Gran Paradiso ski tour – Equipment List
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 late winter and early 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.
Either Randonée or Telemark equipment is suitable for the this tour, though the vast majority of skiers will be happier on Randonée. 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.
Rental gear can be difficult to find outside of the main touring centers of the Alps (Chamonix and Zermatt). Unless you plan on being in one of these towns before and after your trip, you should plan on bringing everything with you from home.
Ski Boots - Randonnée or Telemark.
Boot liners - Many boot manufacturers offer some sort of 'thermo-fit" liner with boots as "standard equipment". This is great as it helps improve fit and warmth, while reducing weight. For those that don't, you might want to consider buying 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 sacrifice skiing control. Bring a spare pair.
Pants - Finding the perfect pants combination can be a challenge. You need versatility, with layering options for additional warmth as well as good protection from bad weather. One combination that works well in a number of conditions, and which we use most of the time, is to start with a light stretch synthetic pant with a hard finish. Excellent examples of this type of pant are made by Patagonia, (Backcountry 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 (some even have short zipped vents), and have a good hard finish for wind resistance. When more protection is needed, combinging these pants with a pair of snow/wind pants (described next) will usually provide enough. Long underwear bottoms (optional, see below) complete a very warm combination for mid-winter or especially tough weather tours.
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. Full side zips are a great help. The lighter the better, as you may not need them at all. Avoid pants with suspenders as they are much more complicated to get into “on the fly”.
Long Underwear Bottoms - Light synthetic or wool for higher climbs in inclement weather. or as a luxury item some folks like to use in the huts. With the climbing pants described above and a shell, long underwear bottoms are rarely truly necessary.
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 modern marketing parlance. 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 extreme lightweight. Be sure your jacket has a good hood!
Long Underwear Tops - Very light synthetic or wool.
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, 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, but you'll want them around town.
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. Here is a breakdown of the deciding factors.
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 and G3—Atomic, Salomon and Look also now have touring bindings.
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 these may be difficult to find. All modern randonnée bindings have ski crampons designed specifically for that binding.
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 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.
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.
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)
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. The Petzl Attache 3D is a great carabiner.
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 Element or Pulse, the Ortovox S1+, or 3+, the Pieps DSP Pro or Sport, or the Arva Neo.
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.
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 pack's 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 hutkeeper.
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.
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, Julbo, Adidas and others make good models.
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 a month's worth of cream on a 7 day trip. We try to use sun screen of at least an SPF of 60.
Toiletries - Here again, try to minimize, for instance look for those small tubes of toothpaste, or simply don't bring any toothpaste up to the huts. There are showers in one of the huts on this tour, and in this case they will rent you a towel (probably better then carrying around your damp one) but you might want to bring a small bar of soap.
Ear Plugs - For noisy huts.
Sleeping Sacks - 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.
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 interfere with your skiing. Please don't carry your camera inside your pack. Getting it out every time you want pictures not only discourages taking photos but also makes the whole group wait extra time for you.
Duffel - Small duffel for leaving gear in hotels, etc.
Passport - 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 Euros 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 follow along on the map you might want to carry one. The best map for this tour is the 1:25000 scale #101 Gran Paradiso, La Grivola, Cogne and the #102 Valsavarenche, Val de Rhemes, Valgrisenche maps published by the Instituto Geografico Centrale.
Cosley & Mark Houston
AMGA Certified • SNGM members
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