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Here’s how to plan a perfect ski tour: A checklist with mountain guide insights

Perhaps you have done a number of ski tours on secured slopes, but now you’re ready to dare a tour in the backcountry. Far away from the hustle and bustle of a ski resort, the ultimate in outdoor experiences and untouched powder await you. To be safe when out and to get the best out of your ski tour there are some basic planning steps that are vital. Together with our mountain guide Javi Martin de Villa, we have put together the perfect checklist for you so you can ideally organize your ski tour.

1. Create a plan

The first plan for a successful ski tour is creating a detailed plan. It is important that you have a clear idea what you want to do. This will help you not be forced to improvise unnecessarily. Spontaneous changes in a tour could put you and your group at unnecessary risk. Heed the following points in prep:


Weather conditions: Our guide Javi always takes a look at the forecast before every tour. That allows him to get an idea of where and in which areas good conditions will be found, but also in which areas there is more protection in case bad weather moves in. The four most important indicators for this are: Visibility, wind, storms, and the temperatures. The latter is an especially key factor for judging the risk of avalanches.  Javi always checks different weather forecasts to balance and judge the predictions to better judge the conditions.


Avalanche risk: The risk of avalanche cannot be underestimated in the open backcountry. So be sure to check out the reports of avalanche risk before every ski tour. These can be found most easily online at each avalanche warning systems.


Route planning: Only when you have found a suitable area with good conditions based on the weather and avalanche forecasts are you ready to start planning your tour. Choose a tour that is appropriate for your ability and that of your companions. Consider not only the ascent but also the descent. Be sure to download maps and GPS tracks so they are available offline.

Javi’s tip: Always get a look at the route on a topographic map to check the altitude and exposure. Ensure your route does not travel through any protected areas.


Determining timing: Plan sufficient time for your tour and in doing so consider the following factors: Performance ability of the weakest member of the group, elevation that needs to be surmounted, kilometers to be covered, expected trail-breaking or routes that go up and down. For technically difficult sections, you will need more time that on easy terrain. In addition, it is necessary to plan in time for breaks and a little extra time for unexpected delays.


Emergency planning: Before the start of the tour, consider how you will respond to unforeseen situations. Always have a plan B, C and D, in case your originally planned tour is not possible. Javi always shares his plans and his alternatives with friends or family, so they know where he is and when he expects to return.

2. Train for your tour

Ski touring demands good physical fitness and specialized techniques. Prepare yourself so you can get the best out of your tour and minimize possible injuries:


Conditioning and strength training: Regular training and various forms of training can improve both your physical endurance as well as your strength and balance.
Detailed training tips can be found in our article “#speedup on your ski tour: our training tips.”


Technique: Practice climbing and descending with your ski tour gear. Kick turns especially at the beginning demand a little practice. Also, removing or putting on skis for a transition on the summit can be challenging in wind and cold. With just a little training, it’s easy to develop a routine to become more secure and efficient. If you still have questions about the proper ski touring technique, you can find all the information you need in our ABCs of ski touring article.


Avalanche awareness: Every member of a group should have basic knowledge of avalanche awareness and should know how to handle an avalanche transceiver, probe, and shovel. Regular avalance training and practice are essential to be able to handle a serious incident calmly and routinely.

3. Pack the correct equipment

Also critical is the selection of suitable equipment for a successful and safe ski tour. Be sure that you have along the following:


Ski touring equipment and performance apparel: Make certain that you pack along all of your gear needed for a tour. Ski crampons are often the item forgotten, says Javi from his tour experience.

Choose your technical apparel that protects you from wind, rain, and snow, but will also wick away moisture. A layering principle is ideal to be able to react to changing weather conditions. Get more information about choosing the right clothing in our article “5 clothing mistakes on ski tours.”


Safety gear: Always carry an avalanche transceiver, a probe, and a avalanche shovel with you.


Emergency gear: Round out your equipment with a first-aid kit, a GPS device, sufficient water and other food and snacks.


We have put together a complete packing list for you on our website. With this, you will be guaranteed not to forget anything so you can head out relaxed on your tour with a complete package of gear.

4. Accept your limits

When ski touring, it is enormously essential to recognize your own limits and to respect them – also those of the mountain.


Fitness level: Don’t overestimate your ability and don’t overreach your physical limits to prevent injuries. Javi’s tip: When you notice you are fatigued and don’t have any more strength, better to turn around and stop early. Not only does the climb take energy, but also the descent.


Avalanche risk & weather conditions: Never ski into an area with a high risk and poor conditions, even if the tour looks so attractive.

5. Be attentive when out

Ski touring is an outstanding sport that is a lot of fun.


Group cohesion: Enjoy the time with the members of your group and support each other.


Mountain experience: Take time to appreciate the tour and to have lots of fun!

Bottom line: Planning is half the battle. A well-prepared ski tour is safe and enables you to have an unforgettable experience in untouched nature. Know your limits, make responsible decisions, and don’t forget in the process to enjoy the moment. Let’s #speedup!

6. Enjoy the time and have fun

During a tour you should always constantly re-assess the conditions. Take appropriate steps and as needed change your plans.


Route planning: Adapt your route to the current situation and abilities of your group. Always have an alternative plan in mind.


Avalanche risk: Continuously assess the snow and terrain to recognize possible dangers. Check the avalanche reports again the morning of your tour to change to an alternative route if needed.


Communication: Always keep open channels of communication with your group and allow everyone to be part of a decision.

Javi Martin de Villa
Mountain guide and former ski mountaineer