Ski Accommodation

ALPINE TOURING

What is Alpine Touring?

In Australia?

Equipment
Equipment sites

 

Technique
Kick Turns
Traverse
Off-piste

Locations
Mt McKay
Mount Beauty
Other possibilities

Aosta Report

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What is Alpine Touring?

Ski touring using skins for assent and on the downhill using downhill skiing technique on Alpine type skis. Alpine touring is suited to steep mountains where is a long steep climb on skins, the skins are removed and a long continuous downhill return is skied. Alpine ski touring is a popular form of ski touring in the European alpine regions. In Australia little alpine touring is carried out as the lower and more undulating terrain of the Australian alps is generally more suited to touring on Nordic skis using Nordic style skiing. 

Is Alpine Touring possible in Australia?

Yes it is possible. However the opportunities for Nordic touring are far more numerous. For the high proportion of Australian ski tourers who are also downhill skiers, it represents an opportunity to combine their classic cross country skiing technique for assent with downhill technique to ski un-lifted off-piste slopes.

Equipment

The standard alpine touring equipment is a very light all terrain mountaineering ski which traditionally had a hole in the tip which mountaineer's used to haul the ski up steep slopes after them. The binding has a toe and heal release similar to downhill skis but simpler and lighter, and the heal can be released to enable a gliding action similar to cross country skiing. The boots are stiffer than cross-country heavy touring boots but more suitable for walking in, and lighter than downhill boots. However the latest plastic alpine touring boots are becoming very similar to downhill boots. For the less extreme forms of alpine touring many skiers are choosing a light weight all terrain downhill ski rather than a specialist alpine touring ski. The latest touring bindings offer step-in action, convenient manual release and ski brakes.

Thus it is now possible with the latest technology to have the one set of all terrain skis fitted with Silvetta or Fichi Diamore step-in bindings and use them for alpine touring, off-piste skiing and downhill lift skiing with minimum compromise in any of the uses. There will be a slight weight disadvantage for alpine touring. It is worthwhile considering this setup for your next ski replacement.

The latest alpine touring boots will be ideal for both touring and downhill use. However if you have a light set of downhill boots with a good walk mode then they will substitute well until boot replacement is needed.

Equipment Sites

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What about technique and training?

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Practice kick turns

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Change traverse position

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Practice off-piste

If you are already an accomplished Nordic ski tourer and downhill skier you will find will find it relatively quick and easy to add alpine ski touring to your repertoire of skills. The main skill an Australian skier will need to practice is the kick turns. In Australia you can mostly avoid the need for kick turns in resort skiing and Nordic touring. Even if you have a reasonable competence on the groomed resort slopes, it is a different matter on very steep slopes with deep snow. The steep slopes which make alpine touring so enjoyable and worthwhile cannot  be climbed with the gradual track common for most Australian Nordic touring trails. Climbing the steeper slopes which you will wish to ski down on your alpine skis will often require a severe zig-zag track with a sharp kick turn at every change of direction.  Even if you can avoid kick turns most of the time in the Australian alps it is worth developing the skill so you are prepared for the steeper slopes in Europe and other places where summits are typically twice the altitude of Australian summits.

Find a steep un-groomed slope at a resort convenient to you and practice climbing with skins attached, using frequent kick turns. The aim is to develop a fast smooth flick and turn action for the steep, deep unstable snow you will encounter in the back country.

For traversing slopes in deep soft snow with skins you need to change your posture. You maintain your grip not with your edges as on groomed slopes but with the surface area of the skins. The posture is not knees into the slope to get the best edge. This will put too much pressure on the soft snow and push it down the slope beneath you. The technique is to keep the maximum area of skins on the snow . Knees into the slope minimises the area of skins on the snow. If you find yourself slipping sideways down the slope as you traverse the slope move knees out to increase the area of skin in contact with the snow. It is better to practice this technique before venturing outside the resort boundary.

Before venturing outside the resort boundary on an alpine ski tour make sure you are comfortable with your skiing ability in un-groomed snow conditions.

Where can I Alpine Tour in Australia?

Naturally your first criteria in a location is some great slopes to ski down. Challenging with great views as well, is a good place to start. It has to be better or at least very different to the lifted slopes to make it worth all that climbing up hill. The second criteria to look for is ease of access. Ideally you need a road or access lift to a starting point which is above the snow line. Alpine touring equipment is heavier than Nordic  so you do not want to spend a lot of time carrying it to the snow line particularly for a one day outing. The third criteria is terrain suitable for skins. You do not want to be taking the skins on and off frequently as the route goes up and down for short distances. A continuous climb is best, some level sections are acceptable but preferably any downhill sections before the summit should be short and gentle.

An ideal location to start is Mt Kay adjacent to Falls Creek resort.  

Nordic telemark skiers have been using this area for years, and recently the lift company has started oversnow trips to the area.  At 2.5 km it has one of the longest downhill runs in Australia. It is very easy and convenient to get to. From the Windy Corner carpark at Falls Creek ski up the wombats ramble trail to Mc Kay road trail. Continue on Mc Kay road past the rear of Ruined Castle lift, past the link lift and headwaters lift, outside the resort boundary to Mt Mc Kay. Stay off the mountain at Mount Beauty for a weekend  and ski on Mt Mc Kay for the weekend on your alpine touring skis and what you will save in one weekend on lift tickets, Kat skiing fees and accommodation, will cover the extra cost to but alpine touring equipment compared to standard downhill equipment.

Other Possibilities.

Skion Kopie on the other side of the East Kiewa River to Falls Creek is another convenient area to access. Mount Feathertop and Mt Bogong are ideal locations for alpine touring except for the long walk to the snowline carrying your equipment. You need four to five days staying in a hut above the snowline to make the walk worthwhile. There are going to be other opportunities in Koskoisco national park accessing via Rams Head.

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Trip report on Alpine tour in the Aosta Valley Italy

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Revised: April 01, 2006