Ski Ability and Fitness Levels

Ski Tech Levels and Ski Fitness Levels

Experienced backcountry skiers and tourers will have a good handle on their ability and what they are happy to ski. However, for anyone who is unsure or thinking of joining us for the first time, we hope the following advice will be helpful in choosing an appropriate trip.

One of the key elements of a successful ski touring/off piste holiday is a cohesive team of similar ability and fitness. On a backcountry/off-piste ski holiday this allows everyone to ski at a similar pace on terrain that is safe and suitable for the entire team, for maximum fun! On a ski touring holiday this is especially important, since there is often a degree of time pressure to complete your journey during the early part of the day when conditions are usually best, and also to give a margin of speed and safety in the event of bad weather/unexpected circumstances.

Our level/grading system is intended to act as a guideline against which you can make a comparison and self assessment of your own fitness and ability. This can be a difficult exercise to perform…. so if you are unsure just ask a friend/regular ski partner to do it for you! Another useful method is to look at the photos and in particular the videos (where available) on each course page – these show good examples of the terrain, style and standard of skiing involved. Once you have done this please check the Ski Tech and Ski Fitness requirements of your chosen course to decide if it’s suitable

In addition, we have a useful article on choosing a ski touring holiday to help you through the decision making process and finally, you should check the ski touring skills required for your trip: our intro level skills courses require no previous touring experience, whereas our hut to hut trips all require at least a few days of previous day touring experience as a minimum (by day touring, we mean ski touring on days out from a valley base, rather than hut to hut). All of this information is available for easy reference on the course pages.


Our Ski Tech Levels

Our 5 ski levels are based on what types of snow and conditions you can confidently do regular linked turns in – and just as importantly, what conditions you begin to struggle in. (By ‘linked’ we mean moving from one turn into the next without traversing in between).

Tech Level 1
Intro Off Piste Skier (Advanced Piste Skier). You cruise reds, black runs are challenging but fun and you have ventured off piste between the runs with varying degrees of success (ie deep snow is still something of a mystery…)
Likely to say: ‘I’d love to learn how to ski well off piste and/or try ski touring’
Our Advice: Definitely go on an Off Piste Skiing Course to improve your ski technique first, before trying ski touring – you’ll get a lot more out of it that way around!

Tech Level 2
Improving Off Piste Skier. You enjoy black runs and the kind of tracked out off piste terrain found around many big resorts, but you haven’t skied too much in properly deep snow without a base to it yet.
Likely to say: ‘I’d like to ski well in powder/link lots of short radius turns/go ski touring’
Our Advice: An Off Piste Skiing Course is highly recommended. If you’d like to try ski touring, then do either an intro ski touring course, an intro touring skills long weekend (or if you are progressing toward level 3, an intro level ski tour).

Tech Level 3
Confirmed Off Piste Skier. You can put down a reasonable set of tracks in powder, but difficult snow types – eg heavy wet snow, crusts, poor visibility or 40dg slopes – can all cause problems (though you can cope with them safely, if not elegantly!)
Likely to say: ‘I’d like to handle difficult snow/steep slopes more confidently in better style’
Our Advice: Off piste coaching still useful. Intermediate off piste weeks are at your level too. If you want to get into ski touring, try a touring course or intro level ski tour. If you’re an established ski mountaineer, then intermediate level tours are generally suitable.

Tech Level 4
Advanced Off Piste Skier. You can put turns in through heavier snow and on icy 40dg slopes, but difficult breakable crusts and skiing a fresh track off piste in zero visibility are still somewhat challenging!
Likely to say: I’ve been skiing ten/twenty years – I’d like to do your ‘……’ tour.
Our Advice: You will enjoy our advanced level trips. If you are new to touring – then you could do a Haute Route with a few days of focused ski touring skills training beforehand (but don’t overlook the physical fitness needed as well). Mileage is the best way to improve your ability level.

Tech Level 5
Expert Off Piste Skier. You can ski all snow types including crusts in control and are happy on slopes of 45dg or when putting in a fresh track in zero vis.
Likely to say: ‘Bring it on…’
Our Advice: Stay strong – and may the force be with you… Advanced level trips and ski expeditions are the way forward.


Our Ski Fitness Levels

Our 5 fitness levels we use are designed to give you an idea of how active you need to be during the 2-3 months prior to your ski trip, in order to be well prepared. These are cardiovascular (CV) fitness and activity levels eg. running, cycling, hill walking or competitive sports that get your heart and lungs working for extended periods of time. You don’t need to be an athlete, but you do need to be active and healthy (for our harder trips, some regular training will be necessary).

They include mountaineering fitness and ski fitness benchmarks for context.

Fitness Level 1
You do 1-2 hours of cardiovascular training/sport per week. On foot: you should be able to climb Snowdon from Pen y Pas in around 2 hrs carrying a day sack, or Bow Fell starting from Langdale in the Lake District in about 2 1/2 hrs. On skis: you are happy piste skiing all day with just the odd break for food and drink, but would struggle to ski off piste all day without finishing up very tired for the following day.

Fitness Level 2
You do 2-3 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you should be happy doing either a 3-4 hr hill walk, cycling 30 miles or mountain biking 2-3 hours without being exhausted. On foot: you should be able to walk from Ogwen Cottage in North Wales up Glyder Fach – Glyder Fawr – Y Garn – Ogwen in ~5hrs. Or in the Lake District Langdale – Bowfell – Esk Pike – Angle Tarn – Langdale in ~ 6hrs. On skis: you are capable of off piste skiing all day or doing a couple of hours skinning with out finishing up exhausted – ie you can do this for a number of days without taking a rest day.

Fitness Level 3
You do 3-4 hours CV training/sport per week. At this level you are happy doing a 5-6 hr hill walk, 50ml cycle or 3-4hr mountain bike ride without being totally exhausted. If you are into challenges – then the thought of doing a road sportive, or training to do a 1/2 (or maybe even a full) marathon, wouldn’t seem too ridiculous. On foot: you should be able to do the full Langdale Horseshoe: Langdale – Pike of Stickle – Angle Tarn – Bow Fell – Crinkle Crags – Pike of Blisco – Langdale in a day without finishing up exhausted. On skis: you can skin uphill at 300m/hr for 3-4 hrs a day (ie 8-1200m of ascent each day).

Fitness Level 4
You do 4+ hours CV training/sport per week. A 70+ mile cycle ride, or 20+ mile hill walk on a weekend would hold no fears. If so inclined, you might be the kind of person who has done longer road sportives/challenge rides, a ~3.30hr marathon or other similar endurance events. Keen hillwalkers who happily knock off 3-4+ munros in a day also have this kind of fitness and endurance. On skis: you can skin at 400m/hr or could handle 4-6hrs skinning a day. (ie 1000-1400m+ of ascent each day).

Fitness Level 5
You do 5-6+ hours training for competitive sport per week, have a background in the same, or you are annoyingly talented! Either way, doing a 100 ml bike ride or about a 3hr marathon wouldn’t be unreasonable. On skis: you are happy skinning at over 400m/hr or could skin all day if necessary (ie 1400m+ days).