Billygoat Technologies Ascent Plates Review


Post by WildSnow.com blogger | April 16, 2013      

The steep and deep. There’s a reason those words sound so good together. Skiing pow down a steep, big line is like nothing else. Unfortunately, to get down, you gotta get up, and that’s the hard part, especially if you’re climbing what you’re skiing. I can’t count the number of times over the years where I’ve had to wallow up some steep couloir, and progress has slowed to a crawl. Step, sink, step, sink. It’s heinous.

Billygoat Technologies Ascent Plates on Dynafit Vulcans.

For years I’ve avoided such ascents as much as possible, either by going around, or letting someone else go first. Planning on going to Alaska, however, meant climbing steep pow couldn’t be avoided. For years Vert snowshoes have been the gold standard for Alaska steep-pow booters, and I’ve considered getting some for a while. I was hesitant given their bulk, and the fact that they can quickly become a dangerous handicap if hard snow or rocks are encountered underneath the pow. I found Billygoat Technologies’ website while cruising around the internet, and their Ascent Plates seemed like a perfect solution.

Ascent Plates making the going easier for Coop and Tyler in some blower Alaskan pow

Ascent plates are fairly simple. They consist of an aluminum plate that fits between your crampon and ski boot providing extra surface area and flotation. The fact that the plate uses the crampon as an attachment reduces weight, and also provides extra security on hard snow or rocks. The plate can be adjusted to a variety of crampon sizes through a series of screws and holes.

I didn’t have a chance to use the plates before heading up to Alaska, other than tromping around on my carpet. On our trip we had two sets of Ascent Plates, as well as a set of Verts, that Drake kindly let us borrow (Thanks!). I used the Verts for a few days, and the Ascent Plates for a few days, since I really didn’t have any experience with either.

Ascent plates with crampons. The points extend below and in front.

With some crampons, including my Black Diamonds, the Ascent Plates don't quite sit flat. It doesn't effect the function, however it means that the crampons must be adjusted when using without the plates.

The Ascent Plates proved to be incredibly useful, even essential. At least one line we hiked was so steep and powdery that I doubt it would have been possible with out the extra flotation. At first the plates were a little difficult to put on, especially in a precarious location. However after a few climbs, I found that they can be put on fairly quickly, almost as fast as normal crampons. The crampon points are super useful. I encountered a few spots where there were some crusts, or rocks underneath the snow, and as long as the crampons were kept perpendicular to the slope, the front points worked perfectly. The burly aluminium plates are fairly heavy, however they quickly make up for the weight after a few steps in deep powder. That being said, they would be quite a heavy item to carry if you weren’t sure they were going to be necessary.

The Ascent plates also come in a variety that is specifically for soft boots, such as snowboard boots. They utilize the same basic concept, with the addition of some gripy spikes attached to the top of the plate. Coop and Tyler used these, and found they worked just as well on snowboard boots. I even tried them a bit on ski boots, and they seemed to work perfectly.

I used some Verts, pretty much the only similar product on the market, on the trip as well. There were some advantages to both. The Verts feel a little lighter on the feet, and are bigger, so they give better flotation. However, the Ascent Plates are lighter (although the Ascent Plate/crampon combo is heavier on the feet) if you are already carrying crampons, which is usually the case. The plates also pack down tighter in the pack. Also, the security provided by the crampons is essential.

Although they are definitely a specialty item, and I won’t be carrying them on every backcountry trip, the Ascent Plates are awesome. They really were worth their weight in Alaska, and I can see myself using them on some other objectives as well. The design is simple and ingenious.

Billygoat Ascent Plates can be purchased here.



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Comments

34 Responses to “Billygoat Technologies Ascent Plates Review”

  1. Mike Marolt April 16th, 2013 10:18 am

    I don’t know about them Louie. I tried a similar product years ago in AK and in deep snow, they didn’t have enough float to make up for the effort of having to pull your foot out of the snow, and I took them and the crampons off. Then in less snow, they worked well, but let you get into terrain that sometimes is not super stable. That crust that they might float on below a layer of powder, but is not strong enough to really be safe is lost. For example, my “big avy story” in AK no less, combined a ridge walk on rock that prevented me from knowing how the ski slope a few yards away was and I was really lucky. When you post hole, you get a really good idea of what the snow is like. If you are sinking in, it’s time to be careful even in stable AK. Devices that prevent that make life easier, but prevent a bit of knowledge in the process, especially on steep terrain where a plate and crampons are needed…

  2. Dan April 16th, 2013 11:58 am

    @Mike: FWIW, I strongly agree with your comment. I believe that more than a few guides would too.

  3. tim April 16th, 2013 1:37 pm

    Going to the workshop to see if I can do a “Billygoat Ascent Plate” type of mod to my Verts. I’ve been wanting to add a bail-type hard binding to them, and perhaps some careful cutting would allow the use of crampons in the same way as the Ascent Plates.

  4. Glenn Sliva April 17th, 2013 6:38 am

    When you encounter conditions that cause “post holing” it’s time to get out of there or just turn around and leave.

    I’ve even tried just dumb things like using a deck snow shovel to shovel or plow a shallower path to reduce the effort. Good work out too.

    You would be surprised at how far you can shovel a narrow path. I’ve also shoveled just a narrow path to allow for better footing. Of course this only works for a mile or so because of the effort.

    Sometimes it’s better to use common solutions to solve these kinds of problems. Float, Sink, or Plow? That is the question. Or maybe fly over in something mechanical like a helicopter.

