So you’ve decided to get into alpine touring this winter? Not only will this allow you to skip the lift lines and earn your turns, but also gives you an opportunity to explore the Vermont outdoors! Due to COVID-19 limitations at ski resorts, alpine touring can also help limit crowding.
We know it can be a bit daunting to find the right equipment to get out there, and the options of what to buy seems endless, but we are here to help! We broke this blog post into three categories: first-time touring, frequent touring, and the elite alpinists. Although this will in no way be an exhaustive list, we hope this will be a good jumping off point!
Just note that we have seen an increase in demand for alpine touring gear this season. Supply can be limited as well as shipment delays. Some gear recommended below might be out of stock, but please check in with us to see if we expect more or can find another option for you.
As a reminder, any time you are heading into the backcountry, educate yourself first, bring a trusted friend who is also knowledgeable, get the right avalanche gear (and know how to use it). Avalanches do occur in Vermont. If you are new to touring, check out ski resorts as a first step to get used to touring. Not all ski resorts allow uphill travel, so head to their website first and learn and follow the rules.
1. First Time Tourers:
Buying your first touring setup is exciting, as it means finally ditching the resort lines to get out into the true backcountry. With your first set up, it can be hard to pinpoint exactly what is important to spend the money on first.
1a. Bindings: New bindings are a critical factor, as they must include walk mode for uphill travel. Touring bindings come in two general styles; frame bindings and pin bindings.
- Frame bindings: Act similarly to your standard bindings, locking your entire boot into the binding, but they can be unlocked on the base allowing the binding to release from the ski and enter walk mode. Frame bindings can be used with any style of ski boot, and don’t require special AT boots that can be used with pin bindings. These are a great way to begin your touring career, as they are generally more cost effective than pin bindings
- Recommended: the Marker Baron EPF 13’s, a solid binding that won’t break the bank!
In the future, pin bindings will be lighter, and something good to look into!
1b. Skis: Of course, there would be no uphill travel without the skis themselves and these are an important part of your starter touring kit. Although buying a new pair of skis specific for touring can be exciting, it might be good to hold off for a season and use the skis you already own with a frame binding.
- If you’d like to invest in a new pair of skis, many companies make skis that are lighter and therefore easier to use while touring. Lighter skis can make all the difference when the skins get longer and the packs get heavier.
- Recommended: Although Skirack stocks many skis that can be used for backcountry touring, the ones we suggest are the Line Pandora 94 (currently out of stock), as this will be a light ski, but not too wide to cut through the east coast sludge. For men, we recommend the Line Vision 98. An awesome ski designed with touring in mind, while not getting too wide on the waist.
1c. Skins: Choosing the right skin for you is important. As a first time tourer I would suggest using a skin primarily made up of nylon. Nylon skiing skins have the most grip to them. This allows you to work on your form while touring instead of worrying about slipping backwards.
- Recommended: G3 Alpinist+ Grip skins for first time tourers.
1d. Pack and Poles: As a starter, any solid backpack you own that can fit an extra layer, tons of water, and some snacks and sweets will suffice. Although poles specific to touring are generally adjustable and would be a good investment in the future, it’s totally fine to use the poles you already own.
2. Frequent Tourers
When you start to find yourself riding the fine line between being in love with on-piste skiing while also craving the solidarity of the backcountry, you may want a setup that does exactly that. In the past you basically had to have two different ski setups. One for the resort and one for the backcountry. With the recent progressions in ski technology, you can have a ski that performs in the backcountry just as well as it does on trail.
2a. Bindings: Play a crucial role in backcountry skiing. Pin ski bindings have made ginormous technological advancements in the past couple years. Touring bindings on the market now are able to switch between being reliable and light for hiking up a mountain while also being sturdy and stable for ripping down a hill.
- Recommended: Shift MNC binding made by Atomic or Salomon. This binding comes in either a ten DIN or thirteen DIN option. Another option on the market could be the MARKER Duke PT binding. This option comes in a twelve DIN and sixteen DIN option. Both of the bindings are fully DIN certified downhill bindings with a conventional alpine toe and heel piece. This allows your maximum amount of power to be transferred through you and into your ski.
I trust my Salomon Shift 13 bindings with my life. Whether it be skiing the notch, jibbing off rails, or dropping into a bowl out west, I have never felt that the bindings have failed me in any way. These types of bindings are perfect for those who are not ready to commit to a complete touring setup, yet still want to use their setup at a resort.
2b. Boots: Ask any boot fitter, and they will agree - boots are the most important part of skiing. When upgrading to a pin touring binding, like the Shift MNC or Duke PT, it is important to have the right boots. In reality, to experience the full functionality of the bindings you have to have boots with pin compatibility. This could be an Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 120 for men (my personal boot) or the Dalbello Lupo AX 105 (Caroline’s boot). These boots are compatible with the pin bindings recommended above. These boots are also quite lightweight but are very sturdy.
