Switzerland, Europe

Off-Piste and Ski Touring Skills Zinal

This course combines both off-piste instruction and ski touring skills. It is aimed at intermediate level off-piste skiers who want to learn the essential ski touring skills for traveling safely and confidently in the backcountry whilst also having instruction to improve off-piste skills and technique. 

Zinal and the surrounding area offer snow-sure skiing and impressive off-piste and backcountry terrain, making an ideal venue for this course.

Day Itinerary

  • Travel to Zinal. You should aim to arrive by late afternoon. In the evening you will meet up with your Mountain Tracks instructor for an initial briefing and review of the itinerary.

  • An action-packed 6 full days of adventure on the mountain.

    Throughout the week, you will receive intensive coaching in your off-piste technique. Your technique will be fine-tuned with additional skills to cope with different snow conditions and slopes whilst skiing unforgettable off-piste descents.

    We will also focus on essential ski touring skills including route planning, choice of line on the ascent, effective technique in different conditions, uphill kick turns, use of ski crampons, looking after your equipment and dealing with kit problems. This will be complemented by the leader running some avalanche training sessions across the week, which provide an introduction to the avalanche phenomenon, avalanche terrain, decision making, and rescue.

    At the end of the course you should be more confident in off-piste terrain and ready to take on a dedicated ski touring trip or more advanced off-piste adventures. 

  • Depart after breakfast.

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Ski Club Winter Arrangements limited (trading as Mountain Tracks)
Registered in England No. 2099115. VAT No. GB 461 5692 34

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This is an extensive list of the recommended clothing and equipment you will need if you are coming on one of our Splitboard Touring Skills courses. 

On these courses you'll be staying in a comfortable catered chalet or hotel and so when riding you only need to carry a small day pack, which contains your safety equipment and any personal items you may need.

If you are uncertain or need further information, don't hesitate to contact us.

  • When choosing clothing for backcountry skiing and ski touring you want to think light, warm and versatile. During the trip weather conditions will change and you’re likely to go from icy-cold mornings when you’re wearing everything to keep out the chill to warm afternoons where you’ll be carrying most of your gear in your rucksack. Getting hold of the best and lightest kit available is always worth it and most of the major brands have suitable clothing for backcountry skiing.
    • Roll neck rather than a scarf. We use and recommend the ‘Buff¹ ¬ a light, stretchable tube. Excellent despite the name! They do both a fleece/cotton version for warmth or just a cotton one (to keep the sun off).
    • Headwear to include warm hat and sun-cap or wide-brim hat for extra protection from the sun. Mountain Tracks fully supports the wearing of helmets for skiing, although not mandatory for any of our trips we do recommend them.
    • An outer shell jacket made of waterproof and breathable material like Gore-Tex or similar with a built-in hood. The lighter the better and so a shell is recommended rather than a insulated jacket.
    • 1-2 thin fleeces - rather than a thick layer between your skin and the outer shell - an approach which gives better heat retention and good flexibility. These tops are known as ‘mid layers’. The principle of ‘layering’ e.g. allowing you to easily add/remove layers depending on the temperature and the activity is recommended to ensure comfort on the mountain.
    • Insulation layer like a down or Primaloft jacket is a good item to have ready to wear in the event of cold weather, it can live in your rucksack as a spare layer and can come in very handy for sudden changes in the weather.
    • For the lower half it’s essential that you have a pair of thermal base layer pants (long johns).
    • These can then be combined with either:
    • (a) a good pair of ‘technical shell’ pants in a waterproof and breathable fabric like Gore-Tex
    • (b) a pair of mountain or alpine pants in a softshell material together with a pair of lightweight, breathable over trousers with long side zips.
    • Top and bottom underwear made of a synthetic, wicking material. Very popular at the moment are the wool based layers from companies such as Icebreaker and Smartwool. They are comfy, breathable and warm when needed and can be worn for days without your friends catching a whiff!
    • Good quality Gore-Tex gloves or mitts and a thin pair of softshell or fleece gloves for when it is hot and for ski touring in. Silk inner gloves can be useful if the weather is cold and you suffer with cold hands.
    • Technical Socks - Investing in good quality ski socks will improve fit, warmth and feel when skiing for long periods. Bring along a few pairs.
  • For these trips it is essential that you ski with an all-mountain/freeride type skis, ski touring boots and ski touring bindings.  If you have your own skis but they do not have ski touring bindings then you will need to rent skis. The same applies if you have downhill ski boots, you will need to rent ski touring boots.

