Anything great requires effort and hard work. Alpine Touring is no different with access to back country ski or snowboard lines you are under your own power. This is a wildly challenging way in which to ski far from the noise and bustle of a ski area or resort. Here it is serene, tranquil and often peaceful. Yes, it can be stormy with winds blasting at the skin track or whipping straight into your face, but then you find the quiet side of the mountain. The winds are left behind as you find your way to the top of a tree run. Here is where the fun begins.
I often get asked, “What is ski touring”? It is simply skiing under your own power. You can go in your backyard or park, front country to the top of a peak. It is all done with select gear, however. Since you are carrying the load for a better part of a day—weight matters. Touring gear is often lighter and more technical than traditional ski area gear. Alpine ski touring boots are mostly lighter and more sleek and have to pin holes on either side of the boot toe piece. This allows for the boot to enter a specific type of binding that acts much like cross country ski bindings. Of up-hill travel, the heel piece is disengaged to allow your heel to rest within or reconfigure to add height rests for steeper terrain.
Skis tend to be lighter and there are specific touring skis on the market. Choosing your ski comes down to personal preference. Mostly they are mostly slightly mid-fat to mid-fat skis (98mm - 112mm underfoot) for their weight and surface area to float through powder. A rocker ski profile seems to be more preferred for powder lift, float and smearing speed, but other ski profiles are selected based on personal preference.
There are also poles specific to this sport although standard ski poles can be used. Alpine Touring ski poles have a sleek, long grip allowing for varied terrain on either side of you. For example, if you touring up steep terrain towards skiers right then your right arm will be up-hill. The distance below your hand at the top of you ski grip will most likely be uncomfortable in this position. Sliding your hand down the pole to trek will allow for a more precise and stable pole plant.
Once you have taken your run or decided to tour up-hill in the morning you will arrive at a location to pull your skins off. What are skins? Skins are temporally applied to the bottom of skis while alpine touring. There is mohair or nylon hair on one side and gluey/sticky on the other side to adhere to your base. Mohair is a fabric made from the Angora goat whereas nylon is synthetic. It is directional meaning that it is smooth when you glide your hand down the ski from tip to tail and rough—or grippy and grainy—when you glide your hand up from the bottom. This grippy texture grabs the snow as you glide forward then step to stop and glide your other ski forward. Each skin is cut to the exact specification of the ski so that edge shows on either side for edging on steep terrain. There is a clip on the top of the skin and on the bottom to hold it on.
Once you arrive at your transition from skiing, bindings are converted to touring mode, skins are applied and you are ready to tour up-hill. Time on the skin track is good for the soul. It is a great challenge for your body to maintain momentum at a slow and steady pace. There is time for you to be by yourself in the wilderness or yak it up with good friends or family.
For the twelve of us it was a bit of both. This is a hard charging crew with all expert skiers willing to put in the effort to find great snow. There is the occasional chatter followed by utter silence. We were guided by one of the best in the business — local ski and mountain guide and friend to a few of our own — Arc’teryx athlete, Lilla Molnar. We entrusted her to create a dream week of powder skiing in one of Canada’s ski huts owned by Shelly and Martin Glasheen of Valkyr Adventures. Lilla pulled in ski guide and enduro mountain bike racer Julie Marshall as well as chef Norelle Donahue who served up boutique meals for breakfast and dinner.
We were lucky to have Martin as our host. We have spent a week with Martin before all the guys really enjoy chatting him up considering he has spent the majority of his life in the mountains. When asked, “what’s your nickname, Martin?” he paused, then responded, “Oh, Old Goat I suppose.” The room exploded. Martin is so humble he would never know what Goat means. He does know, however, that we all already think he is the Goat having lived dozens of lives around the world, raised a farm and family, and built three huts by hand in the Selkirk Mountains. He has a quick, affable laugh and when he speaks everyone listens. He is both badass and humble which is how we defined our guides, as well.
Regardless of the troubling and challenging snowpack this year and drought, we found powder every day thanks to some new snowfall and wind loading. We were thankful our guides who were educational, collaborative and kept us safe all week.
And the Wildsider prototype held up really, really well. It fit the part perfectly. It's low profile allowed for gearing up and down and was really comfortable.
Huge shout out to https://www.instagram.com/theotherjoeduffy4/ for planning and wrangling all of us up here.
Here are a few more snaps for you. I hope you plan something like this someday! Going on a big adventure is so rewarding on so many levels.