What is Ski Mountaineering?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 17 October 2019
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Combining elements of ski touring and traditional mountaineering, the sport of ski mountaineering involves scaling a desirable peak using traditional mountain climbing techniques and then achieving the descent by skiing down the mountain. Most of the equipment required for ski mountaineering is also utilized in the other two activities that provide the basis for this combined sport. While the sport is enjoyed in many parts of the world, ski mountaineering is particularly popular in Europe.

The exact origins of ski mountaineering are sometimes debated. Some hold that the first true ski mountaineer is John “Snowshoe” Thompson, who during the 1850’s was known to make use of skiing techniques along with mountain climbing gear to cross the Sierra Nevada mountain range and deliver mail to California twice a month. Others place the conversion of Thompson’s methods from a traveling method into a sport during the latter part of the 19th century, with German and Nordic locations alternately cited as the first real examples of ski mountaineering as a sport.


Regardless of the origins, there is no denying that ski mountaineering is firmly established as a popular sport today. The process usually involves the utilization of skis that are configured with a converted foot binding that makes movement on rough terrain easier. This binding can be loosened or tightened, depending on the conditions of the ground currently being covered. To augment the skis, ski mountaineers will also take along ropes, ice axes, crampons, and other essentials used in mountain climbing.

Often, ski mountaineering is conducted by moving across terrain that is dotted with way stations that are often referred to as huts. The huts provide a place for skiers to rest and prepare for the next leg of the journey. Ideally, the activity will end by the mountaineer reaching the peak of the mountain and then being able to ski to the base with little or no interference. The combination of climbing and then skiing down to the valley is considered to be an excellent physical workout, as well as being mentally refreshing. However, it is important to note that ski mountaineering is a very demanding sport physically, and should not be attempted by people who are not in good physical condition.


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