Ski Touring: Exploring the Backcountry of the Portes du Soleil

The Portes du soleil is one of the largest and most majestic ski areas in the world. Nestled in the middle of the French and Swiss Alps, this beautiful region has it all, for snow lovers, this place truly is paradise. There are so many ways you can explore the stunning resorts of the Portes du Soleil from traditional skiing and boarding, to snowshoeing, (if you have the money) helicopter tours and for those who enjoy a workout as much as their snow sports, then there’s ski touring, which has really become popular amongst snow and fitness enthusiasts over the last decade or so. Ski touring is a magical way to explore the snowy alpine mountains whilst also earning your turns. You’ll be forgiven if you ask “what’s ski touring” as it hasn’t been popular like it is today for all that long. But we love it, and we are excited to tell you all about it…

What is Ski Touring?

Ski touring comes in lots of different forms, it effectively cuts out the uplifts and telecabines, and with the right training and equipment, allows you to reach some of the most remote areas of the mountains. It can also be called different things like ski de randonee, split boarding (the same as ski touring but for boarders), skinning, alpine and backcountry skiing. There are varying levels of ski touring and it doesn’t have to be for the most extreme skiers out there. Basically, you have specialist equipment, including lighter skis that are equipped with skins attached to the base, and instead of skiing down, you walk up the slopes. It’s an amazing workout and (for the more daring of you) allows the possibility of reaching places you couldn’t if you used the ski lifts. It means that untouched snow and powder is yours for the taking – if you do a little bit of aerobic work first.

Lots of people these days tour up pistes like they would go for a run as an easy, winter workout with the joy of a well-earned ski down afterward.

It doesn’t have to be totally extreme! However, if extreme sounds up your street, don’t attempt to go to any remote places without consulting a guide first, taking the correct safety equipment including transceivers with you and being sure you know what you’re doing. It’s very easy to get yourself in trouble if you don’t take the correct precautions.

The Allure of Portes du Soleil

Why is the Portes du Soleil the perfect place for lovers of ski touring? Well it’s simple really… whatever your fitness level, ski ability and adrenalin junky rating, there’s something for every ability in this beautiful snowy playground.

You could find your touring feet by skinning up a local home run, like Nyon or Piste B in Morzine. Each about an hour and a half long, safe for newbies and those without transceivers but also a decent workout with brilliant views and coffee stops en route.

You could take it to the next level by attempting a morning sunrise tour up the back of Mont Chery in Les Gets. A slightly trickier ascent but with breathtaking views of the sun emerging behind Mont Blanc in the distance, the hard work is well worth it.

You could try some more backcountry style touring which can be found by buying a local guidebook.

And then for the most extreme, you will find incredible tours that get you way above the resort level to untouched snow and incredible couloirs. Again, not for the novice skier or tourer but with a guide and the right equipment you really won’t regret giving it a go.

The Journey Begins: Ski Touring in Portes du Soleil

So we’ve tempted you. For us, ski touring is one of the most rewarding and fun aerobic sports out there. Sweating on the way up, earning your turns for the way down. Coupled with incredible views, fresh snow, quiet pistes and often just mountain wildlife for company – you really can’t beat it. But if you’re going to do it, make sure you have the correct gear, equipment can make or break a ski tour… here’s what you need…

  • A pair of touring skis with climbing skins, adjustable poles, and a comfortable backpack are essential.
  • Safety gear, including an avalanche beacon, probe, and shovel, is non-negotiable for venturing into the backcountry.
  • Also, you need to know how to use it. Having it in your bag won’t save you if you don’t know how it works.
  • For beginner, intermediate and advanced avalanche awareness training there are a number of respected companies within the Portes du Soleil
  • For those new to ski touring, hiring a local guide is highly recommended. Experienced guides not only enhance safety but also unveil hidden gems, ensuring your journey is both memorable and secure.

Ski touring isn’t for the faint-hearted. It takes planning, there’s a good amount of faff when getting the equipment ready and it is a workout that will leave you sweating. But it does open the door to a whole new snow experience and also gives you a whole new view of the beautiful Portes du Soleil area. Just imagine, carving your way down an untouched snowfield, with eagles soaring above you and nothing but the sound of your heartbeat breaking the silence…surely this makes that little bit of extra work worth it?

Useful references:

Portes du Soleil website

Avoriaz Alpine Ski School

Off Piste Alpine Club (Morzine Avoriaz)

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