Tour du Ciel Ski – Personal Equipment List

See also:
Ski programs overview
Valle Maira, Italy
Queyras, France
Lofoten, Norway
Albula, Switzerland
Ortler, Italy
Haute Route Verbier
Haute Route Plateau
Gran Paradiso
Zermatt to Saas Fee
Silvretta
Berner Oberland
Vanoise Haute Route
Tour du Ciel
Stubai
Chamonix off-piste
Alps skiing advice

Ski touring in the Alps is unique in that the extensive system of huts allows for travel with very light packs. The skiing is therefore easier and more fun. The light packs also allow us to travel in terrain that would be much too difficult and dangerous with heavy overnight gear. Therefore to make this high mountain traverse both more fun and safe we must travel light.

As you assemble your gear, "go light" whenever the opportunity presents itself. In the end your full pack should weigh no more than about 20 lbs. Take a pack of that weight out to your local ski area and you will instantly see the value of a light load.

Limiting the weight of your pack is especially important the less advanced your skiing skills are, or the less experience you have in variable, often challenging off-piste snow conditions. No one likes to be the person who struggles to keep up with the rest of the group, or whose limits determine what the entire group can achieve. The more extra weight you carry, the greater the chances that you might find yourself in this position.

In the spring, the weather in the mountains can be anything, from blazing hot sunshine to blizzard conditions. You need to prepare for the gamut of conditions.

Randonée, or alpine touring, skis are recommended for this tour. Telemark equipment is suitable only for expert telemarkers. Whatever type of gear you use you should be able to ski in difficult snow with good speed control in tight confines and steep slopes. The track we follow is occasionally exposed and solid side slipping skills are essential.

Virtually everything you need can either be rented or purchased in Zermatt. The only exception to this might be if you have unusual requests, either in boot or ski size, or need particular gear. You need only allow the time to do it.


CLOTHING

Ski Boots - Randonnée or Telemark.

Randonnée - There are a range of good boots on the market. Generally, the lighter boots are more comfortable for walking, while the heavier boots are not quite so comfortable but provide better downhill skiing support.

In the US it can be difficult to compare fit from one brand or model to another as few shops carry more than one kind of randonnée boot, if they carry them all.

Scott, Dynafit, Black Diamond, Scarpa and La Sportiva seem to be the most popular brands these days. Most, if not all of these companies have models specifically designed to fit women.

Beware of touring boots that fit both touring bindings and regular alpine downhill bindings. These boots greatly compromise walking comfort in exchange for the ability to fit downhill bindings. Good touring boots have a rocker in the sole, and a tread with aggressive lugs for hiking. Avoid flat bottomed boots that lack a significant rocker. Unfortunately, these flat-soled boots are becoming more popular in the US, used especially by "side-country" skiers who don't really need to walk very far. However, for most European ski tours you'll be happier with a boot that allows some comfort on the hiking approaches.

Telemark - Scarpa, Black Diamond, and Scott all make excellent boots. You will probably find a better selection of telemark boots in the States than you will in Europe, though every year we see more and more tele boots on the shelves in France. If you use tele gear be sure your boot crampons can be securely fitted to your boots.

Socks - Generally you will want to fit your boots with one medium sock, or perhaps a liner sock and a medium sock. If your boots are too loose you will lose skiing control. Bring a spare change.

Hut Socks - We like to bring a light pair of socks to switch into when in the hut. One pair is plenty.

Pants - There are two different strategies for pants: 1) woven stretch water-resistant "soft-shell", or 2) water proof harder finish shell pants.

Soft shell style - These pants are usually worn over bare legs, though long underwear can be added in unusually cold weather. They have a good hard finish for wind and water resistance, but are not waterproof. When more protection is needed combine these pants with a pair of snow/wind pants (described below). Long underwear bottoms (optional, see below) complete a very warm combination for mid-winter or especially tough weather tours.

Excellent examples of this type of pant are made by Marmot, Arc'teryx, Mammut, Schoffel and others. For late season tours (think mid-March, April or even May) these soft shell pants are cooler and more breathable.

Hard shell style - With the advancement of fabric technology, "hard shell" clothing is more breathable, and has a softer more comfortable feel. Many skiers are now touring in shell pants, especially in the early season when the weather is cool.

