Drilling “Rescue Holes” in Backcountry Skis

This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

In olden days, many skis intended for mountaineering had useful holes in the tips and tails. While some skis make a nod to this (Trab, with a small tip hole), most backcountry ski makers now ignore the concept. Besides a chairlift conversation starter, such “rescue holes” make building an emergency sled with your skis quite a bit easier, add an anchor point for retrieving your skis from a crevasse, and more. We like rescue holes and decided to find out if they’re easy to retrofit. Turns out doing so is a piece of cake. Follow along as we do a boring activity.

Drilling holes in backcountry skis
To begin this scary procedure on our BD Verdicts (after playing around with some dumpster skis), we did a layout that located the center of the tip holes 23 mm from the tip, and the tail holes 28 mm from the tail. The holes will be 1/2 inch diameter. After layout, we pre-drilled a 1/8 inch starter hole on layout.

Drilling holes in backcountry skis
Next, with a light water spray for cooling and lubrication, we drilled to 1/2 inch with a step bit.

Drilling holes in backcountry skis
We drilled from both sides of the ski, and allowed the bit to lightly chamfer the edge of the hole. If the step bit leaves a bit of an edge inside the hole this is easy to clean up with a file or rasp.

Drilling holes in backcountry skis
Result is a nice clean hole that looks “factory.” After the hole had a chance to dry from the water lube, we sealed the inside of the holes by smearing with epoxy. Don’t forget this important step! In the case of our Verdicts the holes ended up in a plastic lamination that was not the core material and didn’t appear vulnerable to moisture damage, but care was in order nonetheless. It is also possible to seal and protect ski holes by using a 1/2 inch brass grommet epoxied in place; a good idea if the hole looks vulnerable.

Drilling holes in backcountry skis, tool selection.
All important tool selection for this DIY project! Step bit is essential. Use a spray bottle for the water misting (don’t just dump water on the project), and don’t forget to seal the hole after it has a chance to dry.


14 Responses to “Drilling “Rescue Holes” in Backcountry Skis”

  1. Cory February 26th, 2007 11:13 am

    I have been fantasizing about doing this with one addition…adding a short peg to my skins that would fit through the tail hole and attach with a cotter pin to serve as my tail fix. I’ll ship you some pics if it ever becomes a reality.

  2. Thomas February 26th, 2007 12:25 pm

    what about the all important”did you reduce the weight of your Verdicts? or did the epoxy make them heavier ?” if they are now heavier how many toenails will need trimmed to make up the difference? If they are lighter how many extra M ‘n Ms will you now be able to pack?
    PS I’ve told people on the chairlift that the holes on my ski tips are for seeing exactly where you are going!! I think they actually believed me.:)

  3. Lou February 26th, 2007 12:48 pm

    I assure you, the skis were weighed before and after, sadly, we can’t call these “speed holes” as the weight savings was below the resolution of our scale. Perhaps more holes? Would be fun to Swiss cheese a pair of throw-away skis and see what happened. Now that would be an amusing blog!

  4. altis February 26th, 2007 2:50 pm

    To seal up the laminations you could always silicone in something like this:


  5. Steve Pulford February 27th, 2007 7:30 am

    Hi Lou,

    How about showing all of us how to make a rescue sled once there are holes drilled in the tip and tail. It might make an evac that much easier should it ever happenn to one of us…

    Most K2 and G3 telemark skis come from the factory with a hole in the tip. Is this for the same purpose?


    Steve P

  6. Lou February 27th, 2007 11:03 am

    Steve, we’re working on that! Indeed, the skis sold with the hole in the tip are done that way for utility uses such as hauling skis or building a sled. Tip holes also work well as a place to thread a ski lock.

  7. Sibylle Hechtel February 28th, 2007 8:36 am


    What’s a step bit?


  8. Lou February 28th, 2007 2:01 pm

    A step bit is drill bit with a series of steps. They make a cleaner cut than a “twist bit.” Most hardware stores have them. They work great for drilling plastic and sheet metal — one of the secrets of pro fabrication.

  9. Bill S March 16th, 2007 2:19 pm

    Here’s a link to two articles about improvising rescue sleds (toboggans):

  10. Jake Jones March 24th, 2007 6:30 pm

    Great to talk to you and Lisa last weekend at the powder keg. This gear mod reminded me that I wanted to get in touch in regards to WSC in Gunnison. Also, I just did a ski mod related to this post. You guys practice on dumpster skis and I practice on tele skis! I love the key-hole notch on the tip of my dynafit rando race skis so much that I made my own for the Al Johnson uphill/downhill tele race in Crested Butte. Since I really only tele for the AJ, I figured I could test my hand at ski tip modification on my old Atomic TM-X (still a great ski). All I did was drill a hole with a regular bit and cut out the key-hole with a hack saw. I finished the inner surface with some epoxy and presto, my speed tips are finished. I hope I can go fast at the AJ tomorrow!

    Here’s the url to my work website. Cheers. Jake


  11. Todd October 29th, 2008 8:37 pm

    Hey Lou, what are your thoughts on widening factory-made rescue holes in skis to accommodated at the least your standard size non-locking carabiner?

  12. Justin February 29th, 2012 1:11 pm

    Hey Lou, Did you get a chance to put together a “how to build a rescue sled” post?

  13. jashhay January 5th, 2013 7:19 pm

    as for ‘how to’, here’s a recent video from K2 that’s pretty informative (albeit promoting their shovel, which comes w/ wingnuts)


  14. Lou Dawson January 5th, 2013 10:58 pm

    Todd, for a lot of skier widening the holes would be no problem. I think all it would take to figure out if it’s appropriate is to look at an older pair of your skis and see where the abuse is. If the tips and tails tend to not get bashed and trashed, wider hole s could work. Otherwise, leave them alone. Lou

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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