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Essential equipment for ski mountaineering: what you need to know
Whether you prefer short, fast outings to replace the usual job, long hikes or descents on fresh snow, every ski mountaineer needs the right equipment. Follow the advice of our experts
In the practice of ski mountaineering the choice of tools and equipment is essential, regardless of the type of itinerary chosen and the level of the participants in the excursion. In fact, this type of activity takes place in mountains, often in severe conditions, probably in an area where the is poor telephone coverage and little presence of man-made structures to rely on.
For all these reasons, becoming autonomous and self-sufficient in all situations is of primary importance. It is therefore strongly recommended to not limit oneself in the preparation of the backpack in an attempt to cut down on weight or bulk, as it is not possible to predict with absolute certainty what will happen once boots are put on. In this case, we are not just talking about the avalanche rescue kit such as transceiver, shovel and probe, but also about replacement clothing in the event of a sudden change in temperatures or food and energy drinks indispensable in situations in which energy levels - and consequently the lucidity of the ski mountaineer - start to run out.
Whether it is fast outings or more technical and demanding itineraries, there are some things that should never be missing in the basic equipment of a ski mountaineer. Before going specifically into detail for each activity, let's make a list of what cannot be missing in the kit of a serious ski mountaineer:
- Skis, boots, poles and skins
The real essentials for a ski mountaineer. As we will see below, the structure and type of skis and boots can change a lot depending on the itinerary chosen, even if the ski length - skier height ratio remains unchanged. As for the skins, they must necessarily be combined with the ski, always preferring those with tip-tail coupling.
- Avalanche rescue kit
Safety first of all: regardless of the type of excursion, whenever we leave the beaten track, the kit consisting of Artva, shovel and probe must always be present. However, this alone is not enough: it is in fact necessary to know how to use this gear, be sure that all items are functional, and position them strategically: shovel and probe in the backpack, while it would be advisable to keep the Artva in contact with the body, perhaps in an inside trouser pocket, in order to avoid loss in the event of an avalanche.
- Small repair kit
Among the various unforeseen events to be considered there is also the accidental breakage or failure of a technical element. It could be the boot, the hook of the skins, or the breaking of a pole. In any case, having some rubberized adhesive tape with you and some plastic straps could allow us - if not to continue the excursion - at least to return to the base safely.
- First aid kit
From the simple blister to the deeper cut, having the essentials for basic medical is also of primary importance. In addition to gauze and plasters, these kits are often also equipped with isothermal blankets, which are essential while waiting for a rescue team to arrive.
- Clothing suitable for temperatures and climatic conditions
In this case too we will see how clothing will change according to the type of activity planned, but generally preparing for a ski excursion involves the choice of technical, versatile and lightweight garments, to be modulated according to the duration of the output, temperatures and climatic conditions. The classic dressing in layers, so as to be able to modulate one's clothing according to the dispersion of body heat during the different phases of the activity, therefore remains a good rule.
Discover The La Sportiva ski-mountaineering collection.
- Shell, over pants, gloves, heavy jacket
We may not need them when we first set off, but they could become indispensable at any time: whether it is due to a sudden change in weather, a passage on the ridge or the simple descent phase, being able to modulate your clothing by adding a thermal or insulating layer is really important. Waterproof trousers and jacket, preferably with full-length zippers to allow entry with the boot, gloves and thermal jacket, are essential items to always keep in the backpack, as well as a change for socks and t-shirt. Since they will be used only during a specific part of the excursion, it is better to prefer less bulky and lightweight garments.
- Ski mask or sunglasses
Sometimes it is thought that sunglasses are only necessary on days of good weather, but never a supposition could be more tendentious: reflecting the sunlight, the snow tends to dazzle the eye even on less clear days. Furthermore, other factors contribute to adding to the light with the risk of getting to the end of the day with tired, red eyes, or the cold and the wind, which considerably reduce eye tearing. In overcast conditions, it is still recommended to use protective lenses, perhaps lighter.
