It is a good idea to cross reference the alpine climbing list because ski touring blends the lines between mountaineering and skiing.
One of the major enemies of the ski tourer is weight. A rucksack that is too heavy can make skiing a nightmare. You should aim to carry only what is on this equipment list for skiing, for the type of skiing you will be doing.
Try to choose a clothing system that is based on layers. With layers, you can control your temperature much more easily than if you were wearing one thick jacket. In short, for all skiing with Mark you need to choose clothes that are made for mountaineering rather than resort skiing.
Mark uses a lot of the specific gear on this list and has for many years; it works well for him. Kit with an asterisk (*) can be easily hired.
IMPORTANT NOTE: for your own safety and enjoyment, all equipment should be fit for purpose and of recent vintage. Think hard about upgrading (or renting) before you show up with out-of-date gear; while it may have worked fine in its day, the fact is that fatigued equipment failures in remote areas can be disastrous. Plus, ski-touring itineraries and conditions are now more demanding than they were in the past. Doubt it? Here’s one of the world’s best skiers using severely out-dated ski equipment for his last professional race…
For itineraries involving an overnight in the mountains.
For off-piste skiing
This type of skiing generally involves day trips, using ski lifts (or a helicopter) for uphill travel. You need the following equipment:
Modern ski touring boots are fantastic. They are far, far better for off-piste skiing than traditional ski boots. Once people have skied in them they rarely, if ever, ski in normal boots again. There are many good brands on the market and to a great extent it will depend on the shape of your foot. Scarpa, Scott, La Sportiva, and–if you want really light but stiff boots–Dynafit are all excellent. It is highly recommended that whatever boot you choose, it is Dynafit (tech) binding compatible.
Alpine skis with touring bindings*
The skis must be fitted with brakes, skins & couteaux (ski crampons). If you are buying a ski touring set-up then the Dynafit system is the best. It does take a bit of getting used to, rather like getting used to clipless pedals on a bike; but after that the benefits are huge, both on the up and on the way down.
This is used to make the skis into an A-frame in order to carry the skis on the rucksack.
Avoid telescopic poles; they are not strong enough. Your normal ones will be fine. Avoid thin carbon fibre poles; these tend to be too thin to grip half way down the shaft and they break easily.
There is an unusual ski pole option that you might wish to consider: Les Batons d’Alain. The grips of these poles are very long, and you can hold them at any point to customize your position while side-hilling or climbing. Buying the longest poles provides the significant advantage of enabling efficient skating technique in the flat sections.
40 litres capacity or less, it must have straps for carrying skis. The simpler the design the better. Dedicated ski touring sacks such as the Black Diamond Cirque 35 are excellent. I currently use a Simond Sprint 33, which is brilliant: very lightweight, versatile and inexpensive. Avoid “clam shell” design packs with zips. Top loading sacks are more reliable, weigh less and swallow more kit than their zippered counterparts.
457 kHz compatible. We use Backcountry Access transceivers. They are the most appropriate because they are the simplest to use IF you have to use one (rental included in the guiding fee).
Rental also included in the guiding fee.
Waterproof anorak with large integral hood
Patagonia lightweight alpine shell jackets are great. It is important that you use an anorak that has a well-designed hood. You don’t want a jacket with a flimsy nylon hood that pulls out of the collar.
I basically quit wearing fleece when Patagonia came out with their highly breathable Nano-air hoody jacket. They are warmer and more compressible than the equivalent weight of fleece.
Patagonia Capilene “lightweight” or “silkweight” is good, as is merino wool.
2 pairs, i.e. a spare pair.
Should have removable fleece lining so that they are easier to dry. Mountain Hardware’s Outdry membrane is excellent, as are Black Diamond Gore-tex gloves. Also consider bringing unlined leather gloves as worn by mountaineers. This is because gloves are often worn for protection rather than warmth.
Woolen ski hat or balaclava
Category 3 or 4.
Goggles with bad weather lenses
Check that the googles are flexible, as if not they are likely to crack and break in your rucksack.
Hands free drinking tubes are brilliant for skiing. These allow you to drink while on the move. Camelbak or Platypus drinking system, 2-litres is recommended. Also a normal bottle as a back up because hands-free tubes can freeze up.
There are two main choices: “P20” is good as it only needs to be applied once a day and can be bought at the Duty Free at UK airports. The best traditional sun screen is Piz Buin; they make small, flat tubes of factor 50 which are perfect.
Personal medical supplies
i.e. aspirin, prescriptions, Compeed or 2nd Skin plasters for blisters, etc. But make sure it’s all in small packages: you have to carry it.
With key local emergency numbers plugged in.
- France (PGHM): +33 4 50 53 1689 (or 112)
- Switzerland: 144
- Italy: 112
This should be small and compact and be carried around your neck. It does not matter if you have the best camera in the world. You will not be able to take photos with it if it is stuck in your rucksack. Most smart phones have very good cameras on them. However this can chew through the power and it is not usually possible to recharge the phone. So, consider bringing an…
Whichever model you get, make sure you test it beforehand. Read reviews before purchasing–some don’t work at all. Solar panels can’t hurt but if they are small enough to carry they can’t keep up on their own, either. The Black Diamond Ember is a clever small flashlight with less recharge capacity, but maybe enough for your phone?
For non-technical ski-touring
All of the above, plus:
For ski touring, there may also be a certain amount of extra kit which will be distributed around the group, such as:
- Dyneema Rope
- Ski repair kit
- Bivouac sack (group shelter)
- Stove (for melting snow)
- VHF emergency radio and spare batteries
- Emergency sled
For technical ski-mountaineering
All of the above, plus:
The harness should be fitted with a 60cm nylon sling which is then clipped into the collar of the jacket with a small locking carabiner. So, if you fall into a crevasse it is easier to grab the krab as opposed to rummaging around your groin for the attachment point. Petzl and Black Diamond are probably the best brands for this kind of climbing gear.
There are many specifically designed harnesses for ski touring which offer considerable weight savings. Companies that make lightweight ski harnesses include Black Diamond, Petzl, C.A.M.P. and Cilao. Get one where the leg loops open so that you can take it on and off without lifting your feet.
Crampons are typically heavy steel, and because we would hope to only occasionally use them, it is worth getting hold of specific ski touring crampons like the Petzl, Grivel and Black Diamond aluminum models. These lightweight crampons can’t easily be hired.