“What kind of skis do I bring to the Andes?”
The unfortunate reality of being a travelling skier is that we are faced with more restrictions to what we can bring across the globe to slide down a mountainside. First world problems right!? Some of us bear the brunt of the airline baggage fees and choose to travel with a quiver. Those that choose to pack within airline’s weight requirements often find that one set of skis is all that can fit. So, what ski is that going to be? Well it depends on where you plan to ski and how you plan to spend your days skiing. Resort? Off-Piste? Backcountry touring? Perhaps all 3?
An important note: If you are joining one of our guided adventures in South America, because of the trip itinerary and moving around to different ski areas and towns, we are unable to accommodate ski or snowboard rentals. You need to arrive with your own skis or snowboard.
Choosing a ski for resort based skiing in South America
Lets start with the Progression Focused Trips (instructional and resort based tours). The goal of these tours is to achieve the objectives of the participants in terms of improving ski or riding ability, and general confidence in the mountain environment. While these tours may spend most of time on the groomed areas of the resort, there is typically a progression to get people stronger in their skills to move them towards more challenging terrain, or varying snow conditions (powder and off piste terrain).
For these types of tours a general all mountain ski should do the trick. These days you can find these in all kinds of ski stiffnesses and widths. But typically a ski which is 85-100mm underfoot is ideal to handle a variety of conditions. Skis don’t need to be too stiff. You want to be on a ski you can bend and that you can learn to ski proficiently rather than feeling like the ski is skiing you. In terms of length, a ski between shoulder and head high works for most skiers.
Best skis for off-piste skiing around the Andes
For skiers and riders on our off piste tours the focus can still be on improving skills, but with a much greater emphasis on finding the best available untracked snow. This may mean riding off piste areas in the ski resort, or leaving the ski resort on short hikes by foot to get to terrain which is harder to access.
We are often skiing in backcountry terrain where there is no slope preparation (i.e. grooming). So while the obvious goal is to be skiing untracked fluffy powder, sometimes we encounter everything from firm snow, wind crust, or spring snow.
Again, an all mountain ski will suffice for most guests (minimum 85mm underfoot), while specific powder skis will work too. Skis head to a little above head high are preferred. I personally prefer a ski closer to the 100mm mark underfoot for these tours but it is not uncommon to see guests riding their powder boards for the duration of the tour (100mm+ underfoot). Some guests on these tours bring a couple pairs if they can. An all mountain ski as an every day driver, and a powder ski if the snow gods are favourable and leave a whole lot of the Andean powder we all hope for.
Best ski set up for backcountry touring in Chile and Argentina
Finally, we have our lift assisted ski touring and backcountry tours for for guests who like self propelled adventure. The focus here is exploring the backcountry of the Andes. Chairlift use may be used for initial access (especially on our lift assisted trips), but the bulk of the day is spent earning your turns (climbing up what we are going to ski down).
Again, all mountain and powder specific skis seem to be the most popular (skis 85-120mm underfoot). But since weight counts when you are carrying it uphill, a lighter ski may save you some energy for the ride down (many brands have specific models for backcountry touring which are lighter than their alpine skiing brothers).
Backcountry ski touring bindings
Ski bindings are different on these tours since you will need a ski touring specific binding set up. Frame bindings work (currently used: Atomic Tracker, Salomon Guardian, Diamir Fritchi) but many guests are seeing the benefits of going to a light weight “tech” style binding (Dynafit, Marker, Fritchi). If you can afford to have a specific backcountry ski the tech binding option will not be a mistake. However, for those who wish to ease into the backcountry scene and buy something that can be used for heavy resort use as well as off-piste and the backcountry, a frame binding may be more up your alley. Whichever way you decide to swing, make sure your binding is compatible with ski crampons (an attachment we use when climbing firm snow).
Deciding what ski to bring can be a daunting task. Sometimes because you may be in the market for a new ski to cater for your upcoming ski trip. Other times because you have too many skis to choose from! Hopefully this post gives you a better idea of what is recommended. And remember, every skier skis differently and favours different kinds of skis. Do not stress if your favourite ski does not meet these criteria or is not all the rage in the current ski industry trends. It is intended to be a guideline to help our guests get the most out of their trips, not a strict rule. Remember, you want to be comfortable on the equipment you have, in the terrain and snow conditions that you will most likely encounter, or want to get to.
Finally, do an online search for “best all mountain skis” or “best backcountry touring skis” to find the most recently tested skis from Powder Magazine, etc. Better yet, ask the tech guys at your local ski shop assuming they have experience skiing the terrain you are expecting to ski. If they have skied down in South America, even better! Skis are constantly evolving and what might be a great ski this year, could have a better option a few ski seasons later.