What Is Ski Mountaineering (and How Do I Get Into It)?

Ski mountaineering is a combo sport that requires ski touring and mountaineering skills. It’s a thrilling sport that can get physically and mentally challenging. Beginners who want to get into it need to be prepared to enjoy the sport.
What Is Ski Mountaineering

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If ski touring and mountaineering had a baby, it’s ski mountaineering. It combines two sports to make a high-endurance activity that involves climbing snowy peaks and racing down on skis. And while it sounds exciting, it’s not a sport that just anyone can get into.

Ski mountaineering requires a lot of skill. You need to be adept at skiing on backcountry terrains and climbing the steep mountainsides. And as an endurance sport, you already know it’s going to be physically demanding. So if you want to get into ski mountaineering, preparation is key. Here’s what you need to know to get you started.

How Does Ski Mountaineering Work?

Ski mountaineering is a winter sport that combines mountaineering and ski touring. You can hike on your skis if the steepness level permits. Otherwise, you have to climb the old-fashioned way. Then you ski back down.

If you love climbing mountains and skiing, you get the best of both worlds.

In mountaineering, you climb snowy mountains on foot. While it’s a form of mountain climbing, it’s specific to mountains with snowy landscapes.

Meanwhile, ski touring involves exploring backcountry regions on your skis. With the use of touring skis, you can walk on snow, climb or descend slopes.

With this sport, you get to explore remote areas and ski on fresh and untouched snow. It offers a greater sense of adventure with the high altitudes and steep drops. All this while immersed in nature’s beauty.

What Is the Difference Between Ski Touring and Ski Mountaineering?

Differences between ski touring and ski mountaineering may not be so obvious. That’s because in both cases you traverse the snowy mountainside. So what makes them different?

Ski mountaineering involves steeper climbs, usually at least 45 degrees. At this angle, you pack your skis until the descent. This makes it more difficult since you traverse friendlier slopes with ski touring.

Aside from this, ski mountaineering’s main event is the descent. Here, you get a thrill from skiing at high speeds. You may or may not experience this in ski touring, depending on how high you get.

When it comes to equipment, there is one major difference too. Ski mountaineering requires the use of alpine touring skis. They have special bindings that let you switch from a heel-free to a fixed-heel system and vice versa. This means you can get more control on steep and fast descents thanks to the fixed-heel system.

Who Invented Ski Mountaineering?

Ski mountaineering was born in Europe with Wilhelm Paulcke acknowledged as its father. A German national, he completed the first alpine traverse in 1987. He crossed the Bernese Oberland and it’s considered ski mountaineering’s beginning.

Is Ski Mountaineering an Olympic Sport?

Ski mountaineering is part of the 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games. Due to its success, it will make its debut at the 2026 Winter Olympic Games in Italy.

It’ll have five medal events: two men’s and two women’s and one mixed-gender relay. The individual event is a race up and down the grueling mountain course that will put every athlete to the test.

The sprint event will have competitors dashing up and downwards in a very short course.

What Do I Need for Ski Mountaineering?

Ski mountaineering requires several pieces of equipment. You’ll be carrying both your ski touring and mountaineering gear. Here are the basic things you need if you’re going to get into this sport:

  • Ski Touring Equipment: This includes touring skis, climbing skin, touring boots, and poles. A lightweight setup is important since you’ll be climbing and you don’t want that heavy baggage.
  • Crampons: Ski and boot crampons give you traction especially when surfaces are icy and hard. And when the slopes get steeper, these prevent you from sliding downwards.
  • Ice Axe: An ice axe carves out footholds and doubles as a safety tool as well. A lightweight version allows you to store this easily inside your pack.
  • Harness: You’ll need a harness to attach yourself to a rope, especially on glacier travel.
  • Rope: It should be designed for cold and wet conditions. 60 meters (197 ft) is the standard for the sport.
  • Carabiners: They’re another essential piece of climbing equipment. Carabiners are safety tools often used to link you to the rope, harness, or any other equipment.
  • Helmet: You’ve got to protect your head at all times!
  • First-Aid Kit / Rescue Equipment: Risks in ski mountaineering include avalanches or accidents. You should always have basic first-aid kits and rescue equipment for emergency cases.

