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 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. 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 - Randonée or Telemark.
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.
Hut slippers - The huts in the Stubai are so comfortable that many skiers come and stay for long periods of time. This has lead to a tradition of "bring your own slippers". You'll want a very light pair of hut shoes. These can be flip-flops, or nice cozy slippers—whatever you like, so long as they are very light and compact for carrying stuffed down in your pack.
Pants - Good pants are versatile, offering protection from bad weather and wind but are not too hot when the sum shines.
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.
Long Underwear Bottoms - (optional) Light synthetic for higher climbs of 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. Mark usually does not bring any.
Light fleece shirt - Something about the weight of Polartec 100, (heavy synthetic underwear).
Light weight second layer - A "Primaloft" layer, such as Patagonia's "Puffball" pull-over is 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 much leather are generally too heavy. Mittens are not recommended.
Ear band -
Warm Hat or Balaclava -
Neck Gaiter - We use a "Buff". Its a light stretchy tube you can wear in at least a dozen different ways.
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 do
Around-town clothes and shoes -
Skis - Skis seem to get fatter and fatter, and better and better. Increases in torsional stiffness, better bindings and beefier boots have allowed skis to grow in width and still offer reasonable edge-grip on hard snow. For ski touring in the Alps, you are generally better off with a "mid-fat" ski rather than a narrow one. The most difficult snow conditions we encounter are more likely to involve mush, breakable crust or other unpleasantness that a wider ski will float over.
Ski Bindings - For randonnée bindings there are essentially five different manufacturers, Diamir/Fritschi, Dynafit, G3, Marker and Silvretta.
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.
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 - There are a number of great skins on the market these days. Ascension (now part of Black Diamond) skins glide and grip very, and have good adhesive, but the "Standard" models are a bit heavy and bulky, and the lighter weight "GlideLite" have fraying problems. Colltex skins are good, and there are other manufacturers as well (of which we are somewhat less familiar). For most skins (70mm or more in width) you generally don’t need the tail hook. Skins should be shaped to fit shaped skis, narrow in the middle and wider at the tips and tails. For our skis, which are a wide 115mm at the tip, we buy about 95 mm skins and trim them to fit. 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 up for downhill skiing and lengthen them out 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.
Ice Axe- Light is most definitely right! We have a pair of Camp XLA210 axes (now replaced by the Camp "Corsa"), extremely light at something around 8 ounces each. Mark’s is 50 cm and Kathy’s 45cm. The Cassin Ghost is another very light axe, and others make similar aluminum-headed ice axes as well. They are, however not so good for summer climbing. For a more versatile axe consider the 53 cm Grivel Air-Tech Evolution. Suunto USA in California imports Grivel equipment. The Camp axes and others like it, can be found in Chamonix. Go short. Avoid buying an axe longer than 60 centimeters. For most folks, a ski touring axe should be in about 50 cm long.
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.
Climbing Harness - A lightweight simple harness is ideal. A belay loop is a good idea, as are adjustable leg loops.
Locking Carabiner - Bring a single locking carabiner. A simple locking "D" is fine.
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 Ortovox S1, or Ortovox D3, the Barryvox Pulse, the BCA Tracker 2, The Pieps DSP, or the Arva Link. Of all of these beacons, we think the Ortovox S1 is probably the best.
Shovel - We also supply shovels, but again, if you own a very lightweight shovel, you should bring it as well.
Probe - We also can 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.
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, one liter of fluid is enough for the trail. We believe in doing most of our hydrating in the huts, at the beginning and end of the day. Kathy and I normally bring only a single half-liter thermos each, and it is enough for us.
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.
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 the huts on this tour. The huts 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.
Camera and film - (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 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.
Duffel - Small duffel for leaving gear in hotels, etc.
Money - We usually use ATM cards to supply us with cash. Most hotels, shops and restaurants readily accept credit cards, though the huts typically do not. Bring about 30 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 maps of the area are published by the Austrian Alpine Club. Look for the Alpenvereinskarte 31/1 Stubaier Alpen, Hochstubai (Ski); 1:25000.
Cosley & Mark Houston
AMGA Certified • SNGM members
All images, layout and text ©2004 Cosley & Houston Alpine Guides, All Rights Reserved
Your Comments - more info