Zermatt to Saas skiing – Personal Equipment List

See also:
Ski programs overview
Ortler, Italy
Haute Route Verbier
Haute Route Plateau
Zermatt to Saas Fee
Silvretta
Berner Oberland
Stubai
Chamonix off-piste
Private programs
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.

Going as light as is possible is especially important if you are anything but an expert skier. You don’t want to be the person which holds back the entire group and if extra weight is carried the chances of that are increased.


In the spring, the weather in the mountains can do anything, from blazing hot sunshine to blizzard conditions. We need to prepare for it all.

Either randonnée or telemark equipment is suitable for the this tour, though the vast majority of skiers will be happier on Randonnée. Whatever type of gear you use you should be able to ski in difficult snow with good speed control in tight confines. 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. In fact, given the range of available models, it is not a bad idea to plan on equipping yourself entirely in Europe, though Zermatt, in particular is rather expensive.

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 control.

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

Beware of touring boots that fit both touring bindings as well as regular alpine downhill bindings. These boots have greatly compromised the walking comfort in exchange for their 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 the ability 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, Crispi, Garmont are all excellent. You will probably find a better selection of Nordic boots in the States than you will in Europe, though every year we see more and more tele boots on the shelves in France and Switzerland. If you use Nordic gear be sure your boot crampons can be fitted to your boots.

Boot liners - Many boot manufacturers are offering some sort of 'thermo-fit" liner with boots as "standard equipment". This is great and helps improve fit and warmth, while reducing weight. For those that don't you might want to consider using a custom liner. These liners are heated and then molded to your foot and boot for a perfect fit.

Custom footbeds - Custom foot beds, or simply higher quality replacements can help tremendously with fitting, comfort and ski control.

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.

Pants - Finding the perfect pants combination can be a challenge. You need versatility, with the option for additional warmth as well as good protection from bad weather. One combination that works well in a number of conditions is listed here.

Most of the time we like to wear a light stretch synthetic pant with a hard finish. Excellent examples of this type of pant are made by Patagonia, (Super Guide Pant) as well as Marmot, Arc'teryx, Mammut, Schoffel and others. These pants can generally cover the tops of the boots (so you don’t need gaiters) are not too warm when it's hot out, and have a good hard finish for wind resistance. This may be a good item to purchase in Europe, where selection is very good.

Snow/Wind Pants - You will need something for truly bad weather. A light-weight Gore-tex or other water resistant but breathable layer is your best bet. Be sure you can get them on over your ski boots. The lighter the better. Avoid pants with suspenders as they are much more complicated to get into “on the fly”.

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

Long Underwear Tops - Very light synthetic or wool.

Long Underwear Bottoms - (optional) Light synthetic or wool for higher climbs in inclement weather. With the climbing pants described above and a shell, there is no need for long underwear bottoms. This is a luxury item some folks use in the huts.

Light fleece shirt - Something about the weight of Polartec 100, (heavy synthetic underwear).

Light weight second layer - Light is right. Some of the new new, very light down sweaters (some even with hoods!) are perfect.

Light weight T-shirt - We like to bring a light and comfortable shirt to change once we get to the huts. It is nice to get out of your sweaty long underwear tops. Most of the huts sell their own T-shirts, usually with a nice drawing of the hut on it. If you what to save a bit of weight, buy a hut shirt!

Thin 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 or Balaclava -

Neck Gaiter - To cover the lower face and/or nose in icy winds. We use a “Buff” - a light stretchy tube you can wear in at least a dozen different ways. This can double as an ear band.

Sun hat - A baseball cap works well. This is also useful in keeping snow off your face when it is coming more or less straight down.

Around-town clothes and shoes - We won't carry these on the tour, buy you'll want them around town.

SKIING & CLIMBING GEAR

Skis - Despite the ever-increasing width of skis in today's market, there is a limit to a sensible width for a good touring ski. Unfortunately, one ski can't be good in all conditions. Powder skis (more than 100mm underfoot) don't do well on hard pack, are very poor for skinning on firm snow, and area 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. Here is a breakdown of the deciding factors.

