Ski Touring: what to expect on your first trek, plus dogs

To start off, it’s worth noting my total novice status in this particular area of ski activities. I grew up waterskiing, and frequently downhill and classic xc ski, but had never used skins to “earn my turns” before. Ike on the other hand is an animal, skinning up frequently and loving the picturesque and serene nature of the sport. So, for the holiday season, he gifted me a set of custom cut skins for my fat skis and a pair of Daymakers to convert my bindings for touring use.

Cut to the day of: early morning start, at 6:00AM, we got our skins set up, boots in walk mode, and began the long walk up a trail in the Oquirrh mountains in search of powder. But along the way I ran into a host of issues (anticipated by Ike), including hot spots in my boots, wearing too much clothing, and various aches and pains, probably made worse by our coffee-only breakfast. Once we got to the top, it was clearly worth the effort, but there are some definitive steps I’ll be taking next time – and you should before you head out for your first time – to make things more enjoyable.

1. No Cotton. No, really. This one should be obvious, but it’s worth noting, as some under layers that are great for other activities like yoga, running, or cycling just don’t make the cut for an activity that is going to span three – six hours through a variety of conditions and temperatures. Once your cotton or cotton-mix material gets wet, it gets cold, and that’s not a fun time. Reach for your wool base layers instead! You won’t regret it.

2. Take a trial run of your equipment. Daymakers, backcountry avalanche gear, and skins are super cool, but they can also be awkward, frustrating, and heavy! By taking time before your trip to test out your set up, you can avoid issues arising on your day out. Some though, like boot hot spots, may be undetectable until you are actually skinning.

3. Eat before. Even if you aren’t a breakfast person. Trust me on this! You’re probably going to burn around 3000-4000 calories in your trek, given the rate of 800-1000 calories per hour of trudging (gliding?) through the snow uphill. By fueling your body before you go, you’ll be a much better travel companion.

4. Stretch/roll out your sore spots the night before and morning of. Warm up is underrated. Your body will react in unexpected ways to a novel activity like ski touring. Make it easier on yourself by warming up instead of jumping in cold.

5. Enjoy the journey. The powder might not turn out to be super fresh; you might be tired at the top, and expectations could be missed. But that’s not really the point – touring offers a certain kind of mobile meditation that can be easily overlooked if you focus too much on the destination. So don’t miss the bliss!

6. Go with a buddy (and preferably one with ski touring experience!) I went with Ike, and I felt comfortable knowing that he was familiar with the sport, equipment, and area we were skiing. This is particularly important if you are going in an area that is avalanche prone or out of service range!

The very good boys!

Last note – dogs make trips like this so much more fun, but you have to be careful not to trip over them or take them through too deep of snow!

Hope your first ski tour goes smoothly and that you can enjoy what the mountains have to offer, outside the resort!

Originally published Jan 23, 2020