Skitouring – ABC of off-piste skiing

Skitouring – ABCs of off-piste skiing

The pleasant hum of the seals underfoot. Far behind the overcrowded ski resorts. A forest, an empty clearing, a world in black and white – this is where the road to true adventure leads. Above the tree line, the wind freezes faces and snatches words, the fellow shouts something, finally points in the direction with a stick. This is where we will go. We hurriedly re-fasten bindings, fix with boot buckles, unfasten seals. Strong winds and mounding snow cause us to stagger like drunks from time to time. Moments later we are already skiing downhill. In the mountains we leave behind only signatures in the powder.

Skitouring is simply mountain touring on skis. Equipment designed for this activity allows you to ascend and descend alternately. The skis are equipped with movable bindings (free heel), and the seals allow climbing. After adjusting the bindings, unbinding the seals, re-inserting them (this time including the heel) and stiffening the boot, we can go downhill.

Photo Monck Custom

Photo. Monck Custom

Skis, bindings and boots

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that any part of the downhill kit (except maybe the poles) will be used in skydiving. Looking for a “shortcut” can only get us discouraged or into trouble. However, to complete a whole skitouring kit is a considerable expense (from approx. 4500 zł – new, from approx. PLN 2500 – used). To begin with, it is worth renting equipment and testing different models, and spread the purchase in installments (we start with boots). For more information on skydiving equipment, see pp. 66.

Basic avalanche kit: detector, probe and shovel

Basic avalanche kit: detector, probe and shovel.


ABC (detector, probe, shovel) you should always have with you. Avalanche training is a must – you also need to know how to use these things, as well as what places to avoid and how to correctly identify danger. A helmet is essential.

The first “turn”

For your first skydiving trip, choose low mountains (e.g. Beskids), and preferably to a place you already know. Let the ascent (one) and descent (one) be gentle. Plan your route so that you hook up with a hostel along the way. It is a good idea to take this point as the end of the approach and the beginning of the descent. Thanks to this, you will do the first “changeover” in the mountains in comfortable conditions – if you are not skilled, deep snow, frost and strong wind can significantly hamper equipment operations.

A harshshness is an exotic-sounding and actually predatory tool used to bite into hard snow and ice. The teeth of the harshness bite into the 'concrete' and prevent slipping

A harshshness is an exotic-sounding and actually predatory tool used to bite into hard snow and ice. The teeth of the harnesses dig into the “concrete” and prevent slipping.

Rent ski equipment. The rest: the rest of the equipment, preparation, planning – just like winter trekking. See 4 basic rules of safety in the mountains: pp. 51.

If you don’t feel confident in the mountains in winter, or are worried that your skiing skills may be insufficient in wild terrain, you can get help from an experienced guide/instructor. However, it is not necessary. If you are good at skiing, have fitness and experience in the mountains in winter, you can handle it.

In both cases, an avalanche course is a must. It is advisable to take your first steps in the lower mountains, but if for some reason you do not have such an opportunity, in alpine-type mountains (e.g. Tatra Mountains) beginners are advised to take the help of a guide / instructor.

Skitouring requires the ability to ski in a wide variety of conditions (from deep powder to blown-out “concrete”), to navigate in mountainous terrain – often in adverse weather conditions, physical endurance, resistance to cold, and to see and recognize hazards. All these skills are worth acquiring in small steps and constantly honing.

Skituring (Photo: Outoor Magazine)

Skituring (Zdj. Outoor Magazine)


I.e. We go on the seals, we go up. Equipment setup:

  • Seals glued on the slides,
  • loose heel,
  • skistoppers locked in a horizontal position,
  • boots unlaced.

Fluidity of movement is important at this stage. Steps should be long, but without exaggeration, with skis gliding over the snow. Lifting legs and skis causes loss of balance and unnecessary fatigue. On long approaches it is worth controlling the pace.

The switchbacks are a bit more difficult to approach. They are necessary when the slope becomes so steep that instead of straight ahead we have to go on the bends. The first five may cause a bit of trouble, then the pattern enters the blood: first the ski that is higher is moved, turning it at an angle of almost 180 degrees. outdoors; helping yourself with poles, you keep your balance and shift your weight to this leg; lift the other leg and bend it at the knee, then the free-running ski is horizontal to the slope; get the other foot parallel to the first one.


  • seals behind your chin,
  • heel pinned,
  • active skistops
  • Boots locked and unlaced.

At the beginning we look for easy, gentle and open terrains. Time will come for faster riding, steeper slopes and denser forests. During the descent we watch our partners – we must be ready to help each other if necessary. Check the map from time to time – during the descent it is easy to get carried away by the wild imagination and go into the raspberries.

Different faces of skitouring

Traditional skitouring is a long ski touring trip, consisting of ascents and descents. To begin with, an approach-peak/pass/shelter-ridge is sufficient. With time, the appetite grows, we go for longer and longer tours, during which we “switch” several times and cover a long route. Trips can also be several days long, with overnight stays in hostels.

Splitboard - skitouring is not an activity reserved for skiers. Lovers of 'sills' can also seal in the wilderness, using so-called splitboards, which are snowboards 'cut' lengthwise. When disconnected and the bindings rewired, they resemble wide skis. When joined together, they descend as on a normal board

Splitboard – skitouring is not an activity reserved for skiers. Lovers of “parapets” can also seal in the wilderness, using the so-called “sills”. splitboards, or snowboards “cut” lengthwise. When disconnected and rewired, the bindings resemble wide skis. After joining, you descend as if on a normal board.

Skialpinism It’s a slightly more technically advanced form of skitouring. In this case, we move to the terrain typically high mountain, requiring proper belaying. Here, in addition to approaches over snow fields and descents, there are glacier crossings, rock faults, narrow gullies, where we have to use ropes for descents. Proper equipment and mountaineering skills are needed.

Freetouring is a combination of freeride and skitouring. We use slightly wider and heavier skis (worse on ascents, better on descents in deep powder), and the main purpose of the trip is descents. It is best to limit approaches – they are only a means to an end.

Speed touring / ski running – activities much more sporty, often involving competition. Here, in addition to the physical (fitness) advantage over opponents, every gram of equipment is of great importance. Competition skis are narrow and ultralight (ok. 600 g), as well as boots (often carbon). The backpack contains only the bare minimum necessary.

Why all this?

Good question. If you like to ski, go wild, jump and don’t mind the crowds and carbon footprint of ski resorts – then for nothing. Freeride przytrasowy in many places will allow more than a dozen descents in a day. Freetouring, if you are not a horse – one, maybe two…

However, skitouring gives you the opportunity to interact with the mountains in a very natural form. The descents may not be many, but they are exceptional, and the strenuous approaches make the satisfaction of this type of excursion greater than a day on the slopes.

Skitouring rentals

To start with, it is a good idea to rent equipment. The cost of the entire kit is approx. 110-150 zł / day. Skis, seals and poles (without boots) are ok. 60-110 zł / day.

Selected rentals:

  • Krakow – skimokrakow.en
  • Katowice – I
  • Kiry – 5+ Mountain School and Majesty,
  • school-mountain.en/wypozyczalnia-skiturowa
  • Zakopane – Tatra Trade,
  • Zakopane – Yurta Bar, yurtabar.en


The article appeared in 9. issue of Outdoor Magazine.

OM in electronic version (fot. outdoormagazine.(en)