Usually, these pants are worn with a very light under layer for warmth and comfort. Virtually all models have zip venting. Since the pants are essentially waterproof, an additional shell is not needed (as it may be with a soft shell pant). Excellent examples of this type of pant are made by Haglofs.

Waterproof shell pants - If you choose the soft shell pants above, and the pants you bring are a bit long in tooth and/ or not very wind or water resistant, you'll also need a more water proof layer in case of truly foul weather. The lighter the better, as you may not need them at all. Full, separation side zips aid in easy on and off. Avoid pants with suspenders as they are much more complicated to get into "on the fly".

If you go with the "hard-shell" style above, then you won't need this additional layer.

Hut pants (optional) - We often like to bring a very light pair of shorts, or "yoga" tights to change into in the huts. This is a luxury item, so keep them as light as possible.

Long Underwear Tops - A light synthetic or very light merino wool base layer. You might want to bring both a longand short-sleeved version of this.

Long Underwear bottoms - Light synthetic or wool.

Light insulating shirt - Something about the weight very heavy synthetic underwear.

Medium weight insulating layer - For another warm layer, you might consider a lightly insulated nylon shirt/jacket such as the Marmot's DriClime windshirt.

Heavier insulating layer - A light-weight down or synthetic insulated sweater or pull-over. Marmot's Zeus jacket or Patagonia's Nano Puff Hoody are good examples of what we mean.

Snow/Wind Jacket - For ski tours we have been moving away from truly water proof fabrics and using water repellent windproof finish soft shell fabrics. Though you might get a bit wet in the rain, nearly all precipitation on ski tours comes as snow. Of course Gore-tex works well, but some of the more breathable fabrics have a larger comfort range. Again, go for lightweight. Be sure your jacket has a good hood!

Light Gloves - Most of the time you will be comfortable with a pair of simple "WindStopper" gloves.

Warmer Gloves - When the temperature drops you will want a somewhat warmer pair of gloves. The best solution is a very light pair of nylon insulated ski gloves. The Marmot Randonnée glove is a good example. Gloves made for climbing or with a lot of leather are generally too heavy. Mittens are not recommended.

Ear band - To keep the cold breezes off the ears, but avoid over heating.

Warm hat -

Neck Gaiter - The "Buff" is a Spanish invention. Its a stretchy lightweight neck gaiter, ear warmer, headband, pirate head piece, hair control unit, and Lord knows what else. Google "Buff" to learn more. Indispensable!

Baseball cap or other sun-hat with a brim - This is also useful in keeping snow off your face when it is coming more or less straight down.

Around-town clothes and shoes - For around town only. You won't want to bring these on the tour. Please note that because all of the huts provide good hut shoes/slippers, you do not need to carry a change of shoes on the tour itself.

 

SKIING & CLIMBING GEAR

Skis - Despite the ever-increasing width of skis in today's market, there is a limit to how wide is sensible for a good touring ski. Unfortunately, one ski can't be good in all conditions. Fat skis (more than 100mm underfoot) don't do well on hard pack, are very poor for skinning on firm snow, and are heavy. And narrow skis (less than 80mm underfoot) while light and fun on firm, lose points in deep or difficult snow.

Choosing a ski is an act of compromising.

