It’s usually easier to get down a slope than ski up, however today I’m giving ski-touring a try, a discipline that involves sliding your skis uphill (with skins attached) to climb the mountain.
At 7am, I join Thomas, our ski-touring guide, and a group of thrilled skiers excited to try ski-touring for the first time. Questions start popping out of my mouth – Is it hard? Am I wearing the right clothing? How do I clip my skis on? Thomas chuckles and reassures me ‘It’s going to be alright’.
We’re introduced to the ski touring kit that looks similar to normal skis; the main difference being that we attach skins underneath them to stop them from sliding backwards whilst going up. This is the First Tracks experience, an early morning ski-tour to catch the sun rise and be the first people of the day to make the glorious descent back to resort.
The runner’s high
While I am huffing-and-puffing attempting to ‘ski’ my way up the mountain, a couple in the group are discussing the pleasure of the uphill effort, otherwise known as the “runner’s high”. Sweat is trickling down my back and at this point, I do not understand how this sport can be enjoyable. Although once we reach our destination, after a fairly strenuous climb, I must admit that the technique for getting there was surprisingly straightforward.
Ski touring: from mode of transportation to sport
Ski-touring may seem relatively new, but both the kit and the technique hark back to the days of skis being a practical means of transportation rather than toys. Their first recorded usage was in Norway as long ago as 1555. Since then, climbing skins, which prevent skis from sliding backwards and are so called because they were originally made from seal hides, have been replaced with synthetic velcro-like’ strips.
Ski-touring first gained traction as a sport around 20 years ago when only adventurous athletes would be seen battling uphill. They were essentially back-country skiers venturing off-piste to access untouched powder – the holy grail for wintersports enthusiasts.
Today, ski-touring is no longer limited to off-piste terrain. People go ski-touring to access an isolated section of a mountain, to get in shape or simply to experience skiing differently. To understand more about ski-touring including what equipment you need, the ski level required and how to get started, check out our article Ski Touring 101.
“The pleasure of the sport lies in travelling under one’s own steam” claims Thomas. Although I am inclined to prefer the view to the effort, I must say that ski-touring is one of the only winter sports that truly allows you to immerse yourself in nature and have the satisfaction of deserving the view.
Resorts gearing up for ski-touring
With the growing interest in ski-touring, resorts across France are gearing-up to receive uphill skiers and many now have dedicated ski-touring routes. Although the First Tracks takes place before lift operating hours, having dedicated ski-touring tracks limits potential collision between uphill and downhill skiers. In the 90’s, ski-touring competitions, initially created by the military during WWII to test physical fitness, gained in popularity and now draw crowds from around the world to resorts.
Ski shops are also staying ahead of the game. You can rent skis, skins and boots in most resorts.
A stunning view in silence
An hour later, we reach our destination in what can only be described as serene silence. I step out of my skis, roll and store the skins in my backpack and pull out my hat, gloves and sub-layer, which were too warm to wear for the ascent. After admiring the sharp peaks around us, we are ready to carve our way down the mountain. It is now apparent why all the effort was worth it: there is not a skier in sight and the scenic mountain view is astounding.
Before hitting the freshly groomed slope back to Plagne Centre, Thomas reminds us that this descent is not comparable with any other; we have deserved this one. Just a few minutes later we are back in Plagne Centre.
Still gassed from my climb, I watch the first skiers waiting for the first lifts to open while I am filled with a sense of accomplishment.
Want to learn more about La Plagne’s hidden gems? Read more and explore La Plagne’s off-piste treasures.
Join us for the First Tracks experience in La Plagne