Time spent in nature. Sharing beta and the post-send beers with friends. Meeting and connecting with like-minded people from all walks of life. Problem solving. Discovering incredible new places. That addictive ‘flow’ state you get when all the moves come together …
These are some of the things that draw us to rock climbing. But let’s face it, unless you’re a die-hard grit fan, the arrival of winter in Northern Europe can sometimes make it harder to get out to the crag. Shorter days limit the time you have projecting, the rock seems to be wet more often than dry, the once positive crimps now numb your fingers, turning them into dysfunctional blocks of ice. You could knuckle down on training and get fit for next season, or you could just use this as an opportunity to try a new winter sport and spend more time outdoors in a literal winter wonderland.
With the Covid pandemic leading to the closure of many ski resorts and lift facilities over the past couple of years, ski touring has seen a real boom in popularity. Why queue for a lift or navigate your way down busy pistes when you can ski down empty powder slopes and make it to the summit using only the power of your own legs? While ski-touring may at first seem to be a very different sport to rock-climbing, there’s a few notable similarities which make ski-touring attractive to any climber looking to infuse a little more adventure into their winter season. Here’s six reasons why we think you should try ski-touring...
A group of ski-tourers ascending the mountains in the Lofoten Islands of Norway. Lofoten is a popular ski-touring destination, known for it's stunning landscapes and excellent snow conditions © Alessia Fontanari
1. Ski-touring allows you to spend time in nature, visiting incredible off-the-beaten-track places.
One of the things that draws a lot of people to rock climbing is the opportunity to spend time in nature, often in incredibly beautiful places. In many instances, the sport allows us to develop a heightened sensitivity and appreciation for the natural world: we become more attuned to weather conditions and how they impact different types of rock, we learn practices to help limit our impact on the environment, and we get to see the world from a totally new perspective - hanging off the side of a cliff. Climbing can bring about a sense of internal stillness, allowing us to tune into our external surroundings and notice the little things like the birdsong and changing of the seasons.
Ski-touring allows you to connect with nature in a similar way. Once blanketed in snow, the mountains become inaccessible to vehicles and even those traveling on foot. Many areas can only be reached by strapping on some skis (with or without skins) and gliding through the snow. Ski-touring allows you to visit these areas, and - if you know the right spots - experience pristine winter landscapes which are becoming increasingly rare. An added bonus is that because skiing is so much more efficient than hiking or climbing you get to see a lot more of the world in a shorter amount of time - perfect in winter when daylight hours are limited.
Annabelle Macdonald climbing the second ascent of 'Another Magic Carpet Ride', Mamquam Falls, British Columbia © Jimmy Martinello
2. You get to see your favorite rock-climbing areas in a totally different light.
A lot of the world’s best rock-climbing destinations are in the mountains, meaning that in winter they double nicely as areas where you can practice ski-touring. For example, three of our ski touring trips run in areas known for their incredible trad routes: Lofoten, the Brenta Dolomites, and Valle Dell’Orco. If you’re itching for a climb, but the crag happens to be buried under a layer of snow, why not just head there on your skis? The world takes on quite a different appearance under the snow: you’ll get to experience these areas when it’s quiet and peaceful, rather than alive with the hustle and bustle and shouts of climbers.
In winter the Brenta Dolomites turn into a ski-touring paradise, offering fun and adventurous of excursions for all levels © Francesco Salvaterra
3. You will develop intense 'ski-laytionships' similar to the 'belaytionship'.
Unless you are into free soloing, most people generally don’t go outdoor rock-climbing alone. In fact, over the course of your climbing career you’ll probably enter into a series of ‘belaytionships’: trusting relationships with a climbing partner where you expect them to look after your safety and catch your falls, in exchange for getting to share some of your best and (let’s face it) most vulnerable moments.
While it’s technically possible to go ski-touring alone, like free soloing it’s not recommended if you’re looking to minimize the risks of participating in an extreme sport. Your skiing partner(s) are there to help keep you safe: they can rescue you in the unlikely event that you get buried in an avalanche, or fetch help if you injure yourself in a remote area and are unable to get out unassisted. They also make the experience much more fun, motivating you during tricky ascents, cracking jokes at the summit, sharing the flowy descents, and helping pick you up when you fall over… You wouldn’t go climbing with a belayer you don’t trust, right? The same applies to ski-touring.
You wouldn't go climbing alone, right? The same goes for ski-touring! Here, a group of ski-tourers cross a glacier in the Brenta Dolomites © Francesco Salvaterra
4. The ski-touring community is warm and welcoming, just like the climbing community.
Ski-touring and climbing are both sports where you are generally competing against your own limits, rather than directly with another person. They are also sports that usually take place in pairs or small groups, and can contain a significant element of ‘type 2’ fun. As a result, a friendly and supportive community has emerged around both sports.
