Snow Travel

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When climbing or hiking you'll encounter many types of terrain and it’s wise to be familiar with all possibilities so that when you come upon them you can travel across them safely. Mike Zawaski knows the importance of safe travel across snow which is why he brings us the newest title in our Mountaineers Outdoor Expert Series, Snow Travel: Skills for Climbing, Hiking, and Moving Across Snow. His guide is an excellent companion for anyone new to snow travel, and one of the main features in his book are techniques and knowledge on how to traverse across snow and ice fields safely.

Below are some foot placement tips on traversing across snow slopes from Snow Travel.


Front-pointing is a vital technique when learning how to traverse across snow; it is reserved for the steepest slopes and enables you to use your ice ax to maintain a safer hold when moving across the snow. Front-pointing requires you to face the snow uphill and slowly traverse your way diagonally across the slope by shuffling your feet. When you encounter a difficult snow slope with venerable terrain, the front pointing technique will quickly move you across a snow slope without losing your balance or causing a slide.

Front Pointing
image from Snow Travel

Front-pointing is also helpful as it allows you to drop your knees into the snow slope for balance when repositioning your ice ax, or you can use two ice ax’s in order to “crab crawl” across the slope safely if the grade becomes too steep to remain standing upright.

There are two main ways to shuffle your feet while front-pointing, you can either take large steps with your leading foot, kicking it straight into the snow, followed closely by your second foot, or you can kick small steps with your leading foot and have your second foot to follow in its place.


Sidestepping is a quick and easy technique to use when the snow slope isn’t too steep. If you plan to side step across soft snow, all you need to do is angle each foot outward—more so than when using the front-pointing technique—and take even steps as you cross. The length of your foot covers more ground and in turn provides more stability. If the snow is firm, you should turn your feet fully perpendicular to the slope and with force, slap each foot into the snow, creating a ledge to stand on.


Traversing with crampons requires you to take similar kicking steps as you would when using the front-pointing technique. If the slope isn’t too steep, you can move almost directly uphill by simply kicking each foot in with every step. If the slope is too steep for that, it would be wise to revert to the front-pointing technique, benefiting from the added safety of your crampons.

Traversing is a very important technique to understand when traveling across snow fields, but is not the only skill you should know. Snow Travel covers what to pack for snow travel and how to pack it, how to walk-in-balance, how to use your ice ax, different techniques for a self-arrest, glissading, and much more. To feel safe and secure when traveling across snow, just bring Mike’s helpful guide along with you to ensure safer travels and a fun day in the snow!



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