By Mike Zawaski, author of Snow Travel

Snow Travel

1.       A snowy pass can provide a significant and dangerous obstacle for the unprepared hiker traveling in the high country. Even if you don't aspire to climbing peaks, it is definitely worth your time to learn how to kick good steps and travel with an ice ax.

2.       Beware of following an old set of footsteps across a snowy slope.  These may be very icy, especially on a cold morning.  If you are proficient at kicking steps, you may be better off kicking your own route. If you're following your group up a slope, however, using their kicked steps will save you energy.

3.       While ski poles may help you maintain balance when kicking steps across a slope, an ice ax is superior for helping you self-arrest if you fall.  Self-arresting with ski poles is possible, but it is much more difficult and you will slide further than if you are using an ice ax.

4.       Having the confidence to cross snow on the trail allows you to reduce your wilderness impact by staying on the trail rather than moving around the snow and in the process trampling virgin vegetation and disturbing more of the natural environment.

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 technique in which people sustain injuries.  Glissading without an ice ax to control your speed can be very dangerous if you are on anything but a very low angle slope of soft snow. 


Interested in learning more about kicking steps, using crampons, and employing 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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