- Food and energy drinks
As with any excursion, for ski mountaineering too, it is necessary to calibrate one's energy resources based on the activity that will be carried out, the presence of recovery shelters or huts, and the duration of the excursion itself. In any case, it is better not to be too frugal with your supplies: some gels or energy bars are always handy in your backpack, because you or someone on the trip may need them. Similarly, in addition to a bottle of water, carrying a thermos containing a hot, sweetened drink could be useful, especially for longer outings.
Whether it's for a training session on the track, or for a longer and more demanding excursion, the helmet is one of those life-saving elements that are very often overlooked. Indispensable during the descent and in the case of more technical outings even uphill, the helmet should always be part of the equipment of a ski mountaineer. Discover our offer of mountain helmets.
- Other technical equipment
If the planned outing includes overhead passages on the ridge, crossings of icy sections or technical approaches, it will be necessary to include crampons, ice axes, harnesses, ropes and carabiners in your backpack. For multi-day or particularly long outings, it is also advisable to have a headlamp, a power-bank and a GPS device with you to help orient yourself in case of loss or, in the most extreme situations, know how to give more information to rescuers and always be visible and available
Having made this general premise, however, it is essential to underline that a ski mountaineer should be able to decline his own equipment and gear based on the situations and activities that he will perform. Not all excursions are the same and therefore not all require the same type of equipment.
Training (80% uphill 20% downhill)
By training we mean all the outings and excursions aimed mainly at sporting practice, in which time trial and altitude difference are among the most important factors. In fact, both in terms of timing and approach, it could be considered as a winter alternative to the normal jog or bike ride that can be practiced during the rest of the year.
The centrality of the sporting aspect and physical effort suggests the use of very lightweight, high performance equipment, both for skis and boots as well as in the choice of clothing. Given its high aerobic component, we recommend lightweight, breathable garments, able to guarantee the right protection without compromising comfort and mobility. Given the short duration of this activity, which usually ends within a few hours, the basic equipment can be significantly reduced compared to normal standards, especially when going leaving the slopes.
Gear and equipment for training:
- LIGHT RACE OR RACE DERIVATION SKIS:
65/70 mm insole, the narrowest and lightest skis on the market.
- 100% MOHAIR STRAIGHT CUT SKINS:
skins with hook only at the tip to be removed without unhooking the skis, thus saving as much time as possible.
- BOOTS IN CARBON OR COMPOSITE MATERIALS:
extremely light weight and freedom of movement, the state of the art now on the market. Absolute walking mobility and convincing downhill performance even at high speeds.
- MINIMAL BACKPACK:
useful for stowing only the strictly necessary, light and very snug
- AVALANCHE SELF-RESCUE KIT:
necessary only for exits off the groomed slopes.
- SLIM FIT CLOTHING, WITH GREAT EASE OF MOVEMENT AND BREATHABILITY.
- DRINKS AND ENERGY FOODS WITH RAPID ASSIMILATION.
the one with double homologation recommended: mountaineering and skiing
Ski Touring (50% uphill 50% downhill)
Ski mountaineering is ski touring par excellence. A longer and slower activity, that starts off the beaten track and often allows you to contemplate suggestive landscapes and peaks, impossible to reach otherwise. In this type of activity, both technical and environmental difficulties increase, consequently the knowledge of those who practice it must be greater.
In addition to mastering the techniques that allow you to get on and off safely, it is essential to know the main aspects of snow science (find out more on MySnowMaps)
The duration of the trip is certainly longer than for those who practice ski mountaineering for training, so much so that the excursions can often be divided over several days. Consequently, the choice of equipment is crucial to be able to face every condition in the best possible way and safely, and thus guarantee a peaceful ride. Backpacks therefore become heavier and larger because they will have to contain more material, while skis and boots are more structured in order to overcome all snow conditions and let us fully enjoy our descents.
The clothing changes in turn, resulting in a softer fit, more protective and more versatile: we will therefore find more padded trousers and jackets, technical sweatshirts and water-resistant shells.
Depending on the type of itinerary it may be necessary to carry ice axes and crampons, or other safety material in order to safely tackle short climbing sections or to descend particularly steep slopes. The avalanche rescue kit remains indispensable in any case.
