Alone in the mountains © Jamie Barclay

Skiing and the ascent of the backcountry adventure
As winter settles across the Alps, ski touring offers a quieter, more intimate mountain experience than traditional skiing for many of us
1 Feb 2024

From December to March, as the Alps are overtaken by winter, one sport stands as the quintessential embodiment of this snowy realm – downhill skiing. The latest data from the International Report on ski Tourism shows that there are more than 2,000 alpine ski destinations in the Alps, constituting 39% of ski resorts internationally and contributing to an impressive 43% of global ski days.

While the swish of skis on groomed slopes continue to resonate for many, a rising trend has carved its niche in the winter sports landscape, ski touring. Also known as backcountry skiing, the sport has experienced a surge in popularity among outdoor enthusiasts in recent years. This alternative to the traditional resort experience offers a distinctive set of attractions, perhaps drawing those seeking a more intimate, adventurous connection with the alpine wilderness far away from the culture of après-ski and general busyness of the resorts. This off-piste adventure, which rarely offers the same experience twice, is a compelling alternative for those seeking a more authentic and immersive alpine experience. But what is the attraction?

Nature and solitude

One of the primary draws of ski touring is its intimate connection with nature. Far from the lifts, pistes, and crowds of traditional resorts, ski touring takes place in remote and untouched natural environments, many of which are hard to reach. Enthusiasts revel in the serenity and peace that comes from exploring these untouched landscapes.

Adventure and exploration

Ski touring opens the door to unmarked terrain, providing a thrilling sense of adventure and exploration. Beyond the confines of marked slopes, skiers chart their own course, discovering new routes and relishing the challenge of untamed landscapes.

The physical challenge

Ski touring is not for the faint of heart. There is no ski-lift up and sometimes, the way down is just as hard. It’s physically demanding, often taking many hours to complete depending on how technical the route is. This exertion adds an extra layer of challenge, attracting those individuals who appreciate both the physicality and the fitness benefits from the sport.

Escape from crowds

For those seeking respite from crowded resort slopes, ski touring offers refuge and peace. The backcountry provides an escape from the hustle and bustle, granting skiers a quieter, more intimate and personal experience in the mountains.

Fresh powder and conditions

Backcountry skiing enthusiasts are rewarded with access to often untouched powder snow, a draw for those seeking pristine conditions that may elude well-traveled resort slopes. The promise of fresh powder adds an element of allure to the backcountry experience and can provide an altogether more rewarding experience.

Sense of self-sufficiency

Ski touring demands a level of self-sufficiency that resonates well with certain individuals. Skiers must be well-versed in avalanche safety, navigation and survival skills. The sense of independence and responsibility that comes with backcountry skiing adds a dimension to the experience that goes far beyond other leisure sports.

Reduced costs

While there’s an initial investment in backcountry skiing equipment, the long-term costs are often lower compared to skiing in resorts. Lift tickets, accommodation along with other expenses associated with traditional skiing are mitigated, making backcountry skiing a more cost-effective option.

Environmental considerations

For environmentally conscious individuals, ski touring presents a more eco-friendly alternative to resort skiing. The pursuit aligns with a desire to minimize the ecological impact associated with traditional ski resorts, attracting those who prioritize sustainable outdoor recreation. As winter unfolds, the interplay between downhill skiing and ski touring adds a dynamic richness to the alpine experience. Downhill skiing remains the most popular, catering to a diverse audience seeking the thrill of groomed pistes and the vibrant atmosphere of resorts. On the flip side, ski touring beckons those yearning for a more intimate communion with nature, an escape from crowds, and the allure of uncharted territories.

However, it is crucial to note that ski touring requires additional skills, safety precautions and equipment compared to resort skiing. Individuals interested in backcountry skiing should prioritize safety, undergo proper training and be acutely aware of the inherent risks associated with skiing in an uncontrolled environment. 

* Jamie Barclay is a Freelance Writer and Communications Consultant.
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