Like so many things this year, the feasibility and availability of a normal ski break has been thrown in the air.
One of the alternative options that has had a significant boost in popularity this winter is ski touring. Rather than tracking and racking up piste kilometres, the hot stat now is how many vertical meters you have climbed under your own steam.
I for one must admit I was very much caught in this wave back in November. Fearing the lifts would not be turning, I set about trying to work out how it was possible to still get the thrill from the white stuff.
With no personal experience and equipment flying off the shelves, I bought some old touring skis, skins and boots off eBay and researched how to get started. It turns out there are many options out here in Switzerland, from trial days to multi day tours. And this is where my love affair with touring began.
Maybe it’s worth explaining some of the major selling points of touring.
Firstly, unlike most skiing holidays, you can consume Tartiflette, Raclette and Fondue guilt free. When you’ve put in a big stint you definitely need the fuel.
Secondly, your impact on the environment is significantly reduced. Even more so if you use the efficient public transport system here in Switzerland.
Moreover, you get a real appreciation for the mountains which must be experienced to be believed. Hiking up untracked powder fields and shredding lines in awesome, wild, empty terrain is all part of the game.
What you will find on a ski touring holiday is peace. You cannot help but clear your mind of worries. Touring the mountains on foot in the majesty of nature does both your body and mind untold good. You will come back fitter, lighter and ready to hit the ground running.
When eventually the travel bans are lifted and the dust begins to settle, there is one final guarantee. Even if the lifts are not turning you will still be able to go ski touring.
There is one big but. The perils of skiing off-piste. You can reduce the risk by taking a few sensible steps.
This starts with educating yourself, having the right equipment and most importantly knowing how to use it.
I would suggest you book a course and recommend the Mammut Alpine School. You can take both courses and multi-day tours from the 5-day Urner Haut Route between Andermatt and Engelberg, to the beginner’s course on the Furkapass which I took earlier this month. Due to the popularity Mammut are planning more courses in English next winter. Avalanche rescue kit and ABS airbag are included as part of the course.
On my course, we travelled to the Furkapass, just outside of Andermatt, and made famous by the James Bond film Goldfinger. We stayed two nights in the Hotel Tiefenbach, an island of civilization cut off by the snow in a wilderness of rock and ice.
Here you can find other great places to stay in Andermatt.
From there we explored glaciers and rocky summits, took in views of the Matterhorn 90km away and tore down empty powder filled bowls.
Part of the course also involved training for an avalanche rescue which is an invaluable piece of experience if you want to ski the deep stuff. The guides were incredibly professional and looked after us well. I left on Sunday night tired and hungry, hungry for much more.
Want to refresh post-Covid? Give touring a go, you never know, you may just fall in love with it too.
Have a listen to my feature on the Mammut backcountry course in Andermatt on The Ski Podcast below:Last updated on Mar 2, 2021
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