- Recommended: Come into Skirack for a boot fit to determine what boots that we have would be the best for your feet.
2c. Skis: Are the third most important part of your backcountry touring setup, behind bindings and boots. Overall you want a ski that is light enough so you don't feel weighed down, but sturdy enough underfoot that you feel comfortable while shredding.
- Recommended: For someone looking for a one ski quiver for both touring and backcountry skiing, the skis below fall into the category of freeride touring skis. Super fun and playful skis that are decently light.
2d. Skins: For those finding themselves touring frequently, try a solid mohair and nylon mixed skin. This will give you a nice blend of being able to grip the snow while also gliding well.
- Recommended: G3 Alpinist+ Universal skin.
2d. Pack and Pole: It is important to have a place to stash treats, extra layers, and your avalanche gear. If you are doing mostly day tours, a backpack between 25L and 32L would suffice. This allows you to have plenty of room for the necessities you may need to bring with you into the backcountry. Extendable poles are also an important piece of equipment to have. They allow you to hike up the skin track easier because of their ability to shorten and length depending on terrain changes.
3. Elite Alpinist
If you find yourself and your dawn patrol crew spending the majority of the winter lunging up the side of the mountain, you might want to upgrade your gear to stay with the ever-changing technology within the ski industry. Here are some of the gear items you could upgrade to:
3a. Bindings: While there are many different variations of touring bindings on the market, when buying bindings you should take into consideration their safety features.
- Recommended: MARKER Kingpin binding is a safe, reliable, and lightweight option for the more experienced backcountry skier. The binding comes in two different variations. A 10 DIN option and a thirteen DIN option. You should figure out your DIN setting before buying the bindings so you can get the right one. The 13 DIN option ranges from 6-13 DIN. The 10 DIN option ranges from 5-10 DIN. You want your DIN setting to be as close to the middle of the range as possible so you don’t accidentally pre-release or explode your binding.
The MARKER Kingpin also has a conventional downhill alpine heel piece. This gives the bindings vertical and lateral release capabilities. While being safer than most pin only touring bindings, the Kingpin heel gives you the power and performance you need for the downhill, whether it be in the backcountry or in a resort.
3b. Boots: Come into Skirack for a boot fit to determine what boots that we have would be the best for your feet. However, we can recommend a few touring specific boots below.
- Recommended: Due to some of the weight-saving options Salomon has used, both of these boots excel in the backcountry but find themselves lacking on-piste compared to other boots on the market.
- Men’s Salomon S/LAB MTN Boot: Come in right under 1.6kg and have a flex index rating of 120. While the boot does save weight by decreasing the plushness of the liner and using a non-replaceable sole. It is a great option for touring.
- Women’s Salomon MTN Explore Boot: A women’s specific boot that comes in right under 1.5kg and has a flex index of 90. Similar to the men’s boot, Salomon saves weight by cutting down the liner, dropping some buckles, and using a non-replaceable sole.
3c. Skis: Try a ski roughly between a ninety-millimeter waist and a one-hundred-milometer waist. This range usually has great all-mountain touring skis that are very light.
- Recommended: The skis below are definitely on the lighter side of the market. While the skis are light, they perform excellently in any conditions you will find yourself in. .
- Men’s: Line Vision 98 (1515 g/ski) or the Volkl Blaze 94 (1510 g/ski).
- Women’s: Line Pandora 94 (currently out of stock) (1491 g/ski) and the Volkl Blaze W 94 (1460 g/ski).
3d. Skins: Once you really get into touring you should be able to choose what skins best suit your needs. Full nylon skins give the most amount of grip on icer and harder pack snow. The mohair/nylon blended skins give a nice fifty-fifty glide to grip ratio. And the fully mohair skins are the lightest and have the least amount of resistance when gliding. I recommend the company G3 becasue they make very user friendly skins that you as a customer can easily cut yourself.
3e. Pack and Pole: Having a backpack for touring is essential. For day hikes I recommend a bag roughly between 25L and 32L in volume. For longer tours I recommend a bag roughly 30L to 40L in volume. This allows you to pack avalanche gear and have extra room for layers, snacks, or other personal items. Extendable poles are a necessity in my opinion and there should be no question about them.
Touring is a wonderful sport for one's physical and mental fitness. It is a magical sport because most of the time you are going to new locations, skiing new lines, and all around relaxing into the environment around you. While you may find yourself sweating on the hike up, you will be hooting and hollering on your way down.
Hope to see you out there!
- Soren & Caroline, Skirack Downhill Ski Department