  • Ski weight. Lighter skis are much nicer on the uphill. Heavier skis are more fun on the downhill and in funky snow. Remember, on most tours, you'll spend 80% of your time on the uphill! Look for skis that weight between 2 to 3 kg for the pair.
  • Turn radius. Generally a short turn radius gives a more "turny" ski, good for tight conditions or on steep ground where you need to get your skis through the fall line quickly. However, they are more "squirrely" at high speed and don't much like being run flat on firm packed trails (you'll want to keep them on edge, constantly carving). A high radius ski is more stable at speed. Some folks claim that a straighter edge (high radius) is better for skinning, but we don't think this is very significant.
  • Ski width. Fat skis simply SUCK for skinning on firm snow. The contact edge is so far out from under your foot that there is considerable leverage which puts a lot of uncomfortable pressure on various parts of your foot, and also makes it hard to engage that edge, particularly if you have the uppers of your boots loose, which you should while skinning. With fat skis, you'll find you need to use ski crampons sooner and more often, and on steep firm skinning, you'll be cursing them. However, in deep or heavy snow they are much easier to ski. Fat skis weigh more than skinny skis, which is great on the downhill, but burns calories on the uphill.
  • Generally for most Alps ski touring a width of 85mm to 90mm at the waist is recommended. For early season tours, you might want to go a bit wider, say 100mm.
  • Ski stiffness. Stiff skis are faster and more predictable on firm snow at high speed. But they tend to feel more "dead" in deep snow and take more "umph" to make tighter turns. Generally, softer skis feel more forgiving, at least at low speeds, but they are less sure on steep firm snow. Unfortunately, there is no objective measurement of ski stiffness, so all you can do is go into the shop and bend a bunch of skis, using your highly calibrated arms. Less skilled skiers will be happier with a soft ski. More skilled skiers may prefer something more in the middle of the road. Our best advice here is to stay away from the extremes, especially very stiff skis. Bear in mind that fatter skis tend to be softer, as they are designed for skiing deep snow.
  • Flat, or turned up tail. This one is easy: get a flat-tailed ski. There are few real advantages to a twin-tip or tail-rockered ski, and plenty of disadvantages. The disadvantages include: harder kick turns because of the extra tail length; extra weight that is seldom put to any use; harder to attach ski tail clips; rooster tail effect that is annoying to those skiing behind you; and difficulty sticking the skis into the snow, as needed for some types of anchors, or simply putting them somewhere out of the way.
  • Tip and tail holes. We applaud K2 for continuing to put tip and tail holes in some of their models. Though not nearly as important as the other attributes above, they are nice to have. There is no significant disadvantage to holes.
  • Tail notch for skins. Most touring skis have a tail notch for skin attachment. But take a quick glance at the back end of anything you are considering buying to be sure skin attachment will be easy. Again, there is no downside to a notch. A little judicious work with a file can add a notch if your skis lack one.

Our recomendations:

  • Turn radius of less than 18 meters. (less in the shorter lengths, a bit more in the longer lengths, but try to keep it under 20). We like the maneuverability of a "turny" ski for most touring. Getting around quickly on steep or tight terrain can be important, and more often than not, speeds are kept to reasonable limits. A low-radius ski will have a wider tip which is better for soft snow, and a narrower waist, better for skinning, giving you the best of both worlds.
  • A rockered tip. This seems to be all the rage in new touring skis, and in skis with a tip width of over 120 mm, it is rare that a ski would not have a rockered tip.
  • Go light! There are some crazy-light skis out there that meet our criteria for width and shape. Be aware, however, that you will sacrifice a small amount of ski performance in crud with so little mass on your foot, but you'll smile on the uphills. The main problem with some of these light skis is one of durability. Though technology is a wonderful thing, and advances every day, occasional ski breakages do happen. In general, if you don't weigh more than about 180 lbs (82 kg), you keep your pack weight to within reason, and generally avoid jumping off things, then you'll most likely be fine with the lightest of skis. But if you are a big fellow, or ski very aggressively, then be careful with some of the very light skis. These days, anything with the above dimensions that weighs about, or less than 3200 gm per pair at the 176mm length, is "light weight".
  • Alps, the Sierra Nevada, New England, or the Cascades - 85 to 90mm at the waist. We feel that this width gives good performance in difficult or deep snow, while still being reasonable for skinning on firm snow. Wide skis (over 90mm underfoot) are difficult and uncomfortable for skinning on hard snow. Remember, wider skis mean wider skins and ski crampons, adding weight and bulk to your pack.
  • Colorado, Utah, BC Interior, or early season in the Alps (typically before mid-March), then go a bit wider, up to about 100 mm underfoot.

Here's an example of a ski that we like:

Dynastar Cham - The "Cham Mythic" line of skis from Dynastar includes several models. The most useful for touring are the 87mm and 97mm widths.

The Mythic 97 and 107 are reasonably light, but not exceptionally so. They are not as light as dedicated touring skis, but also ski better. It is all a trade-off. The Mythic 87 is rather heavy for its size.

