Whether it’s the lure of fresh tracks, fewer people, or the risk and responsibility, alpine touring (also known as randonnée) is increasing in popularity. If you’re a skier making the jump to backcountry or alpine touring your skis are as important as ever.
You’ll be spending about 90% of your time going up the mountain under your own power, and the 10% downhill time will be in variable conditions and terrain, so it’s important you choose the right planks. The best alpine touring skis are those that you feel most comfortable with for the terrain and type of snow you’ll be riding on. These might be your usual lift-served skis but with alpine touring bindings and climbing skins, or a separate AT specific pair altogether.
You need to find a good balance between uphill performance, either with climbing skins or hiking with your skis on your pack, and downhill performance.
In theory you can use any ski for alpine touring however more and more brands are developing touring-specific skis with lighter constructions and shapes suited to the variable backcountry terrain.
Always consider which type of climbing skins you want to use with your skis as some AT-specific skis have cutouts or holes in the tips and tails designed for your skin system. Other AT-specific skis are made from the same moulds as the brand’s alpine skis, but with a lighter core and without an additional metal or laminated layer to save weight.
If possible, try before you buy.
Narrow and light skis are brilliant for the climb, sadly, where you’ll be spending most of your day. Wider and heavy skis are ideal for downhill, especially handling speed and difficult terrain in soft or deep snow. But don’t forget to factor in the weight of your AT ski boots and bindings.
Many alpine touring skiers prefer a rocker or early rise in the tip, making it easier to both ski and skin in fresh snow. A rocker in the tail can add manoeuvrability in steep terrain but can make attaching skins more difficult so it’s usually again down to personal preference.
Alpine touring skis can be divided into three weight classes; ultralight, standard weight, and heavy. While lighter skis are easier to carry up the mountain, your downhill performance may be compromised and vice versa.
Ultralight skis are usually under 2.7kg for the pair, allowing you to easily glide up the hill. They can be made with advanced materials such as carbon fibre for increased performance.