    Uphill blower pow is a scourge with a blessing when you turn around and get some turns.

    Lou: I know I didn’t really say anything but state the obvious. Forgive me. Careful out there in slab land right now. Scary conditions. And now we have dust too.

    Glenn

  5. John Dough April 17th, 2013 7:47 am

    I’ve used Verts all over Colorado and must say that they are one of the best creations for backcountry travel that I own. I’ve done full day tours, with multiple ascents and descents using them and they made life much easier. Yes, for some routes you’ll still want your skins, but when it gets steep, the Verts give you much more assistance than you would think and they fit inside your daypack.

    Holding them in your hands, they look like they are made for little kids, and your friends will make fun of them. But when you start setting the bootpack and they are 100 yards back struggling, they stop making fun and start asking where they can find a pair.

    I like the idea of these ascent plates too, nice to have a little more grip and sturdier platform. The crampon attachment looks sturdy, but cumbersome, might be a pain to put on in a sticky spot, but I’ll have to try them out. Secondly, part of the nice things about the Verts is the way that they are shaped, they are curved down on all sides which tends to push the snow together and provide for better floatation. These plates don’t do that. I do like that I would probably feel better waking on rocks in these as the Verts tend to get torn up from that, and these will no doubt provide better traction on boilerplate conditions than the Verts.

    Lastly, saying that they allow you to get into unsafe terrain, or that they don’t allow you to identify weaknesses in the snowpack sounds a little like backwards thinking. If your snowpack information and decision making is limited to what you perceive from wallowing in snow up to you waist, you are doing it wrong. Anyone ascending a slope using any method of travel should be testing and digging quick pits to check the snowpack as well as have current information about avalanche conditions. And to say that you should not be hiking in deep snow, is like saying you should not ski anything over 30º till June, just not realistic, or fun.

  6. Halsted April 17th, 2013 8:01 am

    These things look like something Paul Ramer invented…

  7. chris christie April 17th, 2013 12:52 pm

    They are truly game changers for ascending !
    They are simple to put on in pretty much every situation, they allow you to stamp out a great working area when transitioning from climb to ski. I still have all the sensitivity to snowpack without post holing- There are other methods as the poster above mentioned, I also use my pole grip to feel for any changes while climbing- We often get up in the wee hours to avoid the heat of the day, the Billy’s can also get you through zones of concern ( hangfire, beat the heat of the day ) much quicker.
    Note: I am a friend of the creator and have no ties to the company- I just believe in the plates and use them for efficiency.
    https://vimeo.com/62567469

  8. Louie April 17th, 2013 1:24 pm

    Interesting point about the plates getting you into dangerous situations. I tend to probe with my pole/axe, and also dig quick pits on the way up while I’m booting. I think that provides more/better information than postholing. The plates also make the ascent much faster, even in conditions that aren’t that deep, and of course speed often = safety.

    tim – let us know how it works out. I’m a little skeptical you could mod verts to use crampons, seems like they would become weak if you cut out the necessary plastic.

  9. Julian April 17th, 2013 3:11 pm

    @Mike Marolt – I totally disagree. While I do believe one can obtain some valuable information by post-holing, there are definitely other ways to assess snowpack during an ascent (some of which Louie mentions above) and I hardly think wallowing for hours in deep snow is the ticket to safety.

    By the same logic, on occasions when we approach a potential line by some other route (ridge, access couloir, etc.) we’d all be better-off post-holing DOWN that ski line since our skis give too much floatation and prohibit us from properly feeling/assessing conditions. Seems pretty goofy.

    In ascent, much like descent, I rely on an whole range of information to move safely and have never felt as though my ascent plates mitigate my ability to do so.

  10. Chris christie April 17th, 2013 3:48 pm

    Post hole down a ski line ?
    Seems to be a great way to search for that weakness-
    I’ll stick to other methods of gathering info and take being light on my feet and have some hope of nailing a safe zone on skis if a poor decision was made.
    Cc

  11. Chris christie April 17th, 2013 3:50 pm

    I may have misinterpreted a post from above ?

  12. Louie April 17th, 2013 4:13 pm

    I think there was some sarcasm there, haha. Talk about post-holing down ski lines isn’t allowed here on Wildsnow.com

  13. Mike Marolt April 17th, 2013 4:47 pm

    Louie, post hole = mini snow pit on the move. That’s my point.

    @ Julian, ha, where does “wallowing for hours in deep snow” come from, and what kind of logic is there in relating climbing to descending on skis? Point is, if it’s not safe to climb, you shouldn’t ski it; plain and simple, you should only ski what you (can) climb. Had I attempted to climb what I set off in avalanche, I would have realized in a couple steps (at the bottom) that it was not safe to ski. Anything, including a plate that inhibits you from knowing about conditions, is, for me, not a good tool. I didn’t mean to suggest that you and louie and the guys that love them are idiots or anything like that, just that for ME, I have used them and I don’t like them. Yes, I am goofy, but I don’t think my logic is. ha.

  14. chris christie April 17th, 2013 4:49 pm

    My last 2 comments above do not lend to the conversation due to misinterpreting Julians comments. Feel free to remove them Louie.
    Thnx

  15. James April 17th, 2013 4:56 pm

    Billy Goat ascent plates are a very affective piece of specialty ski mountaineering equipment. Louie is correct, they are not something that goes in my pack on every steep trip but