How to Earn Your Turns With Stefanie Mössler

A day in the life ski touring with Stefanie – or maybe two

The current circumstances here in Austria are probably known by most of you. The ski resorts are closed due to COVID-19 regulations and the first snow has arrived. So, the whole ski community needs to hike the long way up on the mountains to earn their turns – just like our grand grandparents did. But how do you start this thing called ski touring?

I will take you with me for one day of ski touring around Innsbruck. Actually, it is always two days. At 5pm the avalanche report (Avalanche Forecast | - Avalanche Warning Services Tirol - South Tyrol - Trentino) for the next day is published and this gives me an overview of the current snow situation. Tomorrow for example there is an avalanche warning level of “2” (moderate). We haven’t got fresh snow for the last 10 days, but there is a severe danger of a persistent weak layer in shady northernly slopes. Therefore we decided to tour up the Vennspite (2390 m). It is a frequently done northwest facing tour with an average slope of 35 degrees in the Vals valley. The Schmirn and the Vals valley in the center of Tyrol are two of my favourite areas for touring. There is an app called FATMAP that I use to search for any type of ski touring route, also in summer too. This app offers two important functions, it shows you the slope and the aspect.

What equipment do you need for ski touring?

For the touring itself, you will need a ski with touring bindings or a split-board, skins and telescopic poles. As we move out of the unsecured ski area we need to follow some safety regulations and bring our transmitter, shovel and probe. Instead of just bringing them in a comfy backpack, it is important to know how to work with these tools. Therefore I recommend that you take an avalanche safety course. There are also a couple of good online tutorials offered like these two websites for example:

KBYG - Know Before You Go Avalanche Safety

On your first ski tour, I recommend that you look for the beaten path beneath or above the treeline, with an average slope angle lower than 30-35 degrees. Here in Austria, there are a couple of touring classics you can find on the internet with proper ski touring descriptions. Just like the tour to the Vennspitze we did. Before you strive for more demanding tours you should know your quiver and how to handle the avalanche safety equipment. Naturally, this takes some time too. But in the backcountry, it's better to be safe than sorry.

What do you need to take with you when ski touring?

I usually bring the following: my avalanche airbag pack, probe, shovel, transmitter, a face mask, goggles, skins, helmet and gloves. The item that you might not recognise in the picture is the Ezeefit socks. They prevent you from getting blisters on your heels. I am very sensitive to this, so they are my secret weapon for touring. Furthermore, I always pack a second base layer to change on top and a first aid kid including a safety blanket. I even carry a safety blanket in my pants anytime on the mountain. People who get hurt become hypothermic quite fast, therefore this blanket can be a lifesaver! And of course, I bring a snack and water.

What do you need to wear for ski touring?

While touring I mostly wear the Yeti Hunter Shell Jacket and Bib. They have plenty of ventilation zips to prevent me from sweating, but they also protect me from cold winds. Underneath this layer, I wear a base layer top and bottom. Then I bring a mid layer jacket like the Free Peaks Mind Layer Jacket to wear on the top. An Austrian saying goes like this: “The experienced touring enthusiast starts off with a slight shiver” So don't wear too much while hiking, because it just makes you sweat fast and get tired earlier.

The tour

We start at 1585 m elevation and hike up through the forest for about 30 minutes. Suddenly the forest opens up to our left and we can see the mountain top of the Vennspitze. Now the tour gets a little bit steeper and we need to do some switchbacks to get up the first steep section before we arrive at a more moderate valley, which leads us to the final summit slope. As the slope gets steeper we start to zig-zag and traverse the slope halfway to reach a ridge on the right-hand side. The last steep part of the tour on the ridge is done either boot packing or in very short zig-zag switchbacks. The snow on this ridge is wind-affected or even blown away. Finally, after 2.5 hours we arrive at the beautiful top of the Vennspitze. After a well-deserved snack and a sip of warm tea, we try to find our way down with the greatest yield of untouched powder. The playful terrain allows us to enjoy the way down in full swing.

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