What Length Skis Should I Use for Ski Mountaineering?

In ski mountaineering, you should be using touring skis. These skis are generally lighter and better for uphill climbs. They’re shorter than other skis, usually 170 to 180 cm long and 75 to 100mm wide (5.5–5.9 ft by 3–4 in).

What Size Ice Axe Should I Use for Ski Mountaineering?

Ice axes come in shapes and sizes. They have various lengths and can either have a straight or curved shaft. When it comes to ski mountaineering, the ideal size depends on your height.

Many ice axes are within the 50 to 75 cm range (1.6–2.5 ft). The shorter you are, your ax should be on the short side too, and vice versa. When you’re using an axe proportional to your height, it takes less effort to use. It should also be easier to pack and won’t get in the way when not used.

To measure the ideal axe length, hold an axe with your arms on your side as you stand upright. The spike should not exceed your ankle bone. If it does, then the axe is too long for you.

How to Train for Ski Mountaineering

Ski mountaineering is a combo sport that offers a lot of excitement and challenges. Getting into the sport isn’t going to be a walk in the park. Here are a few things that can help you train for the sport.

Learn Ski Touring

Half of the sport involves skiing. So you definitely need to learn ski touring. Honing your skills will help you gain more confidence in your abilities. You’ll need this as you descend on skis at high speeds.

Go Rock Climbing

The second half involves mountaineering. By rock climbing, you experience traversing different kinds of terrains and environments. You’ll also master using the various mountaineering tools. and improve your technique.

Boost Your Strength and Endurance

The climbing part of ski mountaineering requires physical strength. Then you need the endurance to keep going even when it becomes challenging. You need strength training to lift your body during the climb. It also reduces the risk of injury.

Meanwhile, cardio training will boost your endurance. But more importantly, being physically fit means you get to enjoy the sport more.

Find a Trainer

Ski mountaineering isn’t an individual affair. You never go at it alone for safety reasons. So get a trainer or a partner to train with you if you want to practice climbing or skiing. And training with professionals lets you learn new tricks and techniques that improve your skills.

How Do I Get in Shape for Ski Mountaineering?

Ski mountaineering is a physically demanding sport. Trekking on the snow on your skis is challenging by itself. But you also have to climb and pull your body weight plus your gear. Then you have the high altitude that can make it harder to breathe. All that can be grueling if you’re not in shape.

You can get in shape by skiing and climbing regularly. This allows your body to adapt to the physical requirements of ski mountaineering.

To get in better shape, you need strength and cardio training. This will make you stronger for the climb so you can lift yourself easier. And when your endurance is high, your body will be able to do more before getting tired.

And of course, you need to eat the right food to fuel your body and get enough rest as well.

How to Start Ski Mountaineering

Ski mountaineering isn’t a sport you can get into with zero skills. Beginners looking to get into the sport need to prepare well. Here are a few things you need to start:

Hone Your Skills

Your ski touring and mountaineering skills need to be good, at the least. Ski mountaineering can get physically and mentally demanding. And there are a lot of techniques you need like ropework, rappelling, high-speed descents, and more. If your skills are still lacking, you’ll have a hard time once you get out there. So keep practicing to hone your skills.

Pick the Right Gear and Equipment

Your life depends on your gear so don’t skimp on it. You should be comfortable with your gear and equipment and fully understand how to use them. You’ll never know when things can become extremely difficult. So you need to be able to trust your gear to help you get through tough climbs.

Understand Avalanche Safety

This is another must for anybody exploring the backcountry mountains. Avalanche risk is always there, no matter how low. And since you can’t predict when this can happen, knowing what to do when it does can save your or other people’s lives.