A decade ago, a perfectly prepared piste and après-ski were the main focus for all skiers, but a trend toward a greater adventure has emerged and is now developing in the winter sports industry. The world is focusing on being fitter – the wellness tourism market was a $639 billion market in 2017 and is projected to hit $919 billion by 2022 – and the active sport of ski touring fits well into this movement. Bikers, swimmers and runners can all use ski touring as a fun sport in winter.
In addition, driving this change is the huge technological development in ski equipment which has taken place over the past five years. Skis, boots and binding options have improved dramatically, making them lighter, easier to use and stronger.
However, ski touring is not a new phenomenon: ski pioneers scaled mountains and opened hidden routes in ski regions using touring as early as the 19th Century. John "Snowshoe" Thompson, perhaps the earliest modern ski mountaineer and a prolific traveller, for example, used skis to deliver the mail at least twice a month over the steep eastern scarp of the Sierra Nevada to remote California mining camps and settlements. His deliveries began in 1855 and continued for at least 20 years. Thompson's route of 90 miles (140 km) took three days one way and 48 hours back, with a pack that eventually exceeded 100 pounds (45 kg) of mail.
Luckily, it’s a little easier to try ski touring nowadays, and Ski Safari has highlighted some of the best places to add this element of excitement to a holiday, whatever the ability.
Into the Wilderness
Ski touring is the core of this Arctic Ski Touring Adventure and the terrain is perfect to enjoy this rapidly growing discipline, both for first-timers and for those who wish to develop existing skills. The trip is aimed at confident, intermediate-and-above skiers, able to complete parallel turns on red and black runs. Explore the endless off-piste and backcountry just north of the Arctic Circle in the snow-sure resorts of Riksgränsen and Björklidenin Sweden. Riksgränsen is one of the world’s most northerly ski resorts, with a backcountry area the size of the Netherlands, and is known for its midnight sun, its magical wilderness and as a great location to see the northern lights. Skierscan gain confidence on the wide, flowing, groomed slopes before progressing off-piste in one of the most serene places in the world. The group trip will take place in March 2020, when the snow conditions are excellent and the daylight hours are longer. Included on the trip are six days of touring with qualified guides and the founder of Ski Safari, Richard Rice. Every evening, return to the Riksgränsen Hotel, a three-star-plus accommodation just a short walk from the pistes, complete with a ski-rental shop and a spa with an indoor pool on site. The hotel looks over the sparkling Vassijaure frozen lake, and has bubbling hot tubs available for winter-sports enthusiasts to completely relax in. Those after a bit of après-ski can head down to the hotel’s underground bar, which sees many live bands perform.
Wild in Whistler
Whistler’s winter playground just got bigger, waaaay bigger. Extremely Canadian, Whistler’s renowned Steep Skiing Clinic founders have a legendary programme into the backcountry and invite guests along for the ride. Experience mind-blowing guided skiing with professional coaches who will share techniques and tactics to hone skills, boost safety knowledge, and heighten awareness in big-mountain terrain. Whistler is the ideal place to try backcountry for the first time with customised ability camps. The aim is to challenge, to test and to push – within comfort limits – to get the best from everyone involved. Whistler is deservedly up there as a must-ski resort, with two mountains offering a huge ski area with enough variety to suit every standard of skier and snowboarder. It’s no coincidence that Whistler is repeatedly voted the number one ski resort in North America.
Born to be Wild
Jackson Hole continues to shine as one of the world’s most compelling resorts for intermediate, advanced and expert skiers, and even with continuing development, still maintains its true spirit, authenticity and Wild West ambiance. Possibly America’s most nail-biting run, Corbet’s Couloir is a must for all experts who travel to Jackson Hole. Jackson Hole Mountain Guideswelcome intermediate and advanced skiers and snowboarders who want to learn to tour in terrain beyond the regular trail map and discover untracked slopes, secret runs and the best snow conditions in Jackson Hole. A day with one of their guides is a personalised experience that includes touring with the help of the lift system, hiking, snow science, and downhill riding.
Alternatively, head to Teton Pass or into Grand Teton National Parkwith Teton Backcountry Guides. Make the most of the wilderness and sign up to the Yurt Trips. The secluded on-mountain yurts, at 8,700 ft, provide unparalleled views, exceptional backcountry access with guaranteed first tracks (with a qualified guide), plus prepared meals and personal porters. To gain the confidence to start touring alone, Teton Backcountry Guides also offers three day Skill Camps. The Backcountry Skills Camp will focus on route-finding and navigation skills, snow stability, weather, rescue, what to carry in a backpack, nutrition and powder skiing technique. Participants must be in good physical and cardiovascular condition, have solid downhill ability, and be able to hike and ski four to five miles in a day. No backcountry experience or avalanche education is necessary. For the ladies who want to experience a Women's Ski Camp, this includes four days of female-led skiing and instruction and American Avalanche Association’s Kate Koons provides an inspirational and supportive backcountry skills camp. The camp is limited to six women with two female guides ensuring plenty of individual instruction.
Freshies in Furano
Furano in Japan is fast becoming the hottest eastern destination to ski powder without the crowds. It offers top-notch piste skiing with access to some mellow off-piste terrain. Furano is a great base, as the active smoking volcano of Asahidake, providing a vast number of ungroomed slopes, is a short drive away. Tomamu and Kamui,also close by, give access to some fantastic ski touring and untracked powder. The slopes of Furano are quiet and the average nine metres of snow that falls is lighter and drier than resorts in western Hokkaido. Ski Safari has been working with Whiteroom backcountry guides for years because they showcase the best Hokkaido has to offer, venturing to some of the highest peaks and most exciting terrain. The certified leaders have a wide range of experience between them, ensuring guests can make the most of the best conditions possible in Japan's famous powder. As ski touring fever grips Japan, it is always advisable to pre-book a ski touring guide and equipment.
Authentic Adventurous Andermatt
Andermatt in Switzerland is nestled in the heart of the Alps, where the weather comes from all points of the compass and deposits huge amounts of snow across the resort. Home to Gemsstock mountain, which towers above the resort at 3,000 metres, there are challenging slopes plus a lot of great off-piste runs that can be done without the need for a helicopter. All of these are easily reached by lifts, with a small hike or with the use of skins. The ‘Giraffe Couloir’ gets plaudits as one of the best eight-kilometre descents down the spine of Gemsstock and is usually saved for the last run of the day with a guide, as the fluffy snow here tends to stick around. Andermatt’s terrain definitely suits the more experienced and adventurous skiers; grab a guide and skins and with a few short climbs find incredible open bowls, cliffs and real “steep and deep” corridors opening to both north and south faces. The recent news was the linking of the lift-systems of Andermatt and Sedrun, a £104 million, eight-year project that was finally completed in December 2018, creating the largest ski area in central Switzerland.