The 87mm version is a good choice for Alps tours like the Chamonix to Zermatt Haute Route or Berner Oberland, where firm snow is not uncommon. Also for touring in the Sierra, New England or the Cascades, the 87mm is recommended. For a much lighter similar ski, the Volkl VTA88 Lite is an excellent choice.

If you ski in a softer snow climate, such as the Rockies, western Canada or the Alps in February and March, then you might like to go with either the 97mm or even the 107mm, though skinning on firm snow with a wide ski is much more difficult. We own the 97mm version and are quite happy with them on trips such as the Val Maira, or Norway, though we do switch to our narrower skis when we do the Haute Route or later-season tours.

Avoid the temptation to buy long with these skis. Anything longer than you are tall, is too long. Eyebrow height is good. Kick turns are much more difficult in an overly long ski, and the actual additional flotation is negligible.

Ski Bindings - Ever more major manufacturers seem to be joining the randonnée party. In addition to the old standards—such as Diamir/Fritschi, Dynafit, Marker, Plum and G3—Atomic, Salomon and Look also now have touring bindings.

Ski touring bindings can be divided into two general categories: "Tech" bindings which use pins at the toe to provide the pivot point–also called "pintech", and plate bindings in which the boot is attached to a hinged plate. Dynafit is the classic brand of Tech binding, and has the lion's share of the market, while Diamir is the leader in the plate category.

Recent improvements in Tech bindings (ease of entry, heel lift and such) have made this style of binding the best choice for most ski touring. There are still some advantages to plate binding (more predictable release, ease of entry, ability to accommodate more boot types). But the weight advantage to Tech bindings overrides all these considerations when you have to spend hours skinning uphill.

For the kind of trips we offer, which involve mostly human powered uphill, the Tech style binding is the best choice. This fortunate fact simplifies our binding discussion immensely, as we can safely skip over the many, many versions of plate bindings on the market. Also, among the few manufacturers that produce Tech bindings, there are some fairly clear choices.

At the time of writing, the Salomon MTN looks to be one of the best choices for serious ski tourers. It is very light weight while still including some "necessary" extras, such as brakes, adjustable length, and easy-to-use heel risers. Alternatively the Dynafit Radical Turn is a good choice for those who are more concerned about release consistency.

Within the Dynafit line there are models that are both lighter (the "Superlight" and the "TLT Speed") and heavier ("ST Rotation"). The ST Rotation is the best balance for general ski touring.

G3 has also developed a Tech binding called the ION. Similar in weight to the ST Rotation, it also has brakes. It certainly is prettier than either of the main contenders.

There are, of course several other Tech binding manufacturers out there, including Plum, ATK and others. Most of these are designed for the race market–ridiculously lightweight but at the expense of some useful features, such as ski brakes. Plum, however, makes a touring binding with optional brakes. Similar in weight to the ION, Radical and Vipec, it unfortunately lacks some of the newer features of the its main competition, such as easy heel lift engagement.

Telemark skiers can use any number of good quality bindings. Some bindings, such as the Karhu 7TM, or the G3 Targa have options for a comfortable hinged touring mode, as well as brakes and ski crampons (though the whole kit is quite heavy). Remember, you must be able to equip your skis with ski crampons, listed below. This may effect your binding choice.

Ski Crampons - Required for both AT and telemark systems. You will need to equip your skis with removable crampons, also known as harscheisen or couteaux. For some telemark setups these may be difficult to find.

Telemark skiers! - You MUST equip your skis with ski crampons, they are required for this trip. Telemark binding manufacturers have been depressingly slow to offer an optional crampon. Shame on them!

There are several models of telemark binding that now include a ski crampon option. If your current binding does not have a designated crampon option, you probably can find after-market crampons that can be fitted. B & D Ski Gear offers one alternative. Also, Voile has a fixed crampon that my fit some skis. In our opinion, the B & D option is generally better. Try it out before you come.

There are several models of telemark binding that now include a ski crampon option. If your current binding does not have a designated crampon option, you probably can find after-market crampons that can be fitted. B & D Ski Gear offers one alternative. Also, Voile has a fixed crampon that my fit some skis. In our opinion, the B & D option is generally better. Try it out before you come.

