Monday’s smidge-below-freezing temps and the fruitful “winter storm warning” forecast made for a great powder day— it was one last opportunity to break out the wider skis. Copious snow fell, and it remained on the good side of not too dense. We saw no other groups in an often crowded zone: thankfully, the mountain biking trails are “riding well,” as some like to say.
This year’s ski season seems to have tipped towards late spring sooner than many of us would like. With the lower snowpack and early snow-melting temps, if you haven’t thought about preparing for spring missions, now might be a good time to do it.
Mountaineering-specific tools are in play during the spring when early AM slopes are icy and firm. Let’s start with ski crampons. Some love them; some dispel them. I’m in the camp of love. Where I might tense up and waste energy on a firm and puckery skin without, I’m more relaxed and efficient with ski crampons. This brings to mind the adage, “skin to win.” I do like this premise when it means greater efficiency and relaxed skinning. Ski crampons don’t penalize much with excessive weight, and they allow me to keep skis on my feet in steeper/firmer terrain. As you’ll note in the 55 comments from this WildSnow piece, titled “Ski Crampons—When to, When not to, and How,” think ahead and install them before you think you might need them.
Ice axes, another aspect of the sharp and pointy family, can be a trusted tool for skiers come springtime. This 2020 overview of some select tools will get you started. It covers a few axe options suitable for blue ice and some more friendly for your initial foray onto less committing firm-snow terrain. One tool, among several, not mentioned in the review is the Camp Corsa Nanotech Ice Axe, a lightweight option in various sizes that also features a riveted steel pick tip. Iterations of the Corsa Nanotech have been around for years—consider it a reliable and diverse tool for snow and some ice. WildSnow mentions the Corsa Nanotech in this 2011 post and this 2019 story on what worked and didn’t on Denali.
Lastly, in terms of the pointy stuff, are crampons. Many options exist. There’s all-aluminum for firm snow, hybrid options with steel front points and an aluminum rear section, and all steel affairs going beyond our scope. Steel front points afford better penetration on firmer surfaces, can be used for mixed climbing and can hold up better when scrambling across rocks. Aluminum is lighter yet less durable. I’ve had positive experiences with CAMP’s XLC Nanotech Automatic crampons, an all-aluminum option. Like the similarly named axe in the series, the frontpoint’s tips are steel. Despite years of abuse on Cascade choss, they are holding up strong. Several companies make similar products, including BD’s Neve Pro Crampons.
Two crampons in the hybrid category reviewed on WildSnow are the Petzl Irvis Hybrid and the relatively new Blue Ice Harfang. Since the initial look, a small update on the Harfangs; I’ve experienced no icing/balling on the UHMWPE and HTPE 40mm textile connecting the front, middle, and rear crampon sections.Refreshers for critical Skills:
If you’re dreaming a little bigger this season and plan to venture onto glaciers, we’ll provide some review material. Please keep in mind this is not a comprehensive list, and if you’ve come across a trustworthy resource, please bring it to our attention in the comments. And I’m hoping we all know this; we do not intend for these suggestions to be a substitute for field classes, guided practice, and independent practice. Videos and printed material are excellent as refreshers when it comes to mountain skills— even better are hands-on repetition and guided instruction if needed.
I’ve gravitated towards the AMGA series of videos as refresher prompts. The videos are high quality and offer clear information, and Jeff Ward, the primary narrator, presents a professional and easy-going vibe.
Some additional ideas for the video-averse are below. Petzl does not pay us, but their docs related to best practices are often simple. When they mention Petzl-specific products, some competing companies likely have similar goods.
Early this season, IFMGA guide Ian Nicholson wrote this piece on the Techniques and Considerations for Ski Mountaineering on Glaciers. It’s worth your time to get the mind thinking about best practices when taking a plunge into an icy void is a possibility.
Admittedly, the scope here is small when thinking about spring prep; we’ve only touched upon the sharp and pointy and sliding along in crevassed terrain items. And even then, there’s more to review and learn.
If you have some preferred gear options not mentioned or have taken a valuable field class, feel free to share those options so others may benefit. Thanks.
Jason Albert comes to WildSnow from Bend, Oregon. After growing up on the East Coast, he migrated from Montana to Colorado and settled in Oregon. Simple pleasures are quiet and long days touring. His gray hair might stem from his first Grand Traverse in 2000 when rented leather boots and 210cm skis were not the speed weapons he had hoped for. Jason survived the transition from free-heel kool-aid drinker to faster and lighter (think AT), and safer, are better.