Our perfect first ski touring holiday, exploring the Haute Durance Valley and the mountains surrounding Briancon. The area is one of the best and most reliable ski touring regions in the Alps, boasting over 800 ski tours within an hours’ drive of our accommodation. During the week we learn the essential skills of ski touring, whilst enjoying a wide variety of classic tours to build your experience for longer trips and multi day tours in the future. **Free safety equipment rental is included with this trip**
Please visit our Covid-19 Ski Information page for Covid FAQs, details of our new participation requirements, travel advice and what to expect on your trip.
If you’ve always wanted to try ski touring, or you’ve done a few days and found you enjoyed it, then this is the trip for you! The week is designed for off piste skiers and novice tourers, who want to learn the essential skills of ski touring whilst enjoying a great alpine ski holiday. Like all of our touring holidays, the focus is on enjoying a different kind of skiing – well away from the big resorts; whether it be our cozy accommodation in a quiet and peaceful location, to each days’ skiing in the backcountry. A huge range of day tours are available in the area, with plenty of variety and reliable skiing conditions. In addition, we cover all the essential ski touring skills including skinning and avalanche safety, as well as tips and tricks to improve your general speed and efficiency. By the end of the week, you will have gained the skills and experience necessary to enjoy our other ski touring weeks, or to join a first hut to hut ski tour.
Due to the nature and variety of terrain in the area, this is an extremely reliable touring region – with good quality skiing possible in just about all weather and snow conditions.
This is an introductory level trip. To take part you need to be a regular off piste skier, with a good level of fitness: you should be at Fitness Level 2+ and Tech Level 2+ (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines below). You don’t need any previous ski touring experience in order to join this tour, as full instruction will be given, but you should be a competent off-piste skier able to handle most snow types in safety and control – ie to enjoy the week, you just need to meet the minimum ski ability and fitness requirements!
This is an intro level trip with a teaching element, so teams of mixed ability/fitness are quite common and therefore the pace and scope for each day will be determined by each group. We choose objectives that offer good opportunities for skills development and aren’t too time critical – so we have time to discuss, learn and practice things along the way. The week includes 5-6 hour days with generally steady climbs and typically 600-1000m of ascent a day – so you can expect to be skinning for 3-4 hours a day. Type of ascent: we use 80-100% skinning on the Haute Durance ski touring week – approx 4-5000m of skinning up, 5-6000m of skiing down, with day packs and at lower altitude.
One IFMGA guide skiing with 6 clients.
Included in price
- 6 days of guiding
- All guides expenses
- 7 nights accommodation including breakfast and evening meal in gites
- Airport transfer
- Transport during the course
- Equipment hire: avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, ice axe, crampons, harness
Excluded from price (see factsheet for extra cost estimates)
- Lunches and drinks
- Equipment hire
We stay at a rustic Gite/Auberge in the Upper Durance Valley, with easy access to all of the weeks touring objectives. The Auberge sits in a tiny hamlet off the main valley road, so access for the final couple of hundred metres is on foot. We’ve chosen this location specifically to offer you a very different kind of ski experience – one that is simpler, more tranquil and authentic to the mountain way of life. The owners are well used to the needs of the ski touring community, providing a warm and cozy base and serving a generous breakfast and evening meal. After skiing on Friday, we will travel across the Col du Lauteret in order to spend the final night closer to the airport, ready for an early start on Saturday morning. Rooms are provided on a twin (or occasionally triple/quad) sharing basis, but If you wish to book a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability.
Travel to Grenoble airport in time for the afternoon pickup, drive to the Haute Durance Valley. PM Evening meal and briefing – your guide will run through kit checks and safety routines, as well as hand out any rental equipment, before going on to discuss the current weather and mountain conditions and how these affect our plans. We’ll have maps and guidebooks of the area to show you, so if you’ve any further questions or last minute requests, then this is the ideal time to bring them up.
Day 1 – Warm Up and Core Skills Day
On day one we sort out our ski touring kit and do a recap of fundamental skills such as putting skins on and skinning technique, before practicing kick turns and doing some avalanche transceiver training, whilst undertaking a first day tour.
We may use some uplift to start the day if appropriate and always choose a tour appropriate to the level of the group, so that nobody struggles and everyone has the time to practice skills and ask questions etc en route.
You’ll need to bring a packed lunch, as we’ll be out in the backcountry all day, enjoying the skiing and scenery.
