Chairlifts are cheating

April 5th, 2011 News

As skiing and snowboarding becomes more and more popular in the Alps and especially in France, so the pistes are becoming busier. Initially, people started venturing off-piste to escape the crowds. By “off-piste” we mean leaving the piste at some point near the top and returning back to the piste near the bottom of a chair lift. With the remarkable improvement in ski and snowboard technology in the last 5 years, combined with the ever increasing numbers travelling to find snow for their winter holidays, so more and more people are venturing off-piste. Now, in the popular resorts, like Morzine Avoriaz, it doesn’t take long for these off-piste routes to ‘tracked out’ following a snow fall. So, the question is, how do you now escape the crowds and quietly enjoy the mountains, in the way they were intended?

The answer lies in the Backcountry; i.e. the bits of the mountain not touched by chairlifts and pistes. Typically backcountry skiing involves some uphill travelling to reach a new valley or section of the mountain that can’t be reached by people from chairlifts with ordinary skis. Skiing uphill, I hear you cry? Why that’s impossible surely? Not with touring kit it isn’t!

At a basic level, touring kit for the skier involves:

  • Skins (velvet style fabric that stick on the bottom of the skis and prevent you sliding downhill)
  • Touring bindings (where the back part of the binding comes away from the ski allowing you to flex your foot without bringing the whole ski with you)
  • Touring boots (although not essential they help with the more technical ascents)
  • Safety kit (absolutely essential and consists of: transceiver, shovel and probe. There is no point in having any one of these without the other 2 and they will save your life)
  • A backpack (to carry your sandwiches in to eat once you have reached the top and have the whole mountain to yourself to enjoy them!)

For the snowboarder, the kit list is shorter

  • Snowshoes (attach to your snowboard boots and gives you much greater surface area and grip when climbing up hill)
  • Backpack (to attach your snowboard to so that you don’t have to carry it under your arm)
  • Telescopic Poles (to help you balance and distribute the weight on the way up. They then shrink down to put in your backpack on the way down)
  • Safety kit (again, essential)

We will cover more advanced kit lists in future blogs but for now, this gives you an idea of what you need to start travelling up hill and find parts of the Portes du Soleil, hitherto unreachable!

Once you have experienced this, you will look at the mountains in a completely different way. Instead of looking enviously at untouched powder fields in the far distance, you can now just put your touring kit on with a friend, and head off to claim your virgin powder! Of course you need to know what you are doing and learn some essential safety advice but that’s where we come in….

AliKats Mountain Holidays will be running a Backcountry Adventure Camp from 14-21st January 2012, aimed at people who are decent skiers and have done some off piste skiing but want to explore parts of the mountain where others don’t go! We have teamed up with Ellis Brigham Mountain Sports who are a fantastic retailer of outdoor kit in the UK. If like us, you love to go browsing in shops that sell lots of quality kit, then you’ll love Ellis Brigham!

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