Notice anything about the images above? Well, apart from them being all of mountains and snow that is. That's right, there are no ski resorts, lifts, pylons or revolving restaurants. Just mountains, pristine and unsullied by man.
For both experienced ski mountaineers and piste skiers wanting a change from the busy resorts and lift queues in the Alps, the Picos de Europa and neighbouring Cantabrian mountains are perfect for getting away from it all on a ski touring holiday, just a short hop from the U.K. Here we've compiled a description of the sport for those who are new to it.
An Introduction to Ski Touring
If you've never ventured off-piste before but have been on one or two ski holidays previously, you can enjoy a ski touring holiday with Picos Rock and Snow. A steady snowplough technique will allow you to get around in the mountains once you've mastered the art of kick-turns - changing direction on the spot by lifting one ski at a time and turning to face the other way.
So what's the difference between ski touring and ski mountaineering? Basically, ski touring is walking on snow using downhill skis. Ski mountaineering includes the use of ice axe and crampons to take your ski touring a step further, allowing you to strap your skis to your pack (or leave them at the base) and make summits otherwise unattainable. Other terms used are backcountry skiing (U.S. and Canada) and ski randonnée (French Alpine).
Specialist equipment includes ski touring bindings, synthetic skins and avalanche receivers. A ski touring binding has three positions - either down for skiing downhill just like piste skiing or it can be loosened allowing you to slide comfortably across the snow. An added bonus is that it can also be clipped up, giving you a "heel" for moving uphill, saving your calf muscles. (If you've ever worn stilletoes walking uphill you'll know the relieved feeling that can give!)
To stop you sliding downhill and getting nowhere fast there are skins that stick to the bottom of the skis. These were once made of seal skin but since environmental enlightenment are now made of synthetic material that mimics the nap of natural fur and are stuck on with glue. They can be simply ripped off when you're ready for skiing downhill.
Ski touring boots have a soft, flexible inner and a hard outer shell. They're not as high as downhill boots and give much more movement.
Being extremely safety conscious, we supply our guests with avalanche receivers. We recommend that you always ski off-piste with a guide who knows the area well, wherever you are, and so avoid dangerous hotspots such as known avalanche-prone slopes.
We can supply skis and bindings, boots, poles and skins. See the kit list (coming soon!) for our recommendations of gear to bring with you.
The slideshow here shows some ski touring equipment in more detail.......
As we can presently only run one holiday per week, this can be for beginners having a first ski touring holiday, intermediate piste skiers, or expert telemarkers or ski mountaineers, all depending on the first people to book. Subsequent bookings for the same dates will be informed of the level set for that week so that all parties will be compatible. We can also cater for snowboarders with their own equipment. So if you don't see the dates that would suit you, just ask us!
Daily and weekly itineraries will depend hugely on the current snow conditions, weather forecasts, skier's abilities, etc. Our indepth local knowledge means we always know where the skiing will be best! First days are always gentle to ease you into the swing of things and also for Mike to suss out your ability (people have been known to fib a little!) Thereon in the days are generally of around 6 hours skiing, perhaps more through the spring as the daylight hours grow longer. N.B. We don't do Alpine starts - mid-winter through to March/April, it doesn't get light 'til about 08.00-08.30, although dusk falls later than in the U.K. We ski mainly in the Central and Eastern massifs of the Picos de Europa and among the highest peaks of the Cantabrian mountains. The cable car at Fuente De (the only lift in the Picos) can whisk us up to 1,834m in no time, while our slightly slower Landrover can take us to wherever the snowline happens to be elsewhere. An optional night or two out in huts offers the chance to be in the mountains at first light and to experience a full day of peace and solitude in a wild mountain environment.
For those with winter mountaineering experience a good number of 2,000m+ peaks can be bagged. A steady climb on skins and, when necessary, ice axes and crampons, can take us to the tops of, for example, Pico Tesorero, 2,570m, and
Torre Blanca, 2,613m, in the Central Massif of the Picos and Peña Labra, 2,000m, and Coriscao, 2,237m, in the nearby Cantabrian mountains. Descents on skis can be enjoyed by anyone with a fairly strong Stem Christie turn. Even beginners, however, can make the summits of some mountains, particularly those in the more rounded Cantabrian chain. (The area has been described as "like Scotland - but with sun!")
Mike, your guide
, carries a first aid kit, a rope and most of your packed lunch among the gear in his rucksack, so that all you need on a day out is a small pack for carrying spare layers of clothing and a drink.
The best maps of the Picos de Europa and environs are by Miguel Adrados. See our map page
for details and how to buy them online.
Wherever we go, one thing's for certain, we'll be far more likely to see wildlife such as the local chamois and choughs than people, but most of all, our holidays are relaxing and fun. Just ask Neil. Have a look at our trip reports too.
Prices and What's Included
€690 pp.pw. includes
- Free airport transfers from Santander, Oviedo or Bilbao (see travelling to the Picos de Europa)
- Seven nights accommodation in a comfortable guesthouse with B&B, packed lunches and evening meals with drinks
- Six full days of guided ski touring
- Hire of equipment if needed (touring boots, skis, poles, skins, etc.)
- Daily transport
- Any nights out in mountain huts
The price does not include snacks and drinks in bars or cable car tickets (@ 15€ pp. return).
Discounts are available for groups of 4+ - please ask.
Our ski touring weeks normally run from Saturday to Saturday but with mid-week flights sometimes being cheaper, we can be flexible on days. We love to welcome returning guests, as many do, so they get reductions too.
For more details,
Send us an email or call 0034 942732010 or text 0034 660551307
We look forward to introducing you to the Picos de Europa!