Picking a 'best of' list is always a little frustrating, not wanting to leave out excellent and worthy tours, perhaps a better description would be '8 classic and distinctive tours'.
The journeys selected here are geographically diverse and give the aspiring ski tourer a nice tick list. These tours reflect the choice and geographical diversity on offer to the adventurous skier within the mountains of Europe.
What I love about guiding classic multi-day ski tours is the sense of mission. Unlike backcountry skiing, where the primary objective is to find the best turns in the best snow, touring has a different focus which is to complete the overland journey; this is a great recipe for adventure. Multi-day, also known as hut-to-hut tours offer much more than the skiing itself. Guides develop close relationships with the other members of our group and find genuine hospitality in mountain huts and hotels plus a great comradery is found with other parties of skiers following the same route. In addition, hut-to-hut ski tours give us the feeling of isolation in a wilderness, even in the heart of densely populated Europe, just you, your skis and backpacks and fellow travellers. Other than the huts, we see no or little signs of habitation for the duration of the tour, so it really is just us and the mountain environment. Our skis cease to be mere sports equipment but become tools essential for progress.
Haling from Derbyshire, Matt Dickinson is one of three Mountain Tracks' Lead Guides. After cutting his teeth on the Peak Districts infamous gritstone edges, Matt became a fully qualified IFMGA Mountain Guide in 2000. Since then he has guided summer and winter expeditions all over the world, so if anyone can give us the inside scoop on the best ski tours in Europe, it's Matt! Here are Matt's 8 tours, in no particular order. We hope this inspires you to ‘put your skins on’ and experience one or more for yourself!
Meaning literally ‘high route’ the Haute Route is THE most famous ski tour in the Alps and is a journey that every ski touring enthusiast should undertake at least once in their career. The crossing takes 5 or 6 days depending on the route taken (or longer on the Grand Lui or Saas extensions). Most of the route traverses huge glaciers, crossing high and steep passes so there are constantly changing views and surprisingly varied environments.
The tour links two historic alpine centres, Chamonix and Zermatt, and traverses sections of two of the highest Alpine ranges: the Mont Blanc Massif and the Swiss Valais. A great deal of the tour is above 3000m.
There are two route choices for the middle section of the tour: The Verbier variant and the Valsoray variant. The Verbier route is easier and by far the most popular. The Valsory variant has more climbing and a difficult ascent and traverse called the Plateau du Couloir which requires reasonable weather and fairly stable snow conditions.
For an advanced skier, it really is a "must do" trip, one that you'll never forget.
• A famous and historic journey
• The physical challenge
• Skiing amongst the highest peaks in the Alps, including a descent directly beneath the Matterhorn north face
For fit and advanced skiers. 1000m – 1200m of ascent per day. The length of each day varies between 6 -10 hours. The downhill skiing is never steeper than 35 degrees, but the descents are long and in variable snow.
Home of the Eiger, the Bernese Oberland range is located in central Switzerland. The setting here is a spectacular high mountain landscape complete with giant glaciated valleys more akin to Alaska than the Alps. This classic tour, typically attempted over a week crosses the massif from north to south. The scenery is among the very best in the Alps with classic views of the Jungfrau, Mönch, and Eiger. The majority of the tour is on huge tumbling glaciers which converge at the source of the giant Aletschgletscher, the largest glacier in the Alps. The trip is especially rewarding late in the season, because the whole voyage stays in the high mountains, never needing to descend to valley bottoms. There is the opportunity to make ski descents of several summits including 4000m peaks. Truly this is a beautiful and special place.
• High and remote, one of the great unpopulated wildernesses in Europe.
• Big glacier skiing at its best amongst 4000m peaks
• Excellent conditions can be found until the end of May
For fit intermediate off-piste skiers and above. Previous ski touring experience is essential, skiers should be happy to skin for 4-5 hours per day. Most of the descents are not particularly steep (30 degrees and under) but high mountain dangers are present. A good level of fitness is required in order to sustain six days of consistent effort.
The Caucasus form a chain of snowy, high, alpine mountains separating Georgia from Russia to the north. Just north of the main chain, in Russia, lies Europe’s highest summit - the twin-peaked Mount Elbrus. The main chain itself contains many mountains over 5000m. In springtime the valleys, passes and mountains of the Caucasus offer exceptionally fine ski-touring in virtually undeveloped surroundings. The summit of Elbrus is at 5642m, over 800m above the summit of Mont Blanc, so a structured acclimatisation period is essential
The tour begins at the Ullu-Tau lodge located at 2350m in the remote upper part of the Adyrsu Valley. This is a region of glaciers, passes and summits ranging from 3572m to 3900m. After four days touring in the Adyrsu Valley, a vehicle transfer is used into the Baksan Valley. Almost at the end of the Baksan Valley, at the foot of Elbrus, lies the town of Terskol - the Chamonix of the Caucasus. It boasts about half a dozen hotels and two ski lift systems. There is a possibility for several other tours in the area to view the highest peak in Europe.
The second half of the tour focuses on the ascent of Elbrus. The ascent route is none technical but very strenuous, the high altitude being the most difficult obstacle to overcome. The ski terrain on Elbrus itself is relatively straightforward but exciting and exceptionally long; a 3000m descent is possible from the summit, this is possible in very few places in the world.
What’s unique about this tour?
• The highest peak in Europe
• Located in a vast and high mountain range infrequently visited by western travellers
• Long descents on great snow lasting until the end of May
How difficult is this tour?
