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Ski Touring and Uphill Skiing

Rediscover the Original, Sustainable Way to Enjoy the Snow and Keep Fit with Davide Giardini

Article by Lisa Van Horne

Photography by Roo Smith & Ian Zinner

Originally published in Boulder Lifestyle

Walking is one of the oldest and healthiest forms of exercise. But let’s just say that it’s not always the most exciting or time-efficient of activities for athletes like Davide Giardini. So how can thrill-seeking snow sport enthusiasts and endurance athletes like Davide elevate the principles of walking for peak challenge and enjoyment? Enter ski touring, also referred to as uphill skiing, skimo, alpine touring, skinning or backcountry skiing.

“After growing up downhill ski racing and a decade of endurance sports, I was immediately hooked by ski touring,” says Davide, a former professional triathlete, current athlete on the La Sportiva Ski Team who qualified for the 2021-2022 USA Ski Mountaineering Team and founder of the Boulder Skimo Club. “It captures everything I enjoy in sports: a great workout on the uphill and the thrill of sliding on snow on the downhill in beautiful, natural outdoor settings, away from the mainstream culture of traditional resort skiing.”

While the Colorado ski industry is largely focused on traditional downhill skiing served by mechanical lifts, Davide notes that ski touring is actually the oldest form of skiing in the European Alps. Colorado is a prime playground for this activity, and Davide believes that Boulder boasts almost unmatched potential internationally for the sport.

“Coming from an alpine ski racing-crazed family in the Italian Alps and having lived, trained and worked amongst the Boulder endurance communities for over a decade, I can safely say that the Boulder area is one of the best areas in the world for practicing ski touring and building a community of like-minded people around it,” says Davide.

So what is ski touring? At its core, it involves hiking up a mountain on skis, in specialized ski boots that allow free movement of the ankle and bindings that allow the heel to lift. “Skins,” traditionally made of mohair, are stuck to the skis, to let you both glide and grip the snow as you move uphill. Once you reach the top of the mountain, you take the skins off the skis, make a few quick adjustments to the boots and bindings and ski back down the mountain.

Ski touring includes multiple subsets, each of which presents its own unique benefits and challenges.

Backcountry skiing—also known as alpine touring—involves practicing this process of hiking up, then skiing down in wild and remote spaces, often away from cell service, in search of untracked snow. Avalanche safety, awareness and training are paramount to this type of ski touring.

Ski mountaineering is a specific type of extreme backcountry skiing, which involves more extreme alpinism, climbing elements and skills in order to reach mountain summits.

Ski mountaineering racing—otherwise known as “skimo”—involves racing on a pre-set course against the clock and other participants. The course, which closely resembles a ski mountaineering adventure but in a more controlled setting, is often within a ski resort, combining inbounds and out-of-bounds ascents and descents. This sport makes its Olympics debut in 2026, with sprint races of 3-4 minutes that tests athletes' skills, power and skiing ability.

Resort skinning, fitness skinning or uphill skiing broadly refer to going to a ski resort that allows for ski touring on its inbounds terrain with the goal of traveling uphill and downhill on its existing ski slopes for fitness, recreation and a safe, controlled environment.

Davide was drawn to ski touring for its vast opportunities for fitness, endurance training, athletic challenge and exploring Colorado’s world-famous ski scene in a different way from the mainstream ski culture. Ski mountaineering racing in particular called to Davide and, in 2021, he launched the Boulder Skimo Club as a means to educate people on the sport and introduce its benefits to the more summer-based endurance athletes who live in Boulder.

“Ski touring is a great way to meet new people and keep fit together during the cold, snowy winter months,” says Davide. “I founded the club as a way to get people together, be the go-to resource for the sport in Boulder and help break down its historically high barriers of entry.”

Having easy access to Eldora Mountain Resort, a variety of safe backcountry spots and many mountain peaks to explore are some of the reasons that Davide feels Boulder is primed to become a ski-touring mecca. Davide notes that, in addition to its proximity, Eldora has had a welcoming policy when it comes to ski touring that facilitates convenient and safe access to practice the sport for both novices and more experienced athletes.

“I am a huge fan of Eldora’s uphill ski policy, especially this season,” says Davide. “The resort has welcomed inbounds ski touring on its closed terrain for many years as a way to enjoy the mountain in a different, less traditional way.”

For Davide, being a proponent of ski touring in Boulder is a long-term pursuit and passion.

“Ski touring is the way of the future for the ski industry,” says Davide. “It’s greener, cheaper and more sustainable than traditional skiing. The learning curve is quick and it allows for not only a greater appreciation of the mountain terrain and one’s physical abilities, but also a new way to enjoy the mountain away from the crowds.

“I find ski touring to be the perfect mix of so many cool aspects I and many other Boulderites seek: an inebriating concoction of full-body weight-bearing exercise, the thrill and excitement of downhill skiing and the joy of being out in the mountains with friends away from the crowds in an otherworldly magical setting.”

Gearing Up

As a self-proclaimed “minimalist endurance sport junkie,” Davide says that one of the advantages of ski touring is its often minimal, lightweight gear load. But there are some basics that anyone looking to get into the sport will need.

  • Skis: Lighter, skinnier and shorter skis are ideal for resort fitness skinning, ski mountaineering objectives and skimo racing. Heavier, wider and longer skis are ideal for backcountry powder days to travel and ski in deep snow.
  • Boots: Ski touring boots are unique in their versatility—flicking open a top buckle allows for easy walking while a simple lock converts them into regular alpine ski boots. Similar to with skis, light boots are ideal for resort fitness skinning, ski mountaineering objectives and skimo racing, while heavier, more supportive boots are better for backcountry powder days.
  • Bindings: Pin tech bindings allow for free heel movement on the uphill and a secure heel lock for the downhill.
  • Climbing Skins: These strips of mohair or nylon material attach to the undersides of the skis by way of a simple yet sturdy tip clip (and sometimes tail clip) to provide traction for climbing uphill. You quickly remove skins at the top of the mountain for skiing downhill. Skins have a special adhesive that allows you to reapply them as many times as you want.  
  • Poles: Ski touring is a full-body, gravity-defying sport. Poles engage the upper body and core to distribute the work load. Similar to in alpine skiing, they are also important for timing turns in the downhill.
  • Avalanche Safety Gear: If venturing into the backcountry, you’ll need to know where and how to safely travel in backcountry terrain. Also carry special gear, like a beacon, probe and shovel, and know how to use them in case of an avalanche.
  • Photo: Ian Zinner
  • Photo: Ian Zinner
  • Photo: Ian Zinner
  • Photo: Ian Zinner
  • Photo: Ian Zinner
  • Photo: Ian Zinner
  • Photo: Ian Zinner