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Packing for Ski Touring

The cold days are here, and if the crowd down at the ski shop last weekend is any indication – there are going to be a lot of new ski-tourers out on the hill this winter. There must have been about seventy people there all told – and while the shop does have a large and well-stocked alpine section, more than 80% appeared to be searching for a ski touring set up.

My wife was a bit unhappy about the prospect of sharing the pow with a whole slew of newbies, but in my view, its better that folks learn to love the beauty of the winter mountains by climbing them than to have them long for more powder sitting on chairlifts. Chairlift riders, after all, often want MORE chairlifts for them to ride – and the situation with regards to ski touring in Austria is such that I don’t believe that any new lifts are needed, nor are they sustainable in the long term. A large and active community of ski-tourers is the best defence I can think of against the ecroachment of destination-resort-skiing in my home mountains.

Powder will always be available to those who are willing to go higher, and further, to get it – as long as they don’t bulldoze the whole range to make another real-estate ponzi-scheme….

Quite a lot of those buying were buying the whole kit. Boots, bindings, skis, poles – some even clothing. Airbag packs were everywhere, and they are rightly becoming standard equipement – even though I don’t yet use one myself. I find them still much too heavy and have been carrying an Avylung pack from Black Diamond for a couple years now instead. (but I may pull the trigger soon. The wieghts are coming down….) A ski touring day pack is one of the most important pieces of kit you will buy.

So – while on the subject of wieght – it was clear to me that quite a few of these new guys were buying all kinds of ski touring equipment – some of it quite expensive, and possibly very unneccesary. More than one had collected everything on their ski touring equipement list, and were trying to fit it all into a 35 liter pack to test if it fit.

This is all too much stuff – I thought, and I’ve seen the scenario play out many times over the years where new guys try and carry all kinds of (on their own) useful stuff on their backs and they are slow and uncomfortable as a result. Some do manage to carry all the wieght, but fiddling with all their gear makes them slow, which is a pain for the group, and, in classic alpine phliosophy, actually makes them less safe, because their pokeyness exposes them to risk for longer periods of time when they do go out. This is true even for strong, fit skiers who still carry too much and have to take care of it all – so it makes sense to take a good look at all your gear and live by the philosophy “less is more”. Giving ski touring equipement advice is a business frought with trouble, but….

Keep in mind that I ski tour in Europe, where the distances to civilization are generally small, and evac is nearly always available. I don’t sleep in tents, and if I did, I would look stupid, because I would be doing it within sight of a hut.

the difference between an 18 liter and a 35 liter pack is huge!

I’m known for being a bit of a minimalist – so here’s what I carry on a typical day tour:

On my person:

this is is the stuff I am wearing – skins go in your jacket to keep them warm and sticky. Always. Hood is used instead of a beanie. Hat is for the sun, Wrap sunglasses are enough.

In my pack or somewhere attached to me:

All this easily fits into an 18 Liter pack, with room to spare!

missing my phone – and I don’t really take extra gloves. That jacket is a vest with synthetic fill. Warm enough for Europe and a run back to the valley if I gets really nasty.

I usually start out with my jacket on, and (this is a thing kind of unique to me) with my vest on the OUTSIDE of my shell. I also choose vests and puffys with hoods, and I will often have these up over my hat. I don’t start out cold – despite many people’s opinion that you should, because I tend to get really cold hands that way – and if they get cold, it can be tough getting them to warm up. (little tip: lower your poles….like really low – this can help!)

Wearing my gear like this lets me later quickly stop, spin my pack off, unzip my vest and just throw it in my pack. No undressing and re-dressing to get to that “mid-layer”. I often don’t even take the vest off if it is cold, and find I can regulate my temperature with the hood quite well. The only time I take off my shell is if it gets really warm – and I even only open it to put my skins inside near my belly when I transition. (I really like ski-touring jackets with pockets made just for this.)

Advantages for me:

I am pretty fast. Many are faster on the up due to not being old, or sometimes vitriolic fitness, but a lot of my speed comes from an efficient stride AND the fact that I never have to futz with my gear. This makes a huge difference, and I often beat nineteen-year-old kids in perfect shape up the hill because of it. Not only do I get up first, I get down first, and I am fresher when I do because I didn’t waste a bunch of energy fiddling around. Some of this is learned, and you can’t inject expirience, but excessive amounts of gear seems to be the norm these days – and by getting rid of it, you’ll rock like a pro from the trailhead out.

Notable things I leave out:

These are some of the things I see almost everybody carrying that I think are unneeded generally

Thats probably most of it. Always be looking at your pack and thinking about how to lighten your load. Think critically about all items, even so-called safety equipement and try to make a reasoned judgement about its real usefulness to you. Remember that carrying anything, anything at all, has a cost – and that you – and your friends, pay it together. Lastly – if you’ve never used it, and its not a safety item that you don’t want to use – get rid of it…..if you do end up missing it, you can always put it back in next time.

Happy ups! If you liked this post – click on the “follow” button and share it! I’d love to hear what you bring along in your ski touring rucksack!

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