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.
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.
What about technique and training?
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
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
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.
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.