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Tips for Planning Your First Ski Expedition

Posted on November 01 2018

Mike Marolt's career has brought him to the world's highest peaks and has landed him in the Ski Hall of Fame. Now he want's to help you get started on your next ski adventure!

So You Want to Go on an Expedition.

Ok, you have purchased all the gear. You have spent the time and money to enter the wonderful world of ski touring.You have spent the winter walking up the local ski area, and have even done a few hut trips. You have even ventured into the backcountry in the spring and you are hooked.  Ski touring the local peaks is something you have fallen in love with. When you scroll through Facebook posts from people out in far off ranges, you can’t help but dream of doing this yourself. You are in the best shape of your life, and your interest is reaching peak levels; you want to do go on an adventure!  The only issue, you don’t know where to start!

 

ski touring at 8000 meters

Planning an adventure isn't easy, but it is always worth it 

 

At 8kPeaks, we have spent our lives venturing to the world’s greater ranges, and we want to share our wealth of knowledge with you. Over the last 30 years we have explored remote parts of Alaska, South America, and Asia in a natural progression that has taken us on expeditions to nearly 50 of the world’s highest peaks. Over the course of our mountaineering career, we have not only learned how to pick appropriate peaks for all levels of expedition ski mountaineering, but we have figured out some of the logistical aspects that can make or break your expedition.  We have made all the mistakes, and also overcame them. So if you’re thinking about taking the step and want to plan an ski adventure, here are 10 things to be aware of

 

1. Picking an objective. This is a critical place to start. The peak has to meet your experience level in order to make the most of your expedition.  At any experience level, when you venture to the greater ranges, it’s going to put you in an arena that is simply different than the local peaks of the ranges found in the lower 48.  Altitude, glaciers, cultures, and logistics all come into play. Picking the appropriate peak is critical for maximizing your experience.

2. Picking your mates. The peaks of the greater ranges are much more involved, much larger, much higher than what you are probably used to, so they take weeks instead of days. Pick the wrong partners, and friction can deteriorate friendships into enemies. There is nothing worse than having to spend time in a tent with someone who you find irritating or has different objectives for the expedition.

choosing the right ski partner

You are going to be spending a lot of time with your partners!

 

3. Picking the right gear. If you are interested in planning an expedition, chances are you already have most of the gear you will need. However, the greater ranges also demand things you might not have. Ropes, hardware, tents, cook kits, and a lot of other items will need to be acquired in order to be prepared for the environments that are different than the one you learned in. When you get off the airplane in La Paz Bolivia, if you forgot or didn’t realize you needed a half dozen pickets, chance are slim that you will be able to find them. Something as simple as gas for your stove becomes critical but you can’t fly with gas, so you have to look ahead.  

4. Logistics.  Different countries and different regions entail different paper work, identification, permits, and visas which all need to be understood. Air tickets, travel rescue insurance, and not to mention food! Finding operators that can pick you up at the airport, get you to and from the mountain, and back to the airport are important.  If you find yourself in Kashgar China at the airport and don’t have a contact waiting for you, you won’t even be able to hail a taxi unless you speak the local language. There are all kinds of things that need to be taken care of long before you step on the plane. Logistics are probably the most difficult aspect to a successful expedition and we can really help.

5. Funding. While some will be more costly than others, an expedition certainly requires finances and you have to understand the costs. From our experience, you have to set up budgets for everything as a first stage, and then build in contingencies. There is nothing worse than being a week out from departure, and then realizing you need $1500 for a garbage deposit and not having it. Our experience has taught us the necessary questions to ask the operator, and of what to generally expect.

6. Physical Training.  As logistics are ironed out, training must begin. Generally, you need 6 months to properly train for a high altitude expedition. We have devised a three phase program that gives us the combination of power and endurance necessary to succeed. Climbing and skiing at altitude requires more than just endurance from getting out locally.  Our program starts with strength training, then a combination of strength and endurance, phasing into more endurance.

skiing 8000 meters

When all of the training pays off!

 

7. Mental training. Along with the physical training, you have to “get your head on straight” in order to have a successful trip. If you’ve never been to altitude before it can create major question marks that can lead to a ton of anxiety.  Anxiety before and during an expedition wastes a lot of energy so talk to people about what to expect and how to settle things down.

8. Pre trip preparation. Getting all your bases covered before you depart whether at work or at home can also create anxiety before a big trip. You are going to be gone for a long time and this is daunting. That anxiety can drag you down, deplete your immune system, and ultimately make you tired. Making an effort to look ahead and iron out some of the organizational details of your life are processes we have done many times. There certainly is psychology involved and in short, nothing drastic will happen in the month or so that you are away. Try to enjoy the process!

9. Altitude. This is the main hurdle in big mountain ski expeditions in that it exposes you to all the perils of the mountains. Dealing with altitude mandates understanding it, and then working with it.  It’s a huge aspect to an expedition, but once you understand it, you can also really “enjoy” it.

 sunny day at 8000 meters

 What are you waiting for? 

While this list certainly won’t uncover every rock on the journey, it will give you an idea of where to start. This list is meant to get you thinking in the right direction On confidently approach your expedition in a manner that gives you the basics to have a great adventure.  

 

Stay tuned as Mike dives into each one of these topics further with subsequent blog posts!

 

- Mike Marolt

U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame Class of 2017

 

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