Ski touring is considered the basic essence of skiing. Having its roots in the early days of skiing this pure sport has many followers. Ski touring is skiing with no mechanized assistance. That means no chair lifts, helicopters, snowcats or snowmobiles. Skiers earn each run by climbing to the top under their own power.
The skis used in ski touring are somewhat different those used in the more popular alpine skiing. The skis are straighter then those seen at the ski hill. Too much side cut interferes with gliding and makes the skies want to turn. Since ski touring involves both uphill and downhill terrain the skies need to perform well on both. When ascending a skin of synthetic material is used on the base of the ski to allow forward movement of the ski but prevent the ski from sliding backwards. This is what allows the skier to ascend a slope with minimal effort.
The bindings used in ski touring are also different then those used at the ski hill. Ski touring bindings are usually only fixed at the toe. This enable the skier to easily ascend a slope with a free heal. Some sets of touring bindings allows the heal to be fixed for skiing down the slope but many purists will ski with a free heal called telemarking.
Ski touring takes place in any location that has sufficient powder snow and access to the mountains. The main difference with ski touring over heli skiing or snowcat skiing is that the terrain must be close enough to allow skiers to access it and ski without having to travel excessive distance. Most ski touring lodges are fly in resorts. Guest fly to the resort by helicopter and stay for several days. Each day they venture out into the mountains and ski untracked powder.
Like any other sport in the backcountry ski touring demands respect. Skiers are often responsible for their own actions. There is no ski patrol around to save the day. Skiers have to be able to react and make decisions to save their lives. Skiers that are accessing a remote location that is without lodging have to take special care to plan enough food for unexpected weather delays or other emergencies.
People who ski tour need to be aware of the risk that avalanches pose. Avalanches can sweep down a slope and bury an entire group of skiers. Proper equipment needs to be carries by all members of a ski touring group and they all need to know how to use that equipment effectively. Some of the basic equipment includes a radio transceiver to help locate a buried person. A steel probe is used to determine the exact location of the buried avalanche victim. Of course a shovel is essential for digging out the individual. Knowing how to plans safe ski routes and determine avalanche conditions is important also.
There is a real spiritual connection with the mountains in the winter. Many skiers feel a personal connection with the spaces that they ski tour in and gain energy by being there. For many skiers ski touring is a weekly occurrence through out the winter months.