    Skis
    For alpine ski touring we recommend an all-mountain/freeride touring ski that isn’t too heavy, a really lightweight ski comes at a cost to performance on the descents so are only recommended for really good off-piste skiers with a strong interest in ski touring.
    There are plenty of great skis to choose from and we highly recommend skis from the following manufactures:
    Dynastar Skis: www.dynastar.com 
    Movement Skis: www.movementskis.com  
    Black Crows Skis: www.blackcrows-skis.com  
    Trab Skis: www.skitrab.com/en-us 
    Scott Skis: http://www.scott-sports.com
    Volkl Skis: http://www.voelkl.com

    If you are planning on buying skis for ski touring and general skiing and have any questions do not hesitate to call us to discuss the options available to you.

    Boots
    It is essential that you have ski touring boots for all touring trips as walking up hill is much more comfortable in these types of boots with a walk mode and great flex. A dedicated touring boot or a hybrid freeride boot is best. 

    Scarpa have lead the way in touring boots for many years but they have been joined by other manufactures like Dynafit, Salomon, Scott, Black Diamond, Dalbello and K2; all producing their own versions of a ski touring boot.
    • Scarpa’s Freedom boots are their Hybrid offerings, great ski performance, a walk mode and vibram sole. Their Maestrale (men’s) and Gea (women’s) boots are also highly recommended.
    • The Scott Celeste and Cosmo boots have stood the test of time and are good all round choices.
    • Salomon’s Quest Max series offer boots with a walk mode in various flex’s with good downhill performance.
    • Dynafit offer the Mercury or Vulcan boots plus a range of lightweight options like the TLT6.

    The best of the rest are:
    Fischer - Transalp
    Black Diamond – Quadrant and Factor
    K2 – Pinnacle boot
    Dalbello – Lupo or Sherpa
    Langue – XT series offer a ski boot with a walk mode in various flex options

    Boot Liners
    These days many manufacturers offer ‘thermo-fit¹ liners as standard equipment. You may also want to consider a custom liner as these are heated and molded to your foot and boot for a perfect fit. They can make all the difference especially if you have trouble finding really comfortable ‘off-the-shelf’ boots. Zipfit liners are a great option for anyone seeking total customisation in fit and comfort. They will replace the original liner.

    Custom Footbeds
    Essential kit – to provide additional comfort and ski control. If you want to get footbeds made or a pair of new boots fitted then we suggest you visit somewhere like Profeet for a professional fitting. Don’t forget if you have footbeds in your downhill boots but need to rent touring boots then you can bring the footbeds with you and put them in the hire boots.

    Bindings
    For all ski touring trips ski touring bindings are essential. Fritschi and Marker both make excellent ski touring bindings and you have a few different options to choose from. Many more people are seeing the advantage of the “pin” binding system now offered by a number of manufacturers as these are light and offer ever improving security despite their minimalist looks!

    Ski Poles
    We recommend telescopic poles. They must have wide powder baskets (4-5 inches/100-120mm diameter) otherwise you’ll be up to your armpits on the ascents. Go for an alloy rather than carbon poles which are lighter but have a nasty habit of snapping near the basket due to ski edge nicks.

    Rucksack
    A small day pack can be used on this course as you're not travelling hut-to-hut and don't need to carry a lot of gear. However the pack should have the key features of a good ski touring pack:
    • a method of attaching your skis in either a A-frame (one either side) or both together on a diagonal ski carriage
    • easy access into the main compartment without having to empty the sack to get something at the bottom
    • separate pocket for avalanche shovel, handle and probe
    • small top pocket for items like wallet, sunglassed/goggles etc; an ice axe loop
    • a built-in rain cover an a secure method of attaching/stowing a ski helmet 
    • good hip/waist belt and adjustable shoulder straps

    Avalanche airbag rucksacks are generally not recommended for ski touring due to the additional weight however they can be used on our ski touring skills courses

     

    • Ski Skins – these are skins which, now made of artificial fabric, stick to the bottom of your skis and allow you to walk up hill. They must be cut to fit your skis exactly, so if you are bringing your own skis you must provide your own skins.
    • Ski Crampons (aka couteaux) - most ski touring bindings have ski crampons specifically designed for the binding. We always carry these just in case. Again if you are bringing your skis and touring bindings you must provide your own ski crampons. 
    • Ice Axe - general lightweight mountaineering / alpine pick. Ideally this needs to be short enough to fit in your pack.
    • Boot Crampons - ideally lightweight aluminum ones although steel crampons are required for more demanding tours
    • Climbing Harness - a simple lightweight harness. The key feature is that it should have fully adjustable leg loops for putting on over ski boots, crampons, etc.
  • The “Safety Trilogy” - required on all our ski tours and off-piste courses.

