Matt Dickinson, The Daily Telegraph, February 28, 2014
A gentle introduction: The Silvretta Traverse, Austria
Suitable for: Beginners
HIGHLIGHTS The Silvretta mountain range runs along the Swiss/Austrian border, south of St Anton. The entire massif is covered with large but gentle glaciers, and the terrain is user-friendly for ski tourers, with summits lower than those in the Western Alps. The summits in the Silvrettas are between 3000m and 3300m, and it’s possible to ski off them.
This is a great introduction to hut-to-hut ski touring – there’s a wide choice of ski-friendly summits and the fully-serviced huts are very comfortable, with hot showers, great beer and a jovial atmosphere.
NEED TO KNOW Although suitable for people new to touring, those attempting it should, at minimum, be intermediate off-piste skiers. The length of each day varies between five and eight hours, with 600m to 1000m of ascent per day. The downhill sections are 30 degrees or under, but variable snow should be expected.
Culture, history and cuisine: The Italian Dolomites Circuit, Italy
Suitable for: Beginners
HIGHLIGHTS Breathtakingly beautiful and steeped in history, a circuit in the Dolomites is a great way to try ski touring for the first time. The range is situated in the far north east of Italy, characterised by remote valleys and towering limestone cliffs and pinnacles. But in the Dolomites, ski touring is just part of the fun – a trip here would be incomplete without making the most of the exceptional local food, culture and hospitality.
The area’s fascinating modern history enhances the tour – troops were present during the First World War, engaged in a bitter struggle for survival. Many of the passes were strategically important, and some via ferratas (iron ladders built into the cliff face) and fortifications from this era are still visible.
NEED TO KNOW This tour is for intermediate off-piste skiers. The length of each day varies between five and eight hours, with 600m to 1000m of ascent per day. The downhill sections are 35 degrees or under, but variable snow should be expected. Good ski fitness and a determined approach are required.
Nature lovers’ paradise: Queyras National Park tour, France
Suitable for: Intermediates
HIGHLIGHTS The Queyras National Park is located south east of Briançon, between les Ecrins, la Meije and Monte Viso on the Italian side. This itinerary, starting in Saint-Véran, one of Europe’s highest villages, finishes in Abriès, giving you the chance to explore this lovely French national park. The villages are steeped in tradition, with castles and ornate wooden sculptures, and the park itself is known for its plants and wildlife – marmots, chamois and rarer species such as the Lanza salamander and golden eagle all call the park home.
With rugged peaks, larch forests and light powdery snow, the area is perfect for ski touring. Being so far south, there’s also a high likelihood of sunshine. It’s possible to make the tour more or less challenging according to the tastes of the group.
NEED TO KNOW This tour is for intermediate off-piste skiers with some previous day-touring experience. The length of each day varies between four and eight hours, with 500m to 1000m of ascent per day. Slopes are less than 35 degrees, and mountaineering skills and equipment aren’t necessary.
Breathtaking views: The Central Bernese Oberland ski tour, Switzerland/Germany
Suitable for: Intermediates
HIGHLIGHTS The Bernese Oberland range, located in central Switzerland, has some of the best scenery you’ll find in the Alps, with classic views of the Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger mountains.
Typically attempted over a week, this tour crosses the Jungfrau massif from north to south. Most of the tour is on huge, tumbling glaciers, and there are opportunities to make ski descents of several summits including 4000m peaks. The trip is especially rewarding late in the season, as the whole journey stays high up in the mountains, with no need to descend to the less snowsure valley bottoms.
NEED TO KNOW This is for very fit, intermediate off-piste skiers and above. Previous ski touring experience is essential, and skiers should be able to handle skinning for four to five hours each day. Most of the descents are not particularly steep, but high mountain dangers are present.
The classic challenge: The Haute Route, France/Switzerland
Suitable for: Experts
HIGHLIGHTS Literally meaning “high route” in French, the Haute Route is a classic journey that every ski touring enthusiast should undertake at least once in their life. The tour takes five to six days depending on the route taken, and crosses huge glaciers and high, steep passes, so there are constantly changing views to enjoy.
The tour links two historic alpine centres, Chamonix in France and Zermatt in Switzerland, and traverses sections of the Mont Blanc massif, one of the highest Alpine ranges, and through parts of the Swiss Valais region. This tour offers skiing among the highest peaks in the Alps, including a descent directly beneath the Matterhorn’s north face.
NEED TO KNOW This tour is definitely one for fit, advanced skiers – the length of each day varies from six to 10 hours, with 1000m to 1200m of ascent per day. The downhill skiing stretches are never steeper than 35 degrees, but the descents are long and in variable snow.
Matt Dickinson works as a guide for adventure holiday operator Mountain Tracks. Visit mountaintracks.co.uk to find out more about doing these tours.