Ski brakes - We recommend ski brakes as opposed to run-away straps. Brakes are quicker to use than straps, are somewhat safer in avalanche terrain, and reduce the odds of a ski getting away from you when putting them on or taking off on steep terrain.

Ski Skins - We especially like the Colltex skins. The Palü or Tödi models are excellent. Skins must be shaped to fit shaped skis, narrow in the middle and wider at the tips and tails. Many skin manufacturers are selling skins already cut to fit shaped skis. If your skins are not shaped, it is high time you went shopping!

Ski Poles - A two section pole can be useful for touring, allowing you to shorten them for downhill skiing and lengthen them for long sections of poling or skating. That said, the Leki Red Bird (one section) is our favorite pole.

Ski Strap - A simple strap to hold your skis together when carried on your pack or over a shoulder can be handy. Get it long enough to go around your poles as well. We like the stretchy polyurethane straps you can find at Voile.com. Get the 18 inch length.

Ice Axe - Light is most definitely right! The best choice for ski touring is Backcountry Access Shaxe Speed Avalanche Shovel combination ice axe. Very light and effective.

No wrist loop is needed! You are better off without one. Also do not bring rubber pick or spike protectors. These sorts of protectors are meant for use in planes, trains, cars and subways. Leave them in the hotel when you go into the mountains.

Boot Crampons - Needed for everyone. You will need boot crampons for some of the steeper ascents we make. The best crampons for this type of use are made of aluminum. Aluminum crampons are not as durable as steel, and they are not great on real ice climbing, but the weight savings are considerable. They are perfectly adapted to ski mountaineering. We strongly recommend purchasing aluminum crampons.

We quite like the Petzl Leopard LLF crampons. Very light and compact.

Carry your crampons deep inside your pack. Don't bring rubber point protectors. We use very simple and light nylon bags for our crampons We think most crampon bags are too big, bulky and heavy.

Climbing Harness - A lightweight simple harness is ideal. The Petzl Altitude harness is a great choice.

Locking Carabiner - Bring a single locking carabiner. Go light. The Climbing Technology "Ariel Pro SG" weighs a scant 40 grams. The Petal Spirit Screw-Lock weighs 45 grams.

Helmet - (Optional) Some folks feel naked without a helmet. If you are one of them, please bring it with you. Be sure you have figured out a quick and secure pack attachment system for the uphills.

Together, if you choose wisely, your ice axe, crampons, harness and carabiner can be as light as 728 grams, less than 26 ounces.

 

MISCELLANEOUS

Avalanche Transceiver - If you are considering buying a new beacon, there are a number of good options. The latest, most advance beacons have 3 antennas. A few good models include the the Barryvox or Barryvox S, the Ortovox S1+, the Pieps DSP Pro, or the Backcountry Access Tracker 3.

We can supply you with a transceiver if you don't own one.

Shovel - We can also supply shovels, but again, if you own a very lightweight shovel, you should bring it as well.

As mentioned above, we quite like the Backcountry Access Shaxe Speed Avalanche Shovel / Ice Axe combination.

Avalanche Probe - We can also supply probes, but if you have one, bring it with.

Pack - A simple and lightweight pack with a capacity of about 35 liters (2100 cubic inches) is recommended. Ski attachments are very useful. We strongly advise against bring a pack larger than 40 liters. The large size weighs more, but perhaps more important does not keep the packs weight close to the body as well as a smaller pack, making skiing much harder. A good 35 liter pack weighs about 2 lbs.

Air bag (ABS) packs are becoming increasingly popular in the Alps. While we ourselves don't normally ski tour with these pack, it is hard to argue with their effectiveness. If you are more comfortable with your airbag pack, do bring it.

Water bottle or Thermos - A pint Thermos is a nice luxury on a stormy day. For most folks, on cold days, one liter of fluid is enough for the trail, but when the weather is hot you may want a second liter. We believe in doing most of our hydrating in the huts, at the beginning and end of the day.

Food - Breakfasts and dinners are eaten in town or in the huts. You can have the hut make you a sack lunch as well (they will charge you for it). If you have a special snack food you can't live without, you most definitely should bring some of that with you though remember to keep it light. We recommend getting lunches from the huts. All of the huts can cater to vegetarians (the normal dinner usually includes some meat). If you would like to go veggie, please tell us so we can make our request to the guardian.

