Photo: Val d'Isere Tourisme
A Guide to Ski Touring in the Alps
Issue 30 / 14 February 2020
A Guide to Ski Touring in the Alps

Burn some calories whilst exploring the mountains at a slower pace with our guide to ski touring in the Alps.

Serena Norton

What is Ski Touring?

A great way to explore the mountains at a slower pace, ski touring combines off-piste skiing with hiking and mountaineering. If you hate crowded pistes and queuing for lifts and are keen on discovering routes that are off the beaten track, then ski touring might be for you. It is however physically demanding and requires a good level of fitness. The discipline involves traversing up the mountain using skins (a piece of fabric attached to the base of the skis to stop them sliding back down when climbing uphill). For particularly tricky terrain, you may need to use crampons and ropes. Despite the physical exertion, the rewards can be huge with outstanding views and long descents making fresh tracks in untouched powder. Plus, all that effort means guilt-free hot chocolate and a hearty dinner at the end of the day.

Photo: © Alpin Centre
Ski touring in Zermatt /
Photo: © Office de Tourisme Chamonix
Chamonix ski touring  /

Things to Consider

  1. FITNESS: In order to enjoy ski touring to the fullest, you need to be physically fit and it helps to have some off-piste skiing experience. 
  2. EQUIPMENT: The basic equipment you will need includes freeride skis with touring bindings and skins, a splitboard if you’re a snowboarder, crampons and most importantly an avalanche rescue kit with a transceiver, probe, airbag and shovel. It is also important to wear lots of layers so you don’t overheat or get too cold. 
  3. SAFETY: It is always recommended that unless you are familiar with the mountains you take a guide with you who is. They will be able to advise on the best routes and will have expertise on the terrain and weather conditions. You should also consider brushing up on your avalanche knowledge.

Best Resorts for Ski Touring

ZERMATT
With its high altitude and accessible backcountry, Zermatt is one of the best resorts for ski touring. With the backdrop of the magnificent Matterhorn, it is also one of the most beautiful destinations.
There are around 45 routes to explore from challenging glacier tours to more gentle routes. Good for beginners is the climb from Fluhalp (2,616m) to Pfulwer (3,314m). The tour offers impressive panoramic views and takes around two hours to complete. More demanding is the Shwarztor Tour; a short ascent and traverse followed by an extensive freeride descent over varied terrain. Also testing is the Trjiftisattel Glacier Tour, a tour in which you traverse no less than four glaciers.

TIGNES
Making up one of the largest ski areas in the world, Tignes offers quick and easy access to an expansive amount of backcountry touring areas. Due to its high altitude, the resort offers tours well into spring and there’s even the opportunity to tour the mountains by torchlight.
The 3 Col’s is a peaceful six-hour tour with around three hours of uphill so a good fitness level is paramount. Another popular route is Vallon des Arses; an easy itinerary that starts from the Pissaillas summit. Another great area to explore is the Vanoise national park, in particular, the Col de la Sana, a tour that connects Tignes to Val d’Isere, ending in the Manchet Valley.

CHAMONIX
The Chamonix valley and Mont Blanc massif is particularly popular for ski touring with around 21 routes to discover. With snow-sure skiing and extensive backcountry, Chamonix is the ideal destination for touring.
From the Aiguille du Midi there are numerous routes to explore. One of Chamonix’s classic ski tours, the Crochues-Berard four to six hour traverse takes you through the stunning Aiguilles Rouges to the village of Le Buet. Another classic is the Col du Belvedere tour, a four to five hour route with a steep descent into the Berard valley. Other options include Glacier du Toule, a route that takes you down towards Cormayeaur, and Pas de Chevre, with an ascent to the top of Grand Montets and a descent down to the Mer de Glace and on into Chamonix.

Multiday Ski Tours

HAUTE ROUTE
This five to six day tour takes you on a journey across huge glaciers and steep passes from Chamonix to Zermatt. The tour traverses two of the highest Alpine ranges - the Mont Blanc Massif and Swiss Valais. The route covers 120 km incorporating around 6,000m of ascent and descent with remote terrain and variable snow. With correct preparation, the tour is achievable by good intermediate off-piste skiers but you should have prior day-touring experience.

CENTRAL BERNESE OBERLAND
Starting at Interlaken in the Jungfrau region of Switzerland, this week-long tour has a spectacular setting, crossing over high glaciated passes and culminating in a glorious 2000m descent down the Lotschental. Suitable for very fit, intermediate level off-piste skiers, there are various route options as well as opportunities to make descents of several summits, including 4,000m peaks.

DOLOMITES CIRCUIT
Renowned as one of the most beautiful destinations for ski touring, the Dolomites is a great place to try ski touring for the first time. Steeped in history, the range is characterised by remote valleys and towering limestone cliffs. The Dolomites are also known for exceptional cuisine and hospitality making this a charming spot for a ski touring trip.
The Dolomites has over 100 hut-to-hut routes to explore but this traditional Grand Tour takes you through the eastern half of the mountain range, beginning in Falcade and finishing in Cortina d’Ampezzo. Over the course of a week, you’ll ski through two of the most beautiful natural parks in the Dolomites, explore the Marmolada Massif (the highest mountain and largest remaining glacier in the Dolomites) and experience a trio of cultures - Italian, Ladin and German.

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