How to Alpine Tour

Have you ever wanted to ski outside of a ski resort? Or ski all summer long? Here's a quick guide to getting into the exciting sport of alpine touring.


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    Get in shape. Alpine touring involves a lot of climbing, often at high altitudes. Before beginning alpine touring, you should be at least a strong intermediate skier (comfortable on black diamond slopes) and in very good physical fitness.
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    Ensure every member of the party has functioning avalanche gear, a map and compass (or GPS), a whistle or radio, and an understanding of the plan.
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    Attach skins to the bottom of your skis. Most skin systems have a loop which goes over the tip of the ski, and a latching mechanism to lock onto the tail. The skin should be taut. The sticky "glue" side of the skin should press firmly against the ski, with the "hairy" side touching the snow.
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    Put on your skis, and place them in tour mode. Your heel should move freely while your toe remains firmly attached to the ski.
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    Walk by dragging your toes forward across the snow. The ski should not lift off the ground. At the end of the stride snap your leg straight, putting your heel down and putting your weight on the forward ski.
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    On gentle terrain you can turn by lifting the skis and rotating them. On steep terrain, you need to execute a kick turn. Rotate your uphill ski as far as you can, so that you are facing up the mountain with a ski pointing each direction. Put your weight on the uphill ski, then rotate the downhill ski to match it.
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    At the top of your ascent, remove your skis. Remove the skins, folding them in half so that the glue surface only touches other glue surfaces. Put your skis back on, using downhill mode, and enjoy the descent!


  • Your first few trips should be made with an experienced partner if at all possible.
  • Contact a local ski touring or mountaineering club. Oftentimes these organizations offer classes in introductory ski touring.
  • Take an avalanche safety course as quickly as possible. The best way to survive an avalanche is to not be caught in one!
  • Practice at a ski resort. Groomed ski runs are very easy to climb and fairly safe from avalanches, making ski resorts an excellent practice area.
  • Try to pick a route up a mountain that isn't too steep yet doesn't waste too much time with switchbacks. If you're having trouble, try a gentler line up the slope.


  • Never travel alone in the back country!
  • Do not travel without ropes on glaciers.
  • Do not use alpine touring boots in traditional downhill bindings, as the soft sole will prevent proper lateral release of the binding in a fall.
  • Not all ski resorts allow alpine touring. Some only allow touring when the resort is closed, and some never allow it. Check with the resort before climbing on resort property.

Things You'll Need

  • Alpine touring skis. AT skis are designed to be lighter than downhill skis. Downhill skis can be used, but they are heavier and will be harder to climb with. A narrower straighter ski will improve climbing, but a wider ski will improve powder descents.
  • AT bindings. The most popular bindings are Fritschi and Dynafit. Fritschi generally weigh more, but more closely resemble traditional downhill bindings are are easier to use. Dynafit bindings require special boots and are more focused on the uphill, rather than downhill, part of the journey.
  • AT boots. AT boots are softer and lighter than downhill boots for increased comfort. Boots range from two buckle soft boots that maximize comfort, to four buckle systems that rival downhill boots for support. Dynafit bindings require special boots that connect to the bindings. With Fritschi bindings it is possible to use downhill ski boots, however the stiffness will making touring difficult.
  • Climbing skins. Skins need to be cut to the size and shape of the ski they will be used on. The shop that sells your skins should be willing to do this.
  • Avalanche safety gear. At a minimum, this would include a beacon, shovel, and a probe.
  • Backpack. Ensure your backpack has a comfortable system for attaching skis, as you will need to carry skis up steep or rocky slopes at times.
  • Appropriate clothing. In alpine touring you will get hot from exertion, but remember the weather can force you to unexpectedly overnight in extreme conditions. Bring layers and be prepared for anything.
  • Other equipment may be needed depending on the trip. Ice axes, ski crampons, ropes, harnesses, etc., may be required for a given tour.

Article Info

Categories: Snow Skiing