Ski touring: what is it?

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Ski touring combines ski mountaineering and traditional mountaineering techniques to ascend a peak and ski down. It is popular in Europe and uses equipment from both activities. Its origins are debated, but it is now a firmly established sport. Ski tourers use skis with a converted foot binding, ropes, ice axes, crampons, and other mountaineering essentials. Refuges offer rest stops, and the activity is a great physical and mental workout. Ski touring is physically demanding and requires good physical condition.

Combining elements of ski touring and traditional mountaineering, the sport of ski touring involves scaling a desirable peak using traditional mountaineering techniques and then achieving the descent by skiing down the mountain. Most of the equipment required for ski touring is also used in the other two activities which form the basis for this combined sport. While the sport is enjoyed in many parts of the world, ski touring is particularly popular in Europe.

The exact origins of ski touring are sometimes debated. Some argue that the very first ski mountaineer is John “Snowshoe” Thompson, who during the 1850s was known for using ski techniques along with mountaineering gear to traverse the Sierra Nevada mountain range and deliver mail to California two times a month. Others place the conversion of Thompson’s methods from a method of travel to a sport during the latter part of the 19th century, with German and Nordic resorts alternately cited as the earliest true examples of ski touring as a sport.

Regardless of origins, there is no denying that ski touring is now firmly established as a popular sport. The process usually involves using skis set up with a converted foot binding that makes it easier to move over rough terrain. This hitch can be loose or tight, depending on the ground conditions currently covered. To augment the skis, ski tourers will also bring along ropes, ice axes, crampons and other essentials used in mountaineering.

Ski mountaineering often takes place moving over terrain dotted with way stations, often called refuges. Huts offer skiers a place to rest and prepare for the next leg of the journey. Ideally, the activity will end with the climber reaching the summit of the mountain and then being able to ski back to base with little or no interference. The combination of climbing and skiing down the valley is considered to be a great physical workout, as well as mentally refreshing. However, it is important to note that ski touring is a very physically demanding sport and should not be practiced by anyone who is not in good physical condition.

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