The Agony of Choice – What ski should I tour on?

As little as 5 years ago, this was an easy question to answer as the selection available to the ski-tourer was relatively restricted and generally there was just one ski of choice that most guides used which inevitably filtered down to more general usage. Atomic 9.22’s, Bandits, Legend 8000’s – they all came and dominated the field for a while. These days there’s a myriad of choice with all the big ski brands producing at least one touring ski, and some of them producing a wide range.

In addition, the idea of what constitutes a good touring ski has changed. It used to be narrow and straight to ease the uphill. But nowadays, unless we’re Patrouille de Glacier racer types, we place more of an emphasis on the pleasure in the descent and compromise on the ease of uphill.

Yes – compromise is the name of the game when selecting a ski, and I’ve been reminded of this directly as over the last couple of months I’ve been through the agony of choice myself, selecting a touring ski for the coming season.

Rule 1: if it ain’t broke don’t fix it
If you’ve got a setup that works for you, there’s no reason to succumb to the marketing to get the latest technical feature or this season’s topsheet graphic. I skied on Atomic 9.22’s for the first 4 years of my guiding career. But this year, after going from via Legend 4800’s to Altitrail Powders which I’ve been on for 3 years, I needed a change.

Rule 2: what do I need from the ski?
It’s a bugger really – a touring ski has to do everything: powder, crust, ice, steeps, skinning, and it has to be as light as possible. Or does it? I selected the Altitrail Powder on a weight basis as well as the recommendation of highly experienced ski guides but (crucially) without testing them. I attended the 4th British Ski Mountaineering Symposium and listened to Simon Christy speaking on the subject of kit with the title “Lighter, Faster, Better?”. We came to the conclusion that the ideal touring ski has:

  • an underfoot width of 82-95mm to give enough flotation and more tolerance and
  • a turn radius of 18-21m. Any less than this means the ski will snatch sideways in crust and will chatter on steep hard terrain

Rule 3: make a list
I’m a bit of a list maniac – making a spreadsheet of possible options with dimensions, weights, constructions helps me to make sense of the chaos out there.

Rule 4: talk to loads of people
I spoke to other guides, skiers, shops, read reviews and garnered as many opinions as I could. I even got some ideas via a Facebook post. In particular, Andy at Back Country in Ilkley gave me some great alternative ideas.
Rule 5: if at all possible, try before you buy
Testing touring skis is really hard, as most shops mount demo models with downhill bindings, and so you’re not going to be able to test them with your touring boots without risking spiral fractures. But there’s still benefit to testing with downhill boots to get a comparative thing going and, let’s face it, if you can’t control the ski in downhill boots, then it’s going to be a ‘mare in touring boots. I was really lucky to get a tip from local guide Fred Bernard that Grands Montets Sports held one of the models I was looking at (and even in a touring binding too – bonus!).

Rule 6: love at first pitch
If there’s any doubts after the first pitch, forget it. Don’t tell yourself you could get used to it because you like the colour, the name, the price, the way your mate skis on them etc. You won’t, and you’ll always doubt yourself on testing terrain.

If it’s love, then go with it. No need to test a load of others. Get that credit card out and buy into the dream

So what have I bought?

I looked at these skis:

Scott Crusairs and Powdairs
Dynastar Mythic Lights
K2 Waybacks and Coombacks
Zag Ubacs

But in the end I fell in instant love with Trab Volares. Suits me, sir!
100mm underfoot and a 25m turn radius, so you can ignore any or all of the above advice.
Happy shopping!