldn’t be stopped.

Fitness skitouring
In the last few years it has been a growing discipline. It takes place in unpretentious terrain such as forest roads or slopes. Most often in the evening, after work and during the moonlight, with the headlamp turned on, without the need to use avalanche equipment. This is mainly about conditioning. The advantage of skis for skimo is virtually unlimited movement in rugged, snowy terrain. This can not be said about popular cross-country skis. So run twice up the hill, top up in the hut to refresh ... well isn’t that a beautiful evening? Absolutely better than a breathless fit.

How to say skialpinism in other languages?

Mountain hiking on skis, shortly ski touring, is called by a few more names. Let’s introduce, how is this most complex mountain activity called in other languages:

Englishbackcountry skiing, skialpinism, ski mountaineering - skimo, ski touring, mountain skiing, alpine touring.

Germanskitouring, skialpinismus, skibergsteigen.

French - ski de randonnée, ski-randoski de montagne, ski alpinisme.

Italy - scialpinismo.

Espain - esquí de montaña, esquí de travesía 

Czechskialpinismus or shortly and popularly skialp.

Slovak - skialpinizmus, skialp.

Slovenian - turno smučanje.

Polish - skialpinizm

Norwegianskiturer.

Swedishturåkning.

Finnishhiihtäminen.

Dutchtoerskiën.

Some usefull links:

Everything essential about backcountry skiing equipment

Complete infoservice on ski tours, mostly in the Alps