    • 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!
    • 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 around and back out of the fall line quickly. However, they are more "squirlly" 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, but less easy to turn in a tight spot. 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, especially if you have the uppers of your boots loose, which you should. 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.
    • 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.
    • Straight, or turned up tail. This one is easy: get a straight-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 their Backside Adventure line. 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 disentangle to a notch.

For touring in the Alps, the Sierra Nevada, New England, or the Cascades, we recommend the following.

  • 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.
  • Turn radius of about 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 slightly 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 increasingly difficult to find a ski that the manufacturers don't call rockered.
  • Go light, but not too 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), 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".

If you plan to do most of your touring in areas with very light snow, eg. Colorado, Utah, BC Interior, then go a bit wider. If your touring is going to be primarily in the Alps, the Cascades, California or New England, then something with a waist of about 85mm should be good.

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

Movement Logic - Movement makes two different versions of their Logic ski, the "standard" Logic, and the Logic X-Series. Both models are 88mm underfoot with a turn radius of between 16 and 19 meters, depending on ski length. The heavier original Logic is still very light, weighing in at about 2700 gm for a pair of 176mm skis. The X-Series weighs a mind-boggling 2250 gm for the same length. Again, heavier skiers should probably stick with the standard version, while lighter (and wealthier) skiers might like the X-Series. As of this writing, we are skiing on the standard (heavier) Movement Logic skis (and love them).

Ski Bindings - For randonnée bindings there are essentially five different manufacturers, Diamir/Fritschi, Dynafit, G3, Marker and Silvretta.

The most popular bindings are the Fritschi and the Dynafit. The choice depends largely on the choice between convenience and weight with the Dynafit winning the weight medal and the Fritschi better in the convenience department.

In the Dynafit line we recommend the new Radical ST. And for those really trying to shave grams the Speed Radical model really is an amazing piece of engineering. However, the lack of ski brakes on the Speed requires an exceptional degree of attention when putting them on or taking off on the summit of a remote peak! Remember, however, the Dynafit lightness comes at the cost of being harder to use, harder to get into, and harder to switch from touring to downhill mode or back again. However, for most folks, the learning curve is steep. If you use the Dynafit binding you must be sure to use Dynafit compatible boots.

For many skiers, the Diamir Eagle, outfitted with ski brakes is a good choice. Though heavier than the Dynafit, it is somewhat easier to use. Fritschi also makes the Freeride Plus, but unless you really want to crank your DIN setting to above 10 (not recommended for all except big cliff-huckers) the Eagle is plenty sturdy and a lighter, and usually cheaper, binding.

The Silvretta Pure (as of this writing there were 3 models) weighs in somewhere between the Fritschi and the Dynafit in terms of grams on your feet. It is a good binding but has a potential problem if you mistreat it (fall forward while walking) in which case it can break irreparably.

Marker offers several bindings. The Duke and Baron models are both heavy - needlessly heavy, in our opinion, for multi-day touring. They are popular with cliff huckers and mogul bashers, and those who don't plan on long uphill skinning sessions. The Tour FT models are lighter, comparable to the Fritschi Eagle. All the Marker bindings suffer from a difficult to use locking mechanism. In general we don't think the Marker Tour FT models offer any advantages over the more time-tested Fritschi Eagle.

The G3 Onyx is the most recent entry into the market. It uses a similar boot holding system as the Dynafit (they call it the "Tech" system). The jury is still out on this binding. It sounds as though it skis well (holds the boot solidly) but appears to have problems with bits and pieces falling off. G3 was trying to compete with Dynafit, but the weight with a ski brake is more comparable to the Fritschi offerings. Dynafit remains the king of lightness, but the pauper of ease of use.

Last, we should mention Plum bindings. These are Dynafit type bindings made locally (for us) in the Haute Savoie. They are beautifully crafted. Performance and weight are comparable to the Dynafit Speed model. They lack ski brakes, though Plum says they are coming. They are more expensive than Dynafit, but will attract lots of "oohs and aahs".

