By Mike Zawaski, author of Snow Travel


Snow Travel

1.       Kicking steps with your feet is more complex than most books make it seem.  The two tips I commonly offer are to choose the step that gets the most of your boot’s sole in contact with the snow (if you're worried about falling) and to kick hard-firm snow is not a place for tiptoeing around.

2.       Kicking steps is your primary tool for staying secure while moving on snow so practicing this skill is essential to increasing your proficiency.

3.       The technique you use for your feet or for your ice ax, or if you need to wear crampons depends upon considering both the probability of falling as well as the consequences if you should fall.  For example, on a low angle slope, choose a technique that requires the least energy. This may mean the probability of slipping is higher, but if the consequences of slipping are minimal, you will move more quickly.

4.       Late spring and early summer is a great time to climb (and ski/ snowboard) snowy routes on peaks, but avalanches are still a hazard.   Reduce your chances of getting caught in an avalanche by climbing and descending your route while the snow is still firm. For East facing routes, this may mean completing much of your ascent before sunrise.

5.       Glissading (to slide down snow in a seated or standing position while using your feet, ice ax, or both to control your speed) can be a great way to lose elevation, but it is also a common place where people get injured.  Avoid choosing to glissade, instead of walking down, because you are tired and you think it will require less energy.  Glissading can be hard work! 

6.       A common place where falls occur are transition zones.  These are places or zones where the terrain or characteristics of the snow changes and climbers fall because they fail to adjust their equipment or technique.  Avoid these hazards by looking ahead and preparing for changes before you encounter them. For example it may be much easier to put on your crampons on a low angle section instead of waiting until you are starting to slip because the snow is too steep or too firm.

7.       Crampons are an amazing tool that give your feet traction, but they should only be used on very firm snow and ice.  The danger on soft snow is that snow will build up under your boot so that your points fail to stick which may cause you to fall. Never glissade while wearing crampons; if the points catch while you are sliding quickly you can break your leg faster than you can catch yourself.

8.       A common error made by climbing groups has been to create a rope team, where members tie into the rope at even intervals and ascend/descend in a straight line. History has shown that a rope team that includes inexperienced climbers is likely to end in disaster if any members (especially the highest climber) fall and fail to self-arrest.   If you want to climb a steep slope with an inexperienced climber, it is much safer to belay them through a steep section than travel in a rope team.


Interested in learning more about kicking steps, using crampons, and using an ice ax for going up, traversing, resting, and descending snow? Then checkout Snow Travel: Climbing, Hiking, and Crossing Over Snow by Mike Zawaski.

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Or download the chapter on "Ascending" now from Snow Travel

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