Days 2-6 – Ski touring in the Haute Durance Valley
Possible areas and tours include:
Col du Lauteret
At an altitude of over 2000m, the Col du Lauteret is one of the most reliable and classic ski touring venues in the region.
A great selection of tours head out in all directions from the top of the col, with outings of all lengths and difficulties, meaning there is always something just right for the team and current snow conditions.
Mid length tours such as the Cols du Galibier and Laurichard are perfect for skills development and longer outings such as Pic Blanc du Galibier offer steeper terrain, with the possibility of boot tracking to reach the summit.
Like all the best touring venues there is a great ski tourers cafe at the top of the col, which make a perfect spot to warm up again at the end of the day.
Tucked away at the top of a north facing valley on the edge of the Queyras Regional Park, Cervieres is one of our favourite spots for day touring.
Typically we start at the tiny hamlet of Le Laus, skinning up to a variety of cols and summits around the head of the valley.
Many of the descents face north, so often hold good powder for a number of days after fresh snowfall.
Finally, the Auberge in Le Laus also has a great bar and cafe to finish off the day.
Queyras Regional Park
The Queyras Regional Park is legendary for it’s quality ski touring and is only a 40 minute drive away, so it’s easily accessible in a day from the Haute Durance.
The Queyras gets a range of different snowfall patterns depending on the prevailing weather and wind directions, so you often get very different snow conditions here, compared to other areas nearby.
If the weather comes in from the south or east from Italy for instance, then the Queyras is well worth a visit – as it usually gets a great dump of powder.
It’s also a sufficiently remote area that it doesn’t get too much visiting traffic – ie most of the people ski touring here are locals, or live close enough to the region to make day trips to the area – so its rarely too busy.
Lift Assisted Touring
There are a number of excellent smaller ski stations in the region, that offer good jump off points for lift assisted day tours.
Puy St Vincent just south of Briancon is a good example – it’s a small family resort with few off piste skiers, but lots of excellent off piste terrain and day tours out the back of the resort.
The classic big descent is off the Col du Bal; skiing this involves a 10 minute boot track from the top of the lifts, to reach the summit of the Crete de la Pendine. From here, it’s possible to ski 800m along the ridge (via some exciting narrow sections…) to reach the col itself.
A long north facing powder slope then leads down into the valley, where we don skins and climb a further 500m up the far side to gain another great decent in a wild setting, looking out across the valley to Mont Brison and the Ailefroide towering on the horizon to the west at the head of the valley.
At the end of the day we ski back down through the woods via some crazy narrow tracks – you’d better get used to these, as they are obligatory on any touring week! – and eventually re gain the return run back down to the station.
Val de la Claree
Another nearby favourite, this quiet dead end valley has a great variety of different ski tours – with something suitable for practically any conditions.
A good option is the Combe Lardiere; on our last visit we were very pleased with ourselves, putting a fresh skinning track in up the valley – until we came across a fresh set of wolf prints leading straight up the path in front of us… We followed the wolf for half an hour or so, before it’s tracks turned off our route and headed elsewhere.
The scenery at the top of the valley is very dramatic, with rocky towers clinging to the hillsides and the possibility to visit an abandoned fort if the snow conditions are stable enough.
The descent is likewise very good – with great pitches down open bowls, forest glades, a narrow ravine and finally skiing straight down the river bed, to pick up the cross country ski trails in the main valley floor. To finish the day, the cafe up here is also excellent!
Friday PM – travel to hotel for final night en route to the airport.
Early morning drop off at Grenoble Airport.
Your course base is the Haute Durance valley, near to Briancon. The best way to reach the Haute Durance from France is to fly into Grenoble, from where we are offering an airport transfer with the guide. You should arrange outward travel on Saturday, arriving at Grenoble airport by mid afternoon. Return travel should be arranged on Saturday morning, after your final nights accommodation.
- Fly to Grenoble. The best UK flights are from Stansted with Jet2 or Ryanair, Heathrow with BA, Bristol with Easyjet or Ryanair, Birmingham with Jet2, Edinburgh with Easyjet, Manchester with Jet2 and Newcastle with Jet2. There are also flights from Luton, but the times are not so good for pickup/dropoff. Further suitable flights may be released from other carriers so please check Google Flights or Skyscanner for a full overview.
- Airport transfer from Grenoble to Haute Durance: pickup will be 3.00pm on Sat 20th Feb 2021, and drop off at 8.30am on Sat 27th Feb 2021. If you would like to make use of this, then please let us know as soon as possible and send us your flight details. Please do not book flights arriving later than this pickup time, as it will mean a delay for everyone else, and the team won’t make it to the Gite in time for the evening meal.
