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I love the idea of ski touring. However, I wonder what would be the best way to learn it. Should I focus on learning alpine and cross-country skiing and then combine the two, or should I rather just start with easy routes? Should I take lessons?

I am an intermediate alpine skier, but lack any experience in cross-country and off-piste skiing.

To clarify on what terrain I am aimed at: Currently a single mountain daytour seems most appealing to me. So ski up in the morning, and then down afterwards. This would probably take place in the Alps.

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    What kind of gear are you thinking of? And what kind of terrain are you interested in? – Pepi Jan 29 '17 at 15:13
  • @Pepi and ab2: About terrain: Ideally, in the end I would be able to travel up and down a mountain with skis on a daytour. Maybe I would also enjoy using them as a hiking substitute in winter, but this is not the focus now. About the gear: I think I would prefer randonnée, since this way I can make more use of my current alpine skills. – Paul Paulsen Jan 31 '17 at 15:50
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For AT/Randonee on mountains, you'll need to go up steep (~30°) slopes on skins. You'll need a skin will cover nearly the whole ski base, and that won't slide easily at all (I think my skins require more than 10° of slope to go downhill).

Because of that friction, you will not experience much that resembles cross country skiing, except for maybe some skating type action. Without skins the skis will give you no grip, you'll have to use poles & skating to go anywhere. Ideally your route will not have any long flat sections.

A skill you might work on is going uphill with all that weight on your feet. You won't need to lift your foot for every step, as long as the skis tips stay on top of the snow, so that's just a matter of exercise. You will probably have to change direction on steep slopes, meaning lift one ski out, turn it ~180° then transfer your weight onto it, while your poles are sinking into that bottomless powder. This can get quite awkward and a little frustrating, so I'd practice that before committing to a long day in the back country.

For the downhill part, you'll get conditions similar to groomed snow during the spring, which is easy enough. Depending on where you are you might get deep powder, very chunky sun cups, avalanche debris that's like rubble, or inch-thick ice. You can practice skiing those while in-bounds, if your local ski resort isn't too obsessive about grooming.

As ab2 said, get some avalanche training, and find out about your local avalanche forecast. Get a beacon and practice using it, some ski areas will offer clinics on beacon use. Find out about the weather and don't get caught on a big icy mountain; many people have died from uncontrolled slides. Best of all go with somebody with experience.

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It's not clear what kind of terrain you are planning to ski. However, you say that you are an intermediate alpine skier, so you are not a rank beginner.

Start by visiting a ski center that has groomed cross country trails and rental equipment. And then just go! See how you do. Watch more experienced skiers on the trail and see what they do. Read a few articles on technique and equipment.

After a few such sessions, you will learn what you don't know and will learn enough to formulate specific questions. You should get good at skiing on hilly groomed trails and hilly snowed-over, ungroomed roads before you tackle any but the most modest off-trail skiing. This should not take long.

Lessons: If you can afford them, take a few private lessons. Private lessons are more efficient than classes. In a class, you are frequently being told less than you already know, or less than you need to know. And very few instructors are good at picking out what each individual in a class is doing wrong and what each individual is doing right.

Depending on the terrain you want to ski off-trail, you may need avalanche training.

  • Do I understand correctly that you suggest I should train cross-country first instead of directly going on an easy ski tour off-piste / in ungroomed terrain? I imagine doing a ski tour up a mountain is very different from cross-country skiing on groomed trails, but then, I don't know much about this, hence the question. See my comment above about what terrain I would like to ski. – Paul Paulsen Jan 31 '17 at 15:52
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    @Paul Paulsen Yes, I am suggesting that you do a few cross-country runs on a hilly trail so you are happy with the free heel. This should not be a big deal. Also, depending on the terrain, you should investigate the need for avalanche training. – ab2 Jan 31 '17 at 17:48

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