Backcountry Skiing, Snowboarding, Mountaineering and Alpine Touring

Ski and Snow Board Mountaineering Equipment


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Backcountry ski and snowboard mountaineering trips and equipment.
Ski Mountaineering and Alpine Touring (AT)

Description: Mountaineering refers to mountain climbing. Ski and Snowboard mountaineering, also known as Alpine Touring (AT) or backcountry randonee, refers to climbing the mountain on/with skis or on/with a snowboard. By definition, this endeavor is in the backcountry, outside of the boundaries of a resort.

Mountaineering Group
Mountaineering Group

The equipment one uses and carries is also much different from that used within a ski resort. Avalanche beacons, probes, shovels and rescue gear are essential in unpredictable conditions. The standard ski and snowboard are hardly suitable. Mountaineering skis, bindings and boots are typically much lighter as it is you who provides the energy to fight gravity and not the ski lift. A type of snowboard known as a splitboard is used which allows the boarder to move like a skier uphill but then attach them together as a single snowboard for the downhill run.. Both mountaineering skis and splitboards use a binding which allows the foot to articulate in an Nordic ski (cross country ski) fashion where the toe is allowed to pivot and the heal is permitted to move up and down to allow one to travel in a natural human walking motion.

According to Snowsports Industries of America (SIA) sales stats gathered from the ski industry, the popularity of backcountry ski touring has increased significantly. It seems obvious to me that high resort ticket prices, the quest for powder and improved equipment, have pushed people to the backcountry.

Ski Mountaineering / Alpine Touring (AT) Equipment:

The skis and boots used for ski mountaineering are typically lighter than their downhill alpine counterparts but still quite similar. Lower weight is desired to reduce the fatigue one would experience from carrying the gear uphill.

It is the bindings which are most unique as they support two modes of operation:
  1. Cross country ski binding mode: the toe is attached but allowed to pivot and the heal is free to move up and down. An adjustable block or riser is under the heal to raise it while going uphill to maintain a proper ankle geometry.
  2. Downhill boot binding mode: the heal is locked to the ski so the entire boot is fixed to the ski like a regular downhill alpine ski.

There are two basic designs of touring bindings available:

  1. Lightweight tech bindings designed to only work with AT boots with dimpled toe inserts which allow the climbing articulation where the heel can lift and hinge vertically about the toe. These bindings are designed to be very lightweight and generally do not support high DIN settings.
  2. Alpine boot compatible bindings which step into a frame which hinges about the toe. These bindings tend to be more durable and can support higher DIN settings and load.

Mountaineering Ski Bindings

Diamir Mountaineering ski bindings

Video showing the features of the Marker AT "Duke", "Baron", "Touring F12" and "Touring F10" bindings:

Also see: Marker Duke EPF
Duke Pros: strength, rigidity and durability for alpine downhill.
Duke Cons: One must remove boot from binding in order to change modes which release/lock heel of binding.

Marker/Volkl "Kingpin" AT binding:

Marker/Volkl "Kingpin" AT ski bindings
This AT binding is specifically for pin toe based AT boots. The heel moves aft for AT climbing mode and forward for alpine downhill skiing mode.

Salomon "Guardian" AT binding:

Salomon Guardian
The Guardian binding can transition from Alpine Touring mode to downhill using your ski pole. It is required that the heal lift be pulled up under the boot to keep the heal from locking in AT mode. I found the Swix ski poles with the "Add" or "Park" grip really worked well for manipulating the heal lift.

Touring boots are very much like traditional alpine skiing boots except that they provide the dimpled toe inserts for the pure lightweight AT pin bindings, they support more fore-aft movement in the tongue to ease the hiking of alpine accents, and are made of lighter materials.

Backcountry Equipment Manufacturers Links:

Take a look at our coverage of traditional alpine ski bindings and ski equipment

Mountaineering Ski Skins

Black Diamond: Backcountry mountaineering ski skins

Skins are pre-cut to the dimension of a specific ski with angled fibers to enable the ski to slide forward more easily than backward. The skins have a tacky but easily detachable adhesive which allow the skins to stick to the bottom of the skis even with wax. Newer designs use a very smooth rubbery surface which uses suction to enhance the grip. This is an improvement in design as the skins would typically lose tackiness over time and the adhesive is typically not replaceable. The tip and tail of the skins also typically have clips which help attach the skins. A metal loop fits over the point at the front of the ski so that it will not work its way aft. There is usually a clip at the rear but this seems to be optional. The skins are mounted so that a forward sliding motion is enabled but a backward slide is not.

Originally ski skins were made of seal fur but are now made of nylon fabric which allow the ski to slide forward but not backward. While the skins do allow forward travel, they are usually removed for the descent as the ski slides better on its own base material without the skins attached. This system is much more effective than the old "fish scale" surface found on cross country "Nordic" skis. For extreme terrain, ski crampons are also available which have "teeth" which can dig into the ice to maintain traction.

Snowboard Mountaineering Equipment:

Snowboarders can hike on snowshoes (lots of work) or use a splitboard. The splitboard is a snowboard split into two halves which can act as mountaineering skis to travel up the mountain and then assemble together into a single snowboard to travel down the mountain.

Mountaineering Splitboard

Snowboard mode

Mountaineering Splitboard

Bindings removed

Mountaineering Splitboard

Bindings reattached in cross country ski configuration

Mountaineering Splitboard

Splitboards also require skins to be attached to travel up the mountain without sliding backwards.

Mountaineering Ski Skins

Mountaineering skins

Apo park and splitboard quick attach/release bindings

Spark R&D splitboard bindings
These splitboard bindings from Spark R&D offer features for snowboard mountaineering. Detachable crampons can be added for aggressive climbs.

Voile splitboard and bindings
Voile Corp is the patent holder for current splitboard binding attachment and is extending their product line for 2012-2013 with new boards and binding offerings.

Splitboard and Splitboard Binding Equipment Manufacturers:

A full list of splitboard manufacturers are listed on our Snowboard equipment Splitboard list of manufacturers

Mountaineering and Alpine Touring (AT) Accessories:

Spark R&D collapsible poles for the splitboarder

Full length poles are used for the uphill climb and collapsed for the downhill ride. Ski Poles: poles with arresting features and video of collapsible poles.

Accessory Manufacturers Links:

Also see our coverage of avalanche safety gear and equipment

Mountaineering and Alpine Touring (AT) Locations:
Wasatch Utah

Wasatch Mountains Utah (across from Alta)

Alpine Touring Locations and Guides:

  • Western United States of America:
    • High Sierra mountains California
    • Wasatch Mountains Utah (where the photos above were taken)
    • Teton Pass Wyoming
    • Loveland Pass Colorado
    • Berthoud Pass Colorado
    • Valdez Alaska
  • Western Canada:
    • Rogers Pass British Columbia
    • Wapta Traverse Alberta
    • Banff Alberta
  • Europe:


Stay warm with the appropriate clothing and be safe by bringing the appropriate backcountry AT gear, avalanche gear, food and water. Training helps and hire a guide if you are unfamiliar with the area.

Also see the guide to Avalanche safety gear and Avalanche training and education.

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