Equipment and equipment for ski mountaineering:
- STRUCTURED AND MULTI-PURPOSE SKIS:
from 80 to 95 insole, quite light uphill and performing downhill especially in difficult snow conditions
- SHAPED SKINS ON THE SKIS:
a mix of nylon and mohair (where possible choose tip-tail coupling in order to avoid accidental detachment).
- STRUCTURED AND RELIABLE BOOTS:
two/three hooks, boots that guarantee good uphill mobility and excellent downhill. The right balance for use with previously mentioned skis.
- MEDIUM SIZE BACKPACK SUITABLE FOR TRANSPORTING SKIS AND EQUIPMENT FOR AVALANCHE AND SAFETY RESCUE:
often also equipped with an ABS system (these backpacks must be specifically designed for sports, therefore have a ski holder, compartment for shovel and probe and especially be in waterproof materials).
- AVALANCHE SELF-RESCUE KIT:
avalanche transceiver, shovel, and probe. Essential tools on which you should never save money during the purchase. They must always be kept updated and checked and ready for use.
- SOFT, MULTI-PURPOSE AND ROBUST FIT CLOTHING:
in ski touring the clothing becomes more classic and you dress in layers to always be at ease despite the various temperature changes. You wear hard shells and softshells, down jackets, and Primaloft. In short, you need to be ready for anything.
- TECHNICAL EQUIPMENT SUCH AS PEAK, CRAMPONS, ROPE, HARNESS, SNAP HOOKS:
not necessary in all situations but which can often be indispensable if the conditions encountered are more severe than those estimated.
Free Ride or Free Touring (20% uphill 80% downhill)
Free touring is certainly the most emerging practice of recent years, in which the pleasure and freedom of descent is preferred to the effort of climbing. Thanks also to the help of mechanized systems or heliskiing where possible, the amount of difference in height traveled uphill compared to that skied downhill is usually considerably less. Often this activity is chosen by those coming from the world of alpine skiing or in any case by those whose main goal is to ski a beautiful line to the maximum of their abilities.
The grounds on which this activity can be carried out are the most extreme and consequently also the knowledge that the practitioner must possess are manifold. It is necessary to know how to read the slope and understand any critical issues caused by the danger of avalanches, to be able to find the softest and most dusty snow to ensure a greater quality of the descent, to be familiar with any safety maneuvers to descend from any channels or slopes too steep to be skied. In short, this activity that can start from the classic off-piste in ski compressors goes up to the most extreme and adventurous freeride, and therefore to an activity that requires great experience and knowledge in order to be practiced safely.
The equipment used for these purposes is the best performing on the market in terms of ski performance: wide and long skis for excellent flotation, rigid four-lever boots similar to those used in alpine skiing, with only the mobility variant ankle for short uphill runs. The backpacks are capacious but with reduced volumes so as not to unbalance the skier too much during the descent, and often equipped with ABS or Avalung system. Clothing tends to be wider and more comfortable, and the materials are more resistant and protective because, as well as for the choice of skis and boots, in this case too much weight is not such a significant factor. Helmet and mask are essential to avoid falls that will not fail.
Freeride tools and equipment:
- WIDE, LONG AND STRUCTURED SKI:
over 100 mm insole, here it is not a question of the weight on the climb but the buoyancy and skiability on the descent.
- STRUCTURED BOOTS:
4 hooks. Very similar to alpine ski boots, with the walk option and rubber sole.
- ABS BACKPACK OR SIMILAR:
here we have backpacks that are snug and stable on the back. Not too big, especially suitable for carrying safety equipment.
- AVALANCHE RESCUE KIT:
avalanche transceiver, shovel and probe. Essential tools on which you should never try to save money. They must always be kept updated, checked and ready for use.
- SOFT AND COMFORTABLE CLOTHING:
We usually start off by wearing most of our garments. The ideal top layer is a hardshell that guarantees waterproofness, resistance and protection.
- Possible SAFETY EQUIPMENT, HARNESS, ROPE, CRAMPONS:
especially suitable if the terrain proves too technical and difficult and you need to progress safely.
- SKINS (essential to have in the backpack if we have to go up a slope or leave a flat valley.
Get ready for your ski trip without forgetting anything: discover and download our basic equipment list for ski mountaineering now! Skimountaineering Equipment Checklist