Ear Plugs - Nice to have if your room mate snores.

Head lamp - For this program we recommend a bright but lightweight headlamp such as the Petzl Actik Core.

Pocket knife - Keep it simple and light. The Victorinox Spartan model is our favorite.

Repair kit - If your ski setup, boots or bindings require any particular odds and ends. Don't bother bringing a Leatherman or complicated repair materials. We carry a repair kit as well. A small amount of duct tape (rolled onto a very short pencil is usually all that is needed). Telemark skiers with cable binding may need to bring an extra cable and the tools necessary to change it.

Skin Wax - To reduce snow buildup on your skins. Glop Stopper is the most common kind.

Blister kit - Moleskin, athletic tape. Spenco Second Skin or Compeed is well worth the price.

Sun Glasses - Modern wrap-around glasses are great, if the lenses are dark enough to block 90% of visible light (it's very bright up there!). Traditional glacier glasses with side shields are also fine for this program, though you may find them hot and annoying on the trail or approach. If you use prescription glasses you should get prescription dark glasses or use contact lenses if you can. We like to use sport sunglasses with dark lenses, designed for skiing or mountaineering.

Ski Goggles - For nasty weather. Goggles for poor weather have high light transmission.

Sunscreen - Look for as small a container as possible, or decant into a smaller container. There is no point in carrying month's worth of cream on a short outing.

Lip Protection - with sun screen.

Toiletries - Here again, try to minimize, for instance look for those small tubes of toothpaste. If you like bring 4 or 5 "handi-wipes" or similar.

Ear Plugs - VERY IMPORTANT! For noisy huts.

Sleeping liner - Most hut now require the use of sleeping liners. Find the lightest one you can. Silk, or silk and cotton blend liners typically weigh about 110 grams (4 ounces). Do NOT bring an insulated sack. The sack is for hygiene and comfort, but not for insulation.

We have loaners you are welcome to use (we wash them after every trip). Or you can bring your own, or purchase one from the first hut.

Camera - (optional, of course) It is very helpful to have a small camera bag that can be hung around the neck, attached to the pack, or stuffed in a pocket so that it is handy, but doesn't interfere with movement. Please don't carry your camera inside your pack.

Most phones can take great pictures but are easy to drop and limited battery life.

Mobile phone (optional) - Many folks like to carry phones. In general, this is a good idea from a security perspective. Be aware, however, that battery life is limited, especially when the phone is searching for a service provider as it may often do in this remote setting, so you will probably need to leave it turned off except when making a call. Watching movies or playing games on your phone also consumes a lot of battery power. Keep your phone in "airplane" mode to save power. Sorry, no wifi.

Entertainment (optional) - Preload your phone with a couple of good books from Audible.com or your local library for days of listening pleasure. Snipped-out New York Times crossword puzzles, a journal, small paperbacks, or a pack of cards. All could be fun to have along.

Phone and camera charging - Some huts (though not all) have a charging station for your use. If you need to charge electronics, bring the appropriate cable as well as a Swiss/Euro (squashed hexagon) to USB adapter.

Passport, or photocopy - We prefer to leave our passports, plane tickets, etc. safely in the lowlands and carry only a photocopy on the tour. But some folks feel naked without it, and for them it is best to carry it.

Small duffel - For leaving street clothes in hotels. Its a good idea to lock it.

Money - We usually use ATM cards to supply us with cash. Hotels, shops, most huts and restaurants accept credit cards. You'll need cash, however for hut extras and any remote restaurants. We recommend leaving your passport and similar valuables with your baggage in the hotel, awaiting your return.

Maps - (optional) We, of course, will carry the necessary maps, but if you are the sort of person who likes to learn as much as you can before visiting an area we recommend the following:

  • 1:50,000 Arolla 283 (S)
  • 1:50,000 Mischabel 284 (S)

GaiaGPS - For those of you who like to track our progress, we highly recommend the GaiaGPS mobile app. The Pro version ($40 per year) gives you access to many European maps (including Norway, France, Austria and Switzerland).


Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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