Model Approx. weight per binding Ski Brakes?
Dynafit TLT Speed 350 no
Dynafit TLT Vertical ST 572 yes
Dynafit TLT Vertical FT 560 yes
Fritschi Diamir Eagle 1006 yes
Fritschi Diamir Freeride Plus 1022 yes
G3 Onyx 750 no
Ski brakes for Onyx ? option
Silvretta Pure Performance 700 no
Silvretta Pure X-Mountain

800

no
Silvretta Pure Freeride 1002 yes
Marker Baron 1250 yes
Marker Duke 1334 yes
Marker Tour FT 1050 yes

Telemark skiers can use any number of good quality bindings. Some bindings, such as the Karhu 7TM, 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 randonnée and telemark systems. You will need to equip your skis with removable crampons, also known as harscheisen or couteaux. For some telemark setups they may be difficult to find. All modern randonnée bindings have ski crampons designed specifically for that binding.

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 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.

Contact B & D Ski Gear directly, or Martin Volken of Pro Ski Service in Seattle for help with this challenge. Give yourself plenty of advance time to find this essential piece of gear!

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 Coll-tex Mix skins. 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.

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! We have a pair of Camp "Corsa" axes, extremely light at something around 8 ounces each. Mark’s is 50 cm and Kathy’s 45cm.. These tools have aluminum heads and are well suited for ski touring. They are, however not good for summer climbing. For a more versatile axe consider the 52 cm Petzl Sum-Tec, or the 53 cm Grivel Air-Tech Evolution.

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.

The C.A.M.P. model XLC-390 seems to fit just about any AT boot. (Beware, the XLC-470 and XLC-490 models have fitting problems with many boots. Avoid these models)

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. A belay loop is a good idea, as are adjustable leg loops. The Black Diamond Couloir Harness is a great choice.

Locking Carabiner - Bring a single locking carabiner. A simple locking “D” is fine. The Petzl Attache 3D is a great carabiner.

MISCELLANEOUS

Avalanche Transceiver - We supply avalanche transceivers but if you own one you should bring it. 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 Pulse, the Ortovox S1, or 3+, the BCA Tracker2, The Pieps DSP, or the Arva 3Axes.

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

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.

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. Some of the huts 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.

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.

Head lamp - For a tour such as this we like to use a lightweight Petzl Tikka. Any of the new models in the Petzl Tikka or Zipka lines are good. These headlamps use very efficient LED technology that gets many hours of light from a single set of batteries. If you bring one of these lights one new set of batteries at the start will last the entire tour. Be careful it does not turn on inside your pack!

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). Nordic skiers with cable binding need to bring an extra cable and the tools necessary to change it.

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

Sun Glasses - With 100% UV protection. We like to bring sunglasses that permit us to switch from amber lenses (better for flat light) to darker lenses for sunny days. Cébé or Julbo both make good models.

Ski Goggles - For nasty weather.

Sunscreen - Look for as small a container as possible, or decant into a smaller container. There is no point in carrying a month’s worth of cream on a 7 day trip. We try to use sun screen of at least an SPF of 60.

Lip Protection -

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 - For noisy huts.

Sleeping Sacks - Swiss Alpine Club huts now require users to have their own light sleeping sacks. Usually these are very light simple silk bags.

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 and film/memory - (optional, of course) It is very helpful to have a camera that can be hung around the neck, attached to the pack, or stuffed in a pocket so that it is handy, but doesn't’t interfere with your skiing. Please don’t carry your camera inside you pack. Getting it out every time you want pictures not only discourages taking them but also makes the whole group have to wait extra time for you.

Very small digital cameras are great, but you might want to consider bringing an extra battery and a large-capacity memory card.

Duffel - Small duffel for leaving gear in hotels, etc.

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.

Money - Most hotels, shops and restaurants readily accept credit cards, though the huts typically do not. Bring about 40 Swiss francs per night for drinks and other treats in the huts. If you plan on buying lunch, throw a bit more in.

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 maps:

Swiss 1:50,000 Mischabel 284 (S)


Kathy Cosley & Mark Houston
UIAGM Internationally Licensed Mountain Guides

AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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