The Basics of Randonee Skiing

Woman backcountry randonee skiing on Rabbit Ears Pass in Colorado
David Epperson/Getty Images

Randonee skiing, also known as Alpine Touring (AT), is a form of skiing in which athletes ascend the mountain under their own power through the use of specialized bindings and skins. Skins are held onto the bottom of the skis with a sticky substance. They were originally made of animal skin, such as seal skin, but are now made with artificial materials that have fibers to hold the skis from sliding back down as the skier glides forward up the hill. Once the skier reaches the desired altitude, the skins are removed and the bare skis are used to descend.

Randonee Skiing Terrain

The popular term "backcountry skiing" pretty well describes randonee or alpine touring. Generally, it means skiing outside of ski area boundaries. The terrain might be accessed from an established ski area, or it can be anywhere out in the wilderness. All that's required is a skiable hill. The most important distinction between skiing "in bounds" at a ski area and any kind of backcountry skiing is that backcountry terrain is not monitored and controlled by mountain personnel. Within the bounds of a ski area, the mountain staff is responsible for eliminating avalanche danger and other hazards. Out of those boundaries, skiers assume all of the risks. Staying safe is entirely up to their experience, judgment and, often, luck. 

Randonee Skiing Gear

Because much of randonee is based on downhill skiing, the equipment used is more like downhill equipment than cross-country gear. In fact, some randonee skiers simply mount special bindings on ordinary downhill skis. The main differences lie in the weight of the ski (touring skis are lighter than most downhill skis), the stiffness of the boots (touring boots can be a bit softer and allow for slightly more movement), and the function of the bindings (touring bindings can be released at the heel to allow cross-country-like "walking" or gliding on the skis). Within the range of randonee gear, equipment can be similar to telemark skis, boots and bindings to very much like downhill boots and skis. Alpine terrain racers use the lightest-weight equipment that goes uphill easily but isn't the best for aggressive ascents. 

Randonee Safety Essentials

The most dangerous aspect of randonee skiing is the risk of avalanche. So no matter what type of ski touring you do, the most important gear is avalanche safety equipment...and good judgment. A basic safety setup includes a beacon, a shovel and an avalanche probe. All of these help your friends in trying to save you if you're buried in an avalanche, or help you do the same for a friend who gets buried. You also must know how to use these tools and, more importantly, how to recognize and mitigate avalanche danger. That's why all randonee skiers should get training in backcountry and avalanche safety.