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Alpine Touring: A Sport to Try Out

Backcountry skiing is increasingly popular, and alpine touring, sometimes abbreviated to AT, is the new favourite sport for skiers who also like to hike—and for hikers who ski!

Alpine touring involves climbing a snowy mountainside with backslide-preventing ski skins strapped to your skis to arrive at your dream destination: your very own stunning downhill ski run.

Bringing together the thrill of downhill skiing with the physical effort of hiking, alpine touring is a complete winter sport that gets skiers to places that are inaccessible by ski-lift. While keeping in shape, alpine skiers also get away from it all to enjoy their very own special moments in nature and to access more wooded, less frequented slopes covered in all-natural powder.

Seems like a great adventure? It sure is! The effort it takes to get to the top is more than rewarded by the thrills you’ll enjoy while tearing down the untouched snow. Whatever shape you’re in, this is an invigorating sport to give a go! The most important thing is to be well-equipped and to start out from an easily accessible location where the slopes are maintained and patrolled.

How to gear up for alpine touring

Alpine touring equipment looks a lot like downhill gear, with a few notable differences..

Skis and boots

The bindings of alpine touring skis are secured in two ways: in supportive descent mode for the downhill ride, which fixes the boots to the skis, and in flexible climbing mode, which leaves the heel and lower leg free, similar to cross-country skis.  

What makes AT boots different is that they unlock to give your lower legs and ankle the greater range of movement you need for your ascent.

The accessories

To set off on your alpine touring adventure, you need climbing skins for the hike up the mountainside. The skins attach to your skis to keep you from sliding backward during the ascent, then you remove them for the descent.

You will also need to strap on a backpack to transport water and snacks, the ski skins during the descent, and ski accessories like goggles and helmet, during the ascent.

The clothing

You can gear up in your usual ski wear to go alpine touring, but keep in mind you’ll be much warmer during the climb than during the downhill ski. Layer up and keep room in your pack for the layer you’ll need for the descent. As you’ll be sweating a lot more, avoid cotton clothing at all costs in favour of synthetic fabrics.

Where to enjoy alpine touring

Most ski areas, like Mont-Tremblant, Morin Heights Ski Resort, La Réserve, Mont Sutton, Owl's Head, Le Massif de Charlevoix, Mont Grand-Fonds and Mont-Édouard, have alpine touring slopes that are maintained, controlled and patrolled. These are great places to start out, especially since they often rent out AT equipment on site.

Old ski resorts and a wide range of mountains are also perfect for alpine touring. They’re less frequented and more naturally wooded, but they’re not recommended for beginners, as they often require a lot more prep and additional gear. Some of the favourite mountains of experienced AT backcountry skiers are the former Mont Plante in Val-David and Vallée Bras-du-Nord, near Quebec City, plus the breathtaking peaks of the Haute-Gaspésie.