How To Get Into Ski Touring


, by Charlie Boscoe

The prospect of ski touring can seem intimidating even to experienced backcountry skiers because there is seemingly so much knowledge and skill required to confidently and safely move through mountains in winter. Most people who'd like to tour know that avalanche danger exists, that navigation is essential, and that you need some rescue skills, but the whole thing can feel daunting, and it's tricky to know where to start.

Ski touring gets you into some pretty cool spots! Chamonix-based mountain guide Tom Grant skiing amongst the Kalkogel peaks in Tirol, Austria. Photo: Boscoe Collection

The trick (as with so many things in life) is to use the elephant-eating tactic - start with a single bite! If you've decided that you'd like to get into touring, figure out what you'll need to know and start gradually working your way through it, one element at a time. At this point, you might be thinking that you don't even grasp what you're going to need to know, but fear not - I'm here with the answers!

DID YOU READ? "10 of the Best Hut-To-Hut Ski Tours in the Alps"

Skiing Skills

With all the potential mountain hazards to manage and the need for solid physical fitness, it can be easy to forget that touring is ultimately about skiing. There is no exact science here, no measurement by which you can judge yourself - the fact is that being a better skier will make you safer in the backcountry and open up more possibilities for you.

Phil Ebert relishing the scenery and the terrain in Lyngen, Norway. Photo: Boscoe Collection

Merely surviving a descent from a ski tour isn't much fun, but skiing it in control and with a bit of style is fabulous. If touring is something you'd like to try one day, keep working on your skiing skills because touring opens up a tremendous amount of terrain - but only if you're good enough to ski it! 

And remember, there's no such thing as "bad" snow, only "practice" snow!

RELATED: "How To Prepare for Ski Season"

Avalanche Awareness

For an avalanche to happen, you need three things - suitable terrain, unstable snow, and a trigger. Sadly for us skiers, we're walking, talking triggers, so there's ALWAYS a trigger, but you can avoid getting caught in an avalanche by simply staying away from suitable terrain. 

The "problem" is that the best terrain for skiing is exactly the kind of terrain where avalanches happen: steep (over 30 degrees) slopes and terrain features like gullies and ridge lines. You could spend your touring career in terrain where avalanches are virtually impossible, but most skiers find themselves drawn towards great terrain, and for good reason. Skiing interesting natural features and exploring complex terrain is a huge part of what touring is all about, so whilst it's essential to be cautious, don't stay away from avalanche terrain altogether - get as educated as possible and gain experience steadily. There are two elements to this - analyzing the terrain to find the safest way through it and carrying out companion rescue if someone from your group does get avalanched.

Much of the ski touring skillset can be learned through experience, but getting formal avalanche education is absolutely essential. Book a course, soak up all the knowledge you can, gain some experience using that newfound knowledge, and then do another course and repeat the process. There really is no such thing as too much avalanche education, and you can never know enough. Remain a student, stay humble, and keep striving to be better at moving through avalanche terrain.

In addition to formal training, one great tool is the people you ski with. Debrief your days when you get back down. How did you think you managed the risk? Did you feel comfortable voicing your opinions, or did you feel that other members of your group dominated the decision-making? An open, honest discussion of how you moved through the terrain and worked as a group is an invaluable way of honing your skills.

Charlie dropping into Chamonix’s Vallée Blanche, probably the most famous off-piste ski run in the world. Photo: Boscoe Collection.

Navigation Skills

Much as it is essential to still have "old school" map and compass navigation skills, the reality is that FATMAP has transformed how we find our way through the mountains. Digital mapping on phones means that we can now locate ourselves quickly, see where we're about to go, and make informed decisions about navigation without ever pulling out a paper map. There's always a "but," though, and here it is - phones have batteries and batteries die. Cell phones get dropped, they get wet, they die in the cold. FATMAP is an extraordinary resource for us to be able to access, but you need a backup to it. Carry a paper map and a compass, and know how to use them!

Weather Forecasting

As well as FATMAP, the internet has also given us weather forecasts that previous generations couldn't even dream of. Wherever you are in the world, you'll likely have access to a detailed and somewhat accurate forecast for at least the next five days. This is a wonderful resource, but only if you know how to use it. 

It can be easy to see a blue sky forecast and assume that you're good to go wherever you like, but look closer and study the details. How warm will it be, and what is the warming/cooling pattern? What is the wind doing? How does that affect your plans? These are complex questions, and your ability to answer them will improve over time, but the critical point is that you need to make an effort to understand the nuances of weather forecasts and not just look at the headline.


Every skier's favorite topic! There's nothing most skiers enjoy more than geeking out over gear, and that's because they've figured out that gear can make the difference between success and failure. Figure out what gear is appropriate for the touring you want to do, learn how to use it, and then look after it like your life depends on it - because it will one day!


Just as poor ski skills can limit you, fitness can make or break your ability to move through the mountains how you want. There are many ways to improve your skiing/skinning fitness, but going out and doing them is the best (and most enjoyable) of all methods. 

Other than just going out into the mountains, the most effective way to train for ski touring is to replicate the demands it puts on your body. Lift weights, with a focus on lower body and core exercises, and do plenty of cardiovascular training at various intensities. You can find a vast amount of training advice here on the Strava Stories site, so explore our treasure trove of advice articles for yourself!

RELATED: "The Secrets to Creating a Successful Training Plan"

For what it's worth, I think that front squats, deadlifts, and dynamic movements like box jumps are the best bang for your buck in the gym, and then doing long runs/rides/hikes and occasional interval training sessions is a decent approach for ski touring training.

Mellow terrain and great, compact powder in the Papova Sapka backcountry, Macedonia. Photo: Boscoe Collection.

Rescue and Medical 

Adventure is best defined as "outcome unknown," so even if you're educated, experienced, fit, and well-equipped, stuff happens in the mountains. I wish you many happy bluebird powder days, but if you keep touring long enough, I guarantee you'll have a few epics along the way. Making sure that your avalanche and crevasse rescue skills are sharp is vital, as is doing some first-aid training. 

You can never know what exact scenario you'll find yourself in, but if you have solid rescue skills and basic first responder medical skills, you're in with a good shot of a positive outcome. 

Right, enough of the serious stuff, here's some daydreaming material!