Often the best moments in climbing aren’t sending your project or climbing your hardest grade (although that does feel pretty good!). It’s the post-climb beers with friends, where you come together to celebrate those successes. It’s the hours spent at the gym with your training partner, learning how to loosen up and laugh at your own mistakes - because, let’s face it, how else are you supposed to progress? It’s complete strangers cheering you on while you attempt your project; it’s that feeling of topping out on a multi-pitch at the end of a long day, knowing you couldn’t have done it alone.
Ski-touring allows you to share plenty more of these moments. Reaching a summit alone may be rewarding, but getting there as part of a group and sharing some jokes and clementines as you take in the view is much more fun. Hard ascents are made easier by a few motivational words from a friend, beers taste even better when they are shared while recounting the adventures of the day. If you love climbing because of the community, then you’ve got to try ski-touring.
Both rock-climbing and ski-touring are sports where you can find a warm and welcoming community! Above: A group of climbers chatting at the crag during a Mapo Tapo trip to Sicily © Massimo Cappuccio
Below: Ski-tourers share some well-deserved clementines on a summit in Val Breguzzo © Francesco Salvaterra
5. Equipment, equipment, equipment...
I have yet to meet a climber who isn’t obsessed with gear, and I think the same thing can be said of ski-tourers. To give you a better idea in Italy every year a 500-page catalogue is published showcasing the latest gear: skis, boots, poles, ice-axes, crampons, gloves, technical clothing - the list goes on. If you’re looking for another excuse to spend your last paycheck on sports gear, then ski-touring is for you!
It’s often noted that you can recognize different types of climbers from what they’re wearing: competition climbers have their aggressive shoes and flashy shorts, boulderers always seem to be wearing vests and/or beanies (often at the same time), trad climbers have their racks and well-worn approach shoes. The same thing can be said of ski-tourers: those who enjoy racing up the ascents tend to pack light and wear more breathable clothing, while the powder seekers look more like the average person you’d see on the pistes. It’s all stereotypes of course - but it doesn’t make those hours browsing catalogues any less fun!
Whether you're in it to set some record times on ascents or to shoot down powder slopes, there's plenty of ski-touring equipment for you to obsess over! © Ilaria Occhipinti
6. If you're addicted to the 'flow state' you get while climbing, then you'll fall in love with ski-touring pretty quickly!
If you’ve been climbing for a while, you’ve probably experienced the infamous ‘flow state’. Flow state occurs during those moments when your mind is completely in tune with your body. The moves come instinctively - you might feel like you’re melting over the rock as you climb, or like each move is flowing together like the moves of a dance. May people describe it as a form of meditation: you achieve a feeling of mental clarity, you can focus on nothing other than the next move and feeling of the rock under your fingers. Whatever your experience, it's pretty addictive!
Ski-touring allows you to experience this flow state in an extreme version. While in climbing, getting there requires you to be in a certain mental state (making the ‘flow state’ sometimes pretty elusive), as a ski-tourer all you have to do is find some powder, pick up enough speed, then you’re flying! Don’t believe me? Just wait until you give it a try.
Find some powder and pick up enough speed, then it really feels like you're flying © Stefano Frati
Our conclusion: if you are a rock climber looking for some winter adventures then you have got to give ski-touring a go!
If any of the above resonated with you we think you should give ski-touring a go! Not only is it super fun, you also get to explore some truly magical winter landscapes, and finish the day feeling like you’ve had a really good workout. Compared to climbing, ski-touring is pretty easy to train for: no need to spend hours hanging off a fingerboard or trying to figure out which circuit gives you the right level pump, for ski-touring strength and endurance built from common endurance sports (such as running, cycling, or swimming) is pretty transferable.
If you’re a beginner and want to give ski-touring a try, why not check out our ski-touring trip to the Brenta Dolomites? You’ll spend a weekend learning the basic skills, going on some pleasant excursions in the area, and sleeping in an authentic mountain hut above the town of Madonna di Campiglio.
A party of ski-tourers in Val Breguzzo © Francesco Salvaterra
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Mapo Tapo now have 4 incredible ski-touring trips for you to choose from.
1) The Brenta Dolomites trip, recommended for beginners or those looking for some easier tours. 4 days of ski-touring lessons in a wild and unique environment, sleeping in a mountain hut above Madonna di Campiglio.
2) Ski-touring in the Lofoten Islands, Norway - A week-long trip aimed at intermediate ski-tourers in the magical Lofoten Islands. Here you can find many beautiful and adventurous tours for all levels, in many cases skiing from summit to sea.
3) Ski-touring in Val Breguzzo, Trentino - A weekend trip for intermediate to advanced ski-tourers exploring the unspoiled slopes of Val Breguzzo with a local guide.
4) Valle dell'Orco: skiing in graniteland - A 3-day ski-touring trip in the trad paradise of Valle dell'Orco, aimed at intermediate to advanced ski-tourers. Includes an avalanche rescue training and 2 nights in an authentic rifugio.
Top picture © Francesco Salvaterra