    • Avalanche Transceiver/Beacon
    • Snow shovel
    • Avalanche probe
    Remember it is not enough just to carry this equipment; you have to know how to use it.
    How about joining one of our specialist avalanche courses – check out www.mountaintracks.co.uk/activity/avalanche-training
    • Good pair of ski goggles with a lens for low light is essential in the event of snow and poor visibility
    • Good quality sunglasses with 100% UV protection
    • 30-35 liter rucksack
    • 1 – 1.5 Liter water bottle – we don’t recommend hydration systems (e.g. camelbak) in winter as they can freeze.
    • Food – bring some of your favorite hill nibbles (chocolate, energy bars)*
    • Suncream and lip salve
    • Camera with a large capacity memory card!
  • Most resorts have ski shops that hire ski equipment and we try to provide relevant contact details for all our courses and tours.

    Prices do change by resort/country, but here’s an approximate guide to hire costs for 6-days hire:

    Touring Skis plus skins and ski crampons €150-180
    Touring boots €80-90 
    Boot Crampons €45-50
    Ice Axe €30-40
    Harness €20-30
    Helmet €20-30
    Transceiver/shovel/probe €75-80

    Our guides also generally have additional sets of safety equipment (transceiver/shovel/probe) which they hire out to clients for €65 for 6 days hire. Must be booked in advance.
Matterhorn August 2016 5

Switzerland

View map

Switzerland is a mountainous Central European country consisting of 26 Cantons, with Bern as its main federal city.  

It is boarded by Italy to the south, France to the west, Germany to the north and Austria and Liechtenstein to the east.  Its a landlocked country with the mountainous regions occupying a greater part of its territory.  

Home to around 8 million people (2013) the country has many pretty villages, lakes and mountains.  The highest mountain in Switzerland is the Monterosa (specifically the Dufourspitze) at 4,634m.  The country has the highest concentration of 4000m peaks at 48.

Its 2 largest cities of Zurich and Geneva are global economic centres and gateways to the Alps from countries across the world. 

Its main languages are French, German, Italian and Romansh.

  • It is a condition of booking that you are insured for your chosen activity and the cover must include medical expenses, personal accident, personal liability, third party risks and rescue (including helicopter rescue). You are strongly advised also to take out cover against cancellation and curtailment.

    For UK residents Ski Club Travel Insurance may be a suitable option.

    For more details and to purchase a policy online visit http://www.skiclubinsurance.co.uk/
    If you need assistance arranging your personal insurance please let us know.
     

  • You want to arrange to arrive in Zinal by late afternoon on the first day.

    At the end of the week the course finishes after breakfast on the last day and we recommend that you arrange your return/onward flight for mid to late afternoon to give yourself plenty of time to get to the airport without having to rush!

    The most convenient airports are Geneva or Zurich airport from where you can take the train to Sierre (Geneva 2 hrs, Zurich 2.5 hrs).  At Sierre catch the yellow Post Bus to Zinal, you may need to change in Vissoie.  You want to get off the bus at the Zinal Poste stop in the village and the Hotel Besso is only a short walk away.  Train and bus timetables can be found at www.sbb.ch/en.  

    The last bus leaves Sierre station at 1910 (and gets to Mottec at about 2000) and so if you are going to arrive later than this then you’ll need to take a taxi for this leg of the journey. The cost for the taxi is about 120 CHF for 1-4 people. www.taxianniviers.ch  

    Alternatively you can hire a car at the airport. Driving time to the hotel is approximately 2 hrs from Geneva and 2.5 hrs from Zurich.

  • All our ski tours are led by our team of IFMGA Mountain Guides. The team is led by Olly Allen, Matt Dickinson and Nick Parks. 

  • Our base is Chalet Edelweiss in the hamlet of Mottec, 2km from Zinal and at the foot of one of the valley’s best off-piste routes.

    Our hosts Penny and Eric renovated the old building themselves, providing a luxurious chalet with great facilities for skiers - 5 ensuite bedrooms, a range of Scott freeride skis to test, ski-room with boot dryer, warm booting-up space and a stop for the free ski-bus right outside.

    Our groups have loved this home from home, with its huge double-sided fireplace, ample seating and extensive library, as well as vin chaud evenings around the outdoor firepit. Penny’s delicious food is a highpoint - not just the cakes, fantastic evening meals and local wines, but also the lavish breakfasts devised to send you out prepared for the ski day ahead!
     

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