If you dream of leaving the crowds behind and exploring the backcountry, then our ski touring course in Chamonix is for you! For keen skiers with some off piste experience, this course delivers the skills and knowledge for travelling safely through the mountains in winter. You will learn how to skin and kick-turn efficiently, how to avoid avalanche terrain and use essential safety equipment, plus many more important ski touring skills. This is the ideal course to kick off your ski touring career, or as preparation for a classic ski tour such as the Haute Route. **Free safety equipment rental is included with this course**
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.
On the ski touring course we teach a full range of techniques for traveling efficiently through alpine terrain, including important areas such as route planning, avalanche avoidance, tranceiver training and glacier travel. Tips and coaching to improve your off piste skiing are also an important part of the week. Teaching and training sessions are always incorporated into ‘real’ days out ski touring each day, in order to give you the maximum range of experience and a fun weeks skiing! As this is a ski touring course, you will also spend a night in a high mountain hut in order to experience a longer, overnight tour and a taste of Alpine hut life.
This is an to introductory level trip. To take part you should be at Fitness Level 2 and Tech Level 2 (see our Fitness/Experience guidelines). You need to be a regular off piste skier, but no previous ski touring experience necessary. This is the minimum requirement and teams of mixed ability/fitness are quite common, but the pace and scope for each day is determined by teaching objectives rather than a time critical journey, ie things are usually quite relaxed!
One IFMGA guide skiing with 6 clients.
Included in price
- 5 days of guiding/instruction
- All guides expenses
- 5 nights accommodation in the Chamonix valley, including breakfast and evening meal
- 1 night accommodation in a mountain hut, including breakfast and evening meal
- Equipment hire: avalanche transceiver, shovel, probe, ice axe, crampons, harness
Excluded from price (see factsheet for extra cost estimates)
- Uplift and local travel
- Lunches and drinks
- Travel to resort
Our base and meeting point is the Hotel de La Couronne in the alpine village of Argentiere, 15 mins from Chamonix. The Couronne is a friendly place in the centre of the village, close to ski hire shops, bars, restaurants and bakeries, and within walking distance of the famous Grand Montets ski area. Rooms are provided on a twin (or occasionally triple or quad) sharing basis, but if you wish to book a single room please let us know and we will confirm availability. The hotel has ski and general storage facilities, so any extra luggage can be left until your return to resort at the end of the week. Evening meals can be taken in Argentiere in the hotels partner restaurant. Hotel details can be found on our Accommodation page.
For our overnight in the high mountains we will use a mountain hut. This is usually one of the popular and spectacular Mont Blanc massif huts, or in the neighbouring Aosta valley. For more info please read the Using Alpine Huts article which provides an overview of typical facilities, average costs to help you budget for lunches/drinks, and general info on hut etiquette. Also, our Multiday Ski Touring FAQs page answers some of the most common questions we are asked about multi day ski touring and logistics etc.
You should arrange outward travel on Sunday, arriving by 6-7pm latest in time for the briefing at your accommodation. 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.
Warm Up and Core Skills Day
On day one, we start with some warm up runs and an introduction to ski touring kit, before practicing skinning skills and doing some avalanche tranceiver training, then we set off on a lift assisted day tour.
We’ll choose a tour appropriate to the level of the group, so that nobody struggles and everyone has the time to learn new 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.
Tuesday to Friday
4 further days of ski touring, incorporating thorough training and instruction in ski touring skills. Thursday night will also be spent in a mountain hut, allowing a 2 day mini tour in the high mountains. Skills covered include:
Knowing how to skin uphill is pretty fundamental to all types of backcountry skiing away from resorts. Once you’ve got the basics of how to put skins on and off and how the ski touring bindings swap over from uphill to downhill mode, then it’s time to head off and practice some skinning.
The technique is to slide your skis along the snow in smooth strides – ie don’t lift them up off the ground with each step – it’s more of a ‘shuffle’ than a ‘walk’. Your lower boot buckles need to be snug in order to prevent heel lift, whereas the upper buckles need to be loose in order to allow maximum ankle flex.
Putting in a good skinning track is also quite an art and needs to take account of the terrain, as well as dangers such as avalanche risk. The normal way to ascend a slope is in a series of zig zags, in order to maintain a comfortable track angle.
As the terrain gets steeper, eventually uphill kick turns are needed to change direction. These are difficult to master, but it’s important to practice them until you become proficient, as they are your ticket to travelling through the high mountains. In icy conditions, harscheisen (ski crampons) may also be needed for extra grip.