- Alternatively fly to Lyon, Chambery or Geneva and connect to Haute Durance by hire car.
Alternatively, you can fly to various French airports and take a bus/train to Briancon. We can also pickup at Briancon central bus/train station at 7 pm on Saturday, en route from Grenoble to our accommodation in the Haute Durance valley.
- Fly to Lyon
- Train from Lyon Airport to Briancon (5 hours via Grenoble and Gap)
For 2 or more people travelling together, airport car hire is also a cost effective option – NB you must hire a car with winter tyres or snow chains – all routes cross high mountain passes in winter, where special equipment is compulsory. Driving times to Briancon from the various Airports are: Turin 2hrs, Grenoble 2.30hrs, Lyon 3.30hrs, Geneva 4hrs (via Frejus Tunnel).
For flights and other travel options, including train, coach and driving, visit our Travel Planning page.
To enjoy this trip you should be comfortable operating at Fitness Level 2/3, and Ski Tech Level 2/3:
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 hillwalk, cycling 30-40 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 hillwalk, 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)
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. *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Silver – Intermediate*
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 or 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!) *Equivalent to Ski Club of GB Off Piste Level: Purple – Advanced*
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.
To view all of our Ski Fitness Levels and Off Piste Technical Levels, please visit our Ski Ability page.
If you need to top up your fitness for this trip, please see our Ski Touring Training Advice page.
Hut to Hut Touring Equipment List
Just remember, every extra kilo on your back knocks 10% off your enjoyment on the descents – so try and keep the weight down!
- Waterproof Jacket – preferably lightweight and breathable
- Overtrousers/ski pants – preferably with side zips
- Fleece mid layer – or equivalent
- Socks – specialist ski socks or a warm loop lined pair of mountain socks
- Wicking thermal top – not cotton please…
- Thermal leggings or ski pants
- Thin inner gloves
- Warm ski gloves or mittens, if you suffer from cold hands
- Warm hat
- Spare fleece/lightweight duvet jacket
- Water container – at least 1 litre
- Personal medications and blister kit – regular meds, zinc oxide tape, compeed and painkillers etc
- Lightweight head torch
- Ski goggles
- Sun glasses – CE rated 3 or 4 with side protection
- Sun and lip cream – factor 30+
- Wallet, passport, Alpine Club/BMC card (hut discount) and insurance docs
Hut Overnight Items
- Small wash kit
- Spare lightweight t-shirt/socks/pants
- Silk sheet liner
- Ear plugs
- (Hut slippers for indoor use, blankets/duvets and pillows are provided by the huts)
- Rucsac 35/45l – try and avoid ones covered in too many features, just ski and ice axe attachments required
- Ski mountaineering boots
- Skis with touring bindings – some ‘freeride’ bindings are also suitable
- Velcro ski strap – to keep skis together on your rucksack if we need to carry them
- Ski poles – with good size 5cm+ baskets (telescopic poles are not needed)
- Climbing skins – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Harscheisen (ski crampons) – they come with the skis if you hire your kit
- Metal snow shovel – must be a full metal shovel (plastic blades don’t work in real avalanche debris!)
- Avalanche probe
- Avalanche transceiver – must be a modern digital model (older analogue models are now obsolete)
- Harness, with 120cm sling and locking karabiner
- Crampons – lightweight model
- Ice Axe – lightweight model
Your guide will have all other safety kit, first aid and survival equipment.
Recommendations and Advice
Visit the Knowledge Base section of our website, where we publish an annual review of the years best new skis, boots and touring equipment, plus a range of other interesting tips and recommendations. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, please get in touch!
Backcountry UK in Ilkley offer an excellent ski boot fitting service, one of the best ranges of ski mountaineering equipment in the UK and top notch advice.
Please visit our Equipment Hire page for recommended hire shops in your resort, and Alpine Guides hire equipment price list (safety equipment is provided free of charge on certain courses – please consult price inclusions).
For this trip you must have specialist travel insurance providing medical, emergency search/rescue and repatriation cover for off piste skiing and ski touring, as outlined in the trip itinerary. We also strongly recommend that you purchase cancellation cover, in case you’re unable to attend your trip due to personal circumstances or injury. Please arrange your insurance as soon as your trip is confirmed to run.
Further details can be found on our insurance info page.