Ski Touring Skills Course (2 days)
There are two primary realms of proficiency required to safely ski/ride in backcountry terrain: Avalanche risk management, and the practical skills required to plan and carry out a tour.
This course focuses on the latter – from equipment selection to tour planning, route finding to movement technique, terrain management to decision making – the goal of this course is to put it all together.
We’ll spend two full days in the field. The first day will be skills focused and include companion rescue practice and a short tour. On our second day we’ll set off on a full day tour applying what we’ve learned along the way. On this day participants will have opportunities to practice leading the group.
While we will discuss avalanche risk management and make decisions as a group in avalanche terrain, this course is intended to be paired with an AIARE Level 1 Avalanche Course.
- Equipment selection
- Tour planning
- Route finding & navigation
- Movement skills: Skinning, kick turns, AVA turns, rounded turns
- Track setting: How steep do we climb?
- Travel techniques
- The Descent: Managing the group, the terrain, and the snow conditions
- Human factors
- Field observations
- Companion rescue
DAY 1 – Skills Tour
The course begins with a short indoor planning session: How do we decide where to go on a given day? We’ll interpret the avalanche forecast, as well as weather information gathered from the internet to select the most suitable terrain for the day.
After companion rescue practice and our trailhead 3-function transceiver check, we’ll set off on a tour. We’ll practice movement skills such as skinning technique, kick turns, AVA turns, and rounded turns. Track setting is the art of combining safety and efficiency in a path that flows with the contours of the terrain. Along the way we’ll collect snow and weather observations and engage in a continual dialogue of our decision making process.
Ultimately, one of our main goals in backcountry skiing is to find good snow. During the course we’ll stay true to this pursuit, not just for fun, but to show the application of these skills in the real-world context.
At the end of the day participants will be assigned a tour plan to prepare for the following day’s objective.
DAY 2 – Full Day Tour
Once again we’ll meet for a brief morning planning session. This will be an opportunity to compare and discuss tour plans as well as the morning weather and avalanche forecast.
Our goal for the day will be to complete a full day tour, relating our tour plans to the actual terrain, and tying together all of the skills covered during the previous day. Participants will have opportunities to practice being on ‘the sharp end’, leading the group and making route finding decisions under the guide’s observation.
At the end of the day we’ll debrief the tour and the course as a whole to ensure participants have a good sense of where to proceed from here.
☐ Skis with touring bindings – AT, tele, or splitboard: Your setup needs to be suitable for uphill touring and downhill skiing/riding.
☐ Boots: AT, tele or snowboard boots.
☐ Poles: Adjustable poles with powder baskets (ex: Black Diamond Traverse).
☐ Climbing skins: Fit to skis (ex: Black Diamond Mohair Mix).
AVALANCHE SAFETY GEAR
☐ Transceiver: Modern, single frequency [457 khz] transceiver, preferably less than five years old. A digital 3-antennae model is highly recommended (ex: BCA Tracker 2, Mammut Pulse Barryvox, Peips DSP). RENT
☐ Shovel: Lightweight avalanche shovel. A metal blade and extendable handle are recommended (ex: G3 Avitech, BCA Companion EXT). RENT
☐ Probe: Dedicated probe, ski pole probes are not sufficient. RENT
☐ Day pack: 30 to 40 liters, should have some sort of ski attachment system (A-frame, vertical, diagonal, etc).
There are many possible layering combinations for your upper body. Use the following recommendations as guidelines:
☐ Baselayer top: Light to medium weight synthetic fabric (ex: Patagonia Capiline 1 or 2).
☐ Lightweight insulating layer: Light fleece or synthetic layer (ex: Patagonia R1 Hoody).
☐ Softshell or shell jacket with hood: For wind, snow, rain, cold, etc.
☐ Puffy (insulated) jacket: Synthetic or down with a hood (ex: Patagonia Micro Puff).
☐ Baselayer bottoms: Medium weight (ex: Patagonia Capiline 2).
☐ Ski pants: Regular ski pants will work, however we recommend a system of both a lightweight softshell pant, as well as a lightweight hardshell pant with full side zips. This provides maximum versatility for backcountry conditions.
☐ Socks: Wool or synthetic, they should work well with your ski boots. Keep in mind that warmth comes from good circulation, not heavy socks. Your ski boot liners provide plenty of insulation.
☐ Warm hat
☐ Sun hat: Baseball cap, visor, etc – Weather dependent.
☐ Face protection: Buff® recommended.
☐ Light glove: For touring.
☐ Ski glove
☐ Sunscreen: SPF 30 or greater, avoid spray on (ex: Doc Martin’s of Maui).
☐ Lip balm: With SPF protection.
☐ Water bottles(s) or hydration system: Water bottles should have a screw top (no bike bottles); hydration system should have an insulated tube.
☐ Thermos (optional)
☐ Lunch food
☐ Camera: Don’t forget extra batteries.
☐ Watch: Altimeter recommended.
☐ Notebook & pencil
The following gear is not required for this course, however if you have any of the following items please bring them.
☐ Airbag pack RENT
☐ Snow saw
☐ Snow study kit
☐ Ski strap
☐ Repair kit: We suggest carrying a small repair kit with items specific to your ski or splitboard equipment. Extra binding parts (including mounting screws), an extra tip loop for your skins, an extra pole basket, etc. Other great MacGyver items are bailing wire, zip ties, and duct tape.
☐ Wax: For skis and to prevent snow from glomming onto your skins.
- No previous backcountry skiing experience is required for this course.
- Intermediate skiing or riding ability, and experience skiing off-piste (ungroomed slopes) is recommended.
- Good physical fitness is required for this course.
- Participants should be prepared to spend full days in winter weather conditions.
- Guiding & instruction
- Permit & insurance costs
- Food, lodging & transportation
WHERE TO MEET
Olympic National Park Visitor’s Center, in Port Angeles, WA.
Option A: Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. From here the drive to Port Angeles takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes.
Option B: Fly into Port Angeles. Kenmore Air flies daily from Sea-Tac and is an Alaska Airlines partner (domestic flights can be booked with Port Angeles as the destination).
Many options exist in Sea-Tac. There’s also a Budget Rent-A-Car in Port Angeles.
Many options exist in Port Angeles including hotels, bed & breakfasts, and hostels.
Check out our Weather & Avalanche Resources page.
- Staying Alive in Avalanche Terrain by Bruce Tremper.
- Backcountry Skiing: Skills for Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering by Martin Volkin, Scott Schell, and Margaret Wheeler.
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