Ski touring, off-piste skiing, and ski mountaineering is currently growing pretty fast in the UK, and on a sunny day with recent snowfall it's common to be overtaken in certain popular areas by hordes of brightly coloured, swooshing skiers, who are somehow able to defy sinking knee deep into the powder on the uphills and swoop down the descents.
Unfortunately,ski mountaineering is quite gear intensive, however, if you already have the clothes for mountaineering in Scottish winter, you can probably ski in them too. A normal ice axe and crampons out of the club kit (legend says there is a super duper lightweight ski touring axe in there somewhere) will also suffice for those situations where you don't want to
be on skis – but please please please check the crampons fit your ski boots first.
As for getting hold of kit, the increase in popularity in the sport is bringing prices down a little (although BREXIT) and there is an increasing second-hand market. Here is a list of places which are good for obtaining kit:
• UKC Buy and Sell
• Facebook Outdoor Gear Exchange
• Facebook British Backcountry For Sale megapost (with 1.3k comments since 2013)
• Facebook Chamonix Buy and Sell but the sellers aren't always up for posting
• German ebay (www.ebay.de), also will show offers from Austria
• Glenmore Lodge jettison shedloads of gear for cheap at student seminars etc
• Snowheads Forum is good for more heavy duty offpiste stuff
• www.ekosport.com if you can afford to buy new
• The recyling bins in Argentiere
Ski boots can make your life a misery if they are the wrong size or shape. For short tours, or skinning from the summit tow at Nevis Range to access beyond the back corries, you'll manage fine in downhill boots, though they are tricky to walk in if you have to take your skis off. A good walk mode with some flex will make uphills and bootpacking easier but you'll want them to be also pretty stiff for downhills.
Ahhhh bindings chat. “Tech”, “pin” or “Dynafit” bindings are probably the best for touring as they are light and getting better all the time if you're an enthusiast of jumping off of cliffs. Examples are the Fritschi Vipec, Dynafit Radical/Vertical, and the Kingpin. They do require that your boots have special thingies (inserts) and can ice up a bit. Other popular
binding types are Marker Tour, F10, F12 (beefy and pretty solid), and Fritschi Diamir or Eagle (lighter but can give the impression you are ice skating, not skiing). Beware older models may have an “insta-tele” mode. These you can ski in pretty much any boot.
Also telemarking is a thing, but I like my knee ligaments just as they are, thank you.
Skis. A lot of the cheaper set-ups of German eBay origin are based around skinny, sharp edged, heavy piste skis (which actually might be quite good for an icy March Sunday at
Glencoe), but a bit unpleasant to tour on when it's powder-on-heather in January. Older type skis might also be very straight and harder to turn on or have worn out cores. So, what you want for Scotland is probably something about your height, 80-90mm underfoot? But I'd actually just ask someone who knows what they're talking about.
Poles are poles really, collapsing ones have a habit to get broken though, and if you're going to have two 170cm planks with you, then solid ones are a bit more indestructible, but this is not guaranteed.
Skins for the uphill. Mohair glide nicer than Nylon but don't last as long. Second-hand ones might need re-glueing. Heel clips are good in Scotland as the skins will frequently crud up and leave you sliding backwards down the slope. If you’re them buying separately, remember that skins that are too narrow might make you slide backwards.
Ski crampons, as distinct from boot crampons, will make life easier when negotiating icy slopes, especially if your friends have them too.
Talking of friends, avalanche gear is something you should think about, as your chances of getting out alive essentially rely on your mates finding you in the first 15 minutes, and skiing is more likely to get you into areas which could be dodgy. So ideally everyone in the party will have a transceiver (with batteries), shovel and probe. Transceiver hide and seek is fun but no substitute for practising looking for rucksacks in the snow or at a transceiver park.
So now you're fully kitted up, how's your skiing? Some other Gumclubbers taught me to snowplough turn one drizzly day at Glencoe, which gave me a whole season of fun, including a couple of short tours on rolling terrain. The following autumn I got some lessons at a dry slope, where the instructor slowly beat my bad habits out of me, and being able to parallel turn with a reasonable degree of competence really helped on a wider variety of terrain. That being said in some conditions relapsing back into the snowplough and having some tactics up your sleeve like slide slipping and kick turning can be really useful.
If you want to get lessons in Glasgow, Bellahouston dry slope offers lessons. The ones through the uni ski club are cheaper but a. involve joining the ski club and b. are a bit crowded with people learning so they can look cool and pull on the ski trip. You can also get lessons at Braehead (a bit more expensive, but real snow) and at most Scottish ski resorts. Can you walk uphill? If yes, you can probably ski uphill.
- Katie Bowen (November 2016)