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Should you try Nordic or backcountry ski touring?

The closure of the ski lifts brought to light cross-country skiing and hiking. Halfway between the two, Nordic ski touring allows you to discover wide open spaces, alone or with your family. As a bonus, it’s great for late winter and early spring.

What is Nordic ski touring?

Even if the interest in the discipline seems to date back two or three years, Nordic ski touring, also called “backcountry”, is the ancestor of sliding. Created in the heart of the Nordic lands to get around, it is located halfway between cross-country skiing, which it allowed to flourish with the grooming of the slopes, and ski touring. Designed for skiers who want to get away from ski areas and immerse themselves in nature, it is affordable thanks to equipment that is easy to access and use.

Nordic ski touring is practiced with a wide-soled ski, fitted with edges, scales or sealskins according to the wishes of the user and the technical nature of the chosen route. The bindings are inspired by those used in cross-country skiing with a heel that remains free both uphill and downhill. The growing interest in the discipline is due to its all-purpose aspect which appeals to both cross-country skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts.

What level of skiing is required?

Nordic ski touring allows you to immerse yourself in nature. Inspiration Vercors

Close in its movements to the classic style of cross-country skiing, Nordic ski touring does not require being an expert skier and remains an affordable discipline, technically but also physically. Knowledge of the basics of the classic step is necessary to move easily off the track.

Your level will only define the technicality of the routes that you can take. “You just need to be able to make a snow plow, testifies Étienne Rollin, one of the Nordic ski touring supervisors within the Porte en Chartreuse School on the heights of Grenoble (Isère). We then adapt the courses according to the technical and physical level of each. The advantage of the practice is that it is possible both solo and with the family. ”

What are the advantages of this practice?

Practiced outside ski areas, in the wilderness, Nordic ski touring is a window into the great outdoors. Practiced away from ski areas, it allows you to immerse yourself in nature, enhancing the escape on immense plateaus, to walk in the heart of the forests slaloming between the pines and passing from a valley to the valley. ‘other. It offers another look at the mountain and a different way of approaching it. More contemplative, less athletic.

As accessible as it is fun, it remains a gentle discipline, accessible for the whole family over a day or several days, and respectful of the environment. “We take the time in Nordic ski touring, assures Étienne Rollin. Fun and nature are the epicenter of the activity. Everyone can find something for them. ” Since the first confinement in March 2020, and the boom in outdoor and fitness activities, it is as popular as the snowshoe. But he wants to be more fun on the descent.

Who to start with?

Accessible to all skiers, Nordic ski touring can be practiced alone from the first glides. Inspiration Vercors

Unlike ski touring, where the logistics (gluing and taking off the skins, bindings, etc.) may require the intervention of a professional, Nordic ski touring does not require any “handling”, slopes and counter slopes. ‘chaining easily, hurtling down by the skier’s only gestures. The first glides can, on a ground adapted to the level of each one, be done alone or with family.

The intervention of a professional will however be essential for a day trip or several days. The latter will offer everyone the opportunity to find the profile that suits their level. For an immersion over several days, you have to turn to ski schools or tour operators specializing in outdoor winter activities such as Grand Angle, Allibert or L’École de Porte.

Where and when to do it?

Cut out for off-trail practice and off the beaten track, Nordic ski touring is primarily intended for mid-mountain massifs even if the development of equipment allows forays into more alpine areas. The Jura mountains, the Massif des Bauges in Savoie, the Champsaur in the Hautes-Alpes, the Vosges or the Chartreuse and the Vercors plateau in Isère remain privileged areas for the practice of “backcountry”. It is in the heart of these massifs that we find the most beautiful French routes such as the Grande Traversée du Vercors and the Grande Traversée du Jura.

All periods are favorable for Nordic ski touring even if, like ski touring, some courses remain more accessible and fun in the spring on harder snow, favoring the skier’s lift.

What equipment for Nordic ski touring? Shoes, skis … our advice for renting or buying

Unlike ski touring, the equipment remains more accessible and easy to use.

Nordic ski touring. Ophira

Heavier and wider than cross-country skis, Nordic touring skis are still lighter than touring skis. They are designed to evolve both uphill and downhill. There are three types of skis.
Skis narrow and long will be used for long distance courses and on large plateaus.
The skis, said ” hourglass “, are intended for versatile skiers.
More skis wide, intermediate between Nordic hiking and telemark, will promote buoyancy in powder snow and greater pleasure on the descent.

The “backcountry” binding remains close to that used in cross-country skiing. It is distinguished by its stability which allows you to perform turns downhill in telemark technique or simply in alpine skiing. Unlike ski touring, the heel is always free.

Nordic touring skis have scales to prevent backing up on the way up while still allowing you to slide down on the way down. Seal skins can be used as soon as the slope is steeper.

Visually wider and taller than those used in cross-country skiing, Nordic touring ski boots are also stiffer. Ophira

Visually wider and taller than those used in cross-country skiing, Nordic touring ski boots are also stiffer. They are still more flexible than a classic ski touring boot, allowing them to move on any terrain and terrain.

To complete…

In spring, depending on the terrain, thanks to the lift of the snow in the morning, it is possible to go out on large plateaus with skating skis rather than Nordic touring skis. More manageable, they will cover greater distances.

What equipment to secure your outings?

ARVA and probe are not mandatory unless the terrain on which you are operating requires it. In these cases, we refer to the rules enacted in ski touring: anyone who practices off-piste must be trained in the field of avalanches and acquire the appropriate knowledge.

A map and a first aid kit with a survival blanket are mandatory for each outing.

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