There are different spacing protocols for travelling on terrain such as glaciers and steeper slopes, in order to reduce the loading on the slope – so it’s important you know how and when to spread out within a group. All of the above skills are best practiced ‘on the hill’, so we plan appropriate routes each day, that keep up with your learning curve and allow time to fit in skills sessions along the way.
Route Planning and Navigation
Careful pre route planning is essential for any ski tour or backcountry outing, whether a single day trip or a multi day hut to hut tour. The latest weather and avalanche reports must be obtained and understood in order to plan a safe route and find good snow. This is the aspect of ski touring that many people under estimate, but it’s more important than even your ski ability – as the best way to ensure a safe days skiing is through thorough planning.
We’ll show you how and where to find information and make informed decisions for tour planning, as well as go through the process of selecting routes from maps and guidebooks. We also look at group dynamics and planning strategies for making good safety decisions on the hill.
During the day, good navigation skills and careful observation of current conditions and terrain are equally important if you are going to follow your planned route, or decide to change it in light of conditions. In addition to map and compass work, we look at other important navigational aids for skiers including altimeters and GPS.
Avalanches are the number one cause of serious accidents to backcountry skiers, so it’s essential that you know how to plan a safe day in the light of the current avalanche forecast, as well as make observations and ski defensively on the ground.
This is an area that we look at constantly throughout the course, both at a planning level and during each day out – on the way up and on the way down.
Danger signs to look out for, how to select a safe route, skin up safely and then back down again in a way that minimises risk are all covered, as well as emergency procedures and avalanche rescue.
Having all the skills and knowledge is one thing, but being aware of how group dynamics, peer pressures and other psychological factors cause people to make poor decisions in avalanche terrain is equally important, so we teach strategies to avoid these heuristic traps and improve your decision making.
Glacier skiing is a wonderful experience, but one that brings it’s own hazards. In order to travel safely across a glacier on skis, you need to know how to move correctly as a group and find a safe line through crevasses.
Carrying the right kit is equally important, so we’ll show you what you need to carry on your harness and in your rucsac, how to set up a ‘cowstail’ and what types and lengths of rope to carry. Needless to say, we’ll also teach you how to use it all!
It’s important to know how to conduct a safe descent, including the need for extra caution and control on glaciated terrain.
In poor visibility or heavily crevassed terrain, you may even need to ski roped up – this is something you definitely need to practice before trying it for real.
Hopefully, if you’ve been paying attention and skiing safely on a glacier, then you won’t end up in a crevasse.
However, if the worst does happen, then knowing how to rescue a team member is an essential safety skill. Being prepared with the right kit (including wearing a harness with a ‘cowstail’ already attached) is an important part of your glacier skiing setup.
We’ll teach you how to build a reliable snow belay using skis, then rope up and prepare the edge of a crevasse before hauling out a victim.
For those with more ropework experience, additional sessions on prussicking and haul systems can also be included if appropriate.
If you are involved in or witness an avalanche incident, you only have 15 minutes to locate and dig out any buried victims, in order for them to stand a realistic chance of survival.
This is no easy task, so training and practice in how to carry out a coordinated avalanche rescue is vital for you to stand any chance of success.
There’s a lot more to it than simply doing a transceiver search – knowing how to protect the rescuers, coordinate a group search, divide up jobs, do a final pin point search, probe for the victim and finally, undertake a coordinated conveyer belt dig out are all essential skills needed to cut the rescue time down to 15 minutes.
Tours during the week are planned to involve as wide a variety of terrain as possible, including glaciers. We spend at least one night in a high mountain hut to complete a longer 2 day tour. Tips and coaching to improve your off piste skiing are also an important part of the course.
Fri PM – course debrief and advice for the future. Final night in the Couronne.
Return travel should be arranged on Saturday morning, after your final nights accommodation.
Your course starts and finishes in the Chamonix valley, at our base in Argentiere – the Hotel De La Couronne. The most common way to reach Chamonix is fly to Geneva, then take a shared minibus taxi transfer to the Chamonix valley (must be booked in advance).
Flights and transfers
- Fly to Geneva with numerous budget airlines, for an overview of the best options check out the excellent Sky Scanner website.
- Airport transfer from Geneva to Chamonix: Mountain Drop-offs offer the best all round service, with regular reliable transfers through the season. They offer a shared minibus taxi service which meets you in the airport and drops you off at the door of your hotel. Book your transfer here and use promo code ALPGUID to receive a discount on your journey.
- Alternatively hire a car at Geneva airport (1.2 hrs drive to Cham).
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, and Ski Tech Level 2:
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.
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.
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
- 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 Otley 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.