How to ski tour | Best hiking technique in ski touring

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It is odd thinking about technique when it comes to hiking. Have you ever asked yourself how to take a step? There's no shame in answering this question with a straight and simple: „No." We all learn to walk as children; there's no reason to question it. Anyhow, when starting ski touring as a beginner, tips on how to walk up the mountain properly are invaluable. Mastering the perfect hiking technique will save you a lot of energy and enable you to walk up to higher and further. However, the best hiking technique in ski touring is easy to understand and does not cost you too much thinking whilst actually being on a ski tour. Therefore, here it is – explained in only a few tips:

Easy going: stride frequency and length.

When watching an expert in ski touring, we are always baffled about how smooth walking upwards looks like. They always walk steadily in their individual rhythm. No matter how steep or flat the terrain becomes, they stay in the rhythm – like a metronome, nothing breaks their stride frequency rhythm. If you are a runner or like hiking in summer times, you should be well aware of why keeping a steady rhythm has its advantages. Taking many breaks and forcing oneself to be fast for some moments and then slowing down eats into our energy reserves. It becomes harder to breathe and a hell lot harder to reach our destination.

Staying in the same rhythm even though the steepness of the terrain changes demands you to work with the length of the steps you are taking. When the terrain is rather flat, we use a gliding technique (almost like cross country skiing). The steeper it gets, the shorter the steps become. This enables us to keep the rhythm steady.

ski touring in the Lechtal Alps
Nina ski touring in the Lechtal Alps

Walking with skis on your feet

Many ski tourers miss that hiking in ski touring differs in one critical point: the skis attached to your feet. Hike as if the skis would not be there: they lift their whole leg, including the skis, with every step. Even though ski touring equipment has its perks in being way lighter than their equivalent alpine skiing equipment, this costs you a lot of energy in the long run. Just calculate it: lifting the skis (plus boots, bindings, etc.) added to moving it forward.

Another side effect of walking this way is that steps cannot be guided precisely on the snow surface. That could make ski touring in challenging terrain very dangerous.

Walking with your skis in the right way rather looks like gliding. Pull the back ski and push it forward in a gliding motion. Do not lift it. When pulling the leg forward, let it loose for a moment. Giving the leg a moment of relaxation will enable you to walk much longer and further. That's also a well-known technique that cross country skaters use to save energy in the process.

Perfect posture

Distribute the weight over the entire sole and not lean your body too far forward, even on steep terrain. If the weight is shifted to the toes, then the skis are in danger of slipping away.

When it comes to your legs, remember to keep your skis parallel. Not many ski tourers make a mistake when it comes to that point but keep in mind. Do not start walking with your skis in a V shape even if it becomes steeper.

Your upper body walks with you.

Ski touring equipment also comprises poles, just like in alpine skiing. But these poles are not just useful in the downhill, but also support us whilst walking uphill. Primarily, they help us to keep our balance. Secondarily, they support us in hiking. Particularly, in steep terrain incorporating arms and shoulders in the motion of pushing us upwards, they take a lot of effort from our legs.

ski touring Silvretta
Nina ski touring the Silvretta area

The sharp bend

The sharp bend could also be called the crowning of the climbing technique. It is the way to take a turn walking upwards, still keeping your walking and breathing rhythm. Many ski tourers struggle when it comes to this because taking turns forces them to lose those rhythms. So how do you master this sharp bend? For a smooth change of direction, turn the mountain ski around in the opposite direction and shift your weight onto it. If the weight has been shifted, lift the downhill ski and push with the heel. The impact causes the end of the ski to move down and the tip to move up. At the same time, the ski is then pushed past the supporting leg. That way, you'll be ready to go in the right direction.

Avoid hiking aids

In ski tour equipment, you can find something called a hiking aid. Many beginners believe that these aids help them, but the truth is that they only help as soon as you master the perfect walking style. That's because using the hiking aid changes your posture and moves your weight rather into the tips of your toes, which could cause your skis to slip away.

Summary: Best hiking technique in ski touring

Hiking is an essential part of ski touring – an enjoyable part as well. You will experience beautiful places: the further and higher, the better the view, and the more magical the places and the downhill. A proper hiking technique enables us to exceed our limits easily and save a lot of energy in every step. Just remember to glide instead of lifting your leg, supporting the movement with your upper body, and not to lean your upper body too forward. Walk-in, a steady rhythm, practice the sharp bend, and avoid using hiking aids too soon (before being experienced in the hiking style). The best hiking technique in ski touring simply makes the hike more pleasant, leaving you with more energy for the incredible downhill.

Articles that might interest you:

Equipment for your first ski tour

What to expect from skiing with a ski instructor the first time

Resources:

Die richtige Gehtechnik