The age of ski touring is here. The immense feeling of isolation in the wilderness. The sense of achievement in rising to the physical challenge and losing yourself in the gentle rhythm of your skis and poles. The sensation of your heart rate rising with altitude; a natural high elated by the fresh mountain air.
It’s easy to see why ski touring is becoming increasingly popular. But no longer just for the boldest of skiers and fittest of mountaineers, touring is becoming a window to the wild for all. Brands like Dynafit have entire ranges dedicated to on-piste touring. Splitboard popularity has boomed, now boasting a broader range of choice for snowboarders. Meanwhile, the touring range for skiers is becoming increasingly diverse, covering all manner of niche backcountry endeavours.
Here in Verbier, the trend is clear, with shops like Mountain Air selling and hiring more touring gear than ever before.
“I think in general, the number of people ski touring has grown exponentially, and I think it’s great,” says Verbier-based guide Hans Solmssen
“People tend to think guides are against that. But for me, I’ve got more work than ever because there’s more interest in it. I think it’s good for everybody.”
While the mountains should always be treated with respect, there’s plenty of easy tours around Verbier where novice tourers can experience the mountains in a new way. We sat down with Hans for his best rookie routes and tips.
Moay to PasayAscent – 515m
Starting from the top of the Le Chable-Bruson lift, this beautiful trail winds through the forest in an easy-going and well-marked itinerary to La Pasay.
Pasay to Six Blanc Ascent – 225m
Just a short hike from the Grand-Tsai drag over Col de Chargerat and up the south face brings you to the Six Blanc summit, which offers countless options for freeride descents.
Les Esserts to Croix de CoeurAscent – 500m
A lovely hike in resort offering solitude from the crowds, the tour from Les Esserts follows a mix of easy pistes and marked snowshoe routes. However, the southerly aspect on this route requires special attention in certain conditions.
Lourtier to Cabane Brunet Ascent – 796 m
Starting from the La Barmasse carpark above Lourtier, this route follows a stunning path through the forest and impressive views across the valley. Descend via the road or stay overnight in Cabane Brunet.
Cabane Brunet to Mont RogneuxAscent – 980m
From Cabane Brunet, the push to Mount Rogneux is within reach for most. Passing through spectacular terrain, much of this route has a relaxed gradient. The north-facing slopes also often offer excellent snow conditions for the descent. Check the conditions at the cabane.
Gentianes to Rosablanche Ascent – 800m
The route up to Rosablanche is hugely popular with slightly more experienced locals. After heading over the Col de la Chaux or down the backside of Mont Fort, the gentle ascent takes you to stunning alpine wilderness. The easy route down the glacier to Siviez is a popular choice but does have its dangers and tourers should be prepared with a crevasse rescue kit.
EQUIPMENT: “Obviously you need to have the shovel, probe and beacon. But your other equipment is really important too. It’s good to have light skis, but don’t go so light that your skis suck on the way down.
APPS: “The White Risk application is really great. You can get a lot of information out of it and it has a lot of how-tos. Swiss Map is another great application. It shows the steepness of the terrain, ski itineraries and marks where you are on the map.”
BRUSH UP ON YOUR AVALANCHE SKILLS: “I would encourage people to sign up to the ISTA avalanche training system. There’s nothing on the market like it. Any other avalanche course before has been created by guides and is great for experts, but for people who don’t know much about it, I don’t think you absorb material as well as you do with this system.”
KNOW YOUR GEAR: “If you’ve got new equipment, practice using it at home. Also, when you dry your skins out, you should leave them stuck together and hang them up overnight. If they’re not very wet, don’t dry them for long, because what really degrades that glue is being exposed to the air.”
KNOW YOUR GROUP: “Finding a group of like-minded friends can be tough. Discuss everything in great detail before you leave. Things can change when you go out for the day; people suddenly have different ideas about what they want to do and talking it through before you go gives you an out.”
PLAN THE RIGHT TOUR: “Remember why we’re out there: to enjoy ourselves. To do that best, pick an itinerary that you’re well prepared for and don’t think that you have to go a certain speed or ski a certain slope. Just enjoy the freedom of the hills.”