For fit and advanced skiers. 1200m – 1800m of ascent per day. The length of each day varies between 7 -12 hours. The touring is at higher altitudes than in the Alps so optimum fitness is essential. The downhill skiing is never steeper than 35 degrees, but the descents are long and in variable snow. Crampons and ice axes may be required on the upper slopes which are easy angled but often icy in the morning hours.
The Gran Paradiso at 4061m is the highest mountain entirely within Italy and sits in one of the most idyllic National Parks in the Alps. This hut to hut tour circumnavigates the massif and cumulates with an ascent of the Gran Paradiso. The trails are generally quieter than in France and Switzerland and when combined with friendly Italian hospitality it all adds up to a great week's ski touring. The massif is accessed via the Aosta Valley which stretches south from Mont Blanc (Monte Bianco in Italian) at its head. Attractive mountain villages pepper the hillsides and the area boasts great food and coffee and a rich offering of good wines. Due to its national park status, the plant and wildlife are protected so the tour itself is a paradise for nature lovers. There is no ski infrastructure in the National Park.
To reach the summit of the Paradiso itself (4061m) is a strenuous climb with a short rock scramble to attain the top. However, it is all very worthwhile because skiers are rewarded with a descent of over 2000m.
For fit, upper intermediate, off-piste skiers. 700m – 1300m of ascent per day. The length of each day varies between 6 -10 hours. The downhill skiing is never steeper than 35 degrees, but the descents are long and in variable snow. Crampons are ice axes are required for the final ridge of the Gran Paradiso.
Nicknamed the ‘Spaghetti tour', This challenging hut to hut tour traverses the Monte Rosa chain situated on the Swiss Italian border. The Monte Rosa massif has the highest land area in the Alps over 4000m. There is an element of mountaineering in this voyage, so in addition to being a strong skier, tourers should also be able to handle an axe and crampons. It is possible for skiers to summits on several 4000m within this massif, so long and exciting descents are assured. The highest point in the Monte Rosa Massif is the Dufourspitze (4634m) which is the second highest mountain in the Alps. It is possible ascend by skins to all but the last hundred meters of this summit, the top section requiring mountaineering skills.
There is a mix of Italian and Swiss mountain huts in the area, all are comfortable with hearty meals and stunning mountain views. The tour can include a stay in the famous Margherita hut (4556) which is the highest in the Alps.
For fit, advanced skiers with mountaineering skills. 700m – 1800m of ascent per day. The length of each day varies between 6 -12 hours. This is one of the most challenging of the classic tours, with a combination of long ascents and steep slopes (some above 35 degrees). In addition crampons and ice axe are used for sections of the journey to negotiate areas of ice and rock.
This classic ski tour and gives you a great introduction to hut-to-hut ski touring. There is a wide choice of excellent ski peaks and the area has fantastic snow reliability. The fully serviced huts are very comfortable with hot showers, great beer and a jovial atmosphere. Many people choose the Silvretta to cut there teeth on their first hut to hut tour. The terrain is glaciated and on some summits will need to use crampons and ice axe to reach the top, but with the help of your guide, no previous mountaineering experience is necessary.
The Silvretta Range is located along the Swiss, Austrian border south of the well known Arlberg ski resort of Saint Anton. The entire massif is covered with large but gentle glaciers and accessible cols. The terrain is particularly user-friendly to the ski tourer, the summits are lower than in Western Alps, typically between 3000m and 3300m, meaning it is possible to ski right of the top of the high summits, where in the Western Alps many of the high peaks demand a mountaineering approach. The route travels to the west, each day crossing high passes which access to the next valley system. Here the touring season starts early (mid-Feb) so this is a great early season ski tour.
For intermediate off-piste skiers. Touring skills can be learned en-route. 600m–1000m of ascent per day. The length of each day varies between 5 -8 hours. The downhill sections are 30 degrees or under, but as always variable snow should be expected. Crampons and ice axe are used to attain the summits of certain peaks, but these are not compulsory to complete the tours. Although easier than the other tours in this article the terrain is still remote and dramatic and as always a determined approach is required.
The Dolomites are a 'must-visit' for all mountain lovers. Breathtakingly beautiful and steeped in history, a touring circuit in the Dolomites is guaranteed to fascinate and excite. The range is situated in the far northeast of Italy a couple of hours north of Venice. Characterizing the region are remote valleys, dominated by the towering limestone cliffs and pinnacles.Many people delve into the modern history of the area: Austrian mountain troops and the German Alpine corps along with the Italian 'Alpini' were present here from May 1915 until November 1917 and were engaged in a bitter struggle for survival. Many of the passes were strategically important, via ferratas and fortifications are still visible from this era. If you would like to swat up on the history before your tour (or take the book with you) we recommend ‘The White War’: Life and Death on the Italian Front 1915-1918; by Mark Thompson.
For intermediate off-piste skiers. Touring skills can be learned en-route. 600m–1000m of ascent per day. The length of each day varies between 5 -8 hours. The downhill sections are 35 degrees or under, but as always variable snow should be expected. Crampons and ice axe are used to attain the summits of certain peaks, but these are not compulsory to complete the tours. As always good ski-fitness and a determined approach are required.
This is for Intermediate off-piste skiers, who have some previous day-touring experience. The slopes are less than 35 degrees. The length of each day varies between 4-8 hours. 500m–1000m of ascent per day. Mountaineering skills and equipment are not needed, so rucksacks are lighter.
IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV
The IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV symbol is the logo of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association.
Nick, Olly and Matt are all fully-qualified UIAGM Mountain Guides and members of the British Mountain Guides Association.
The International Ski Instructors Association is the world body for professional ski instructors.
The ISIA was formed in 1971 and there are currently 39 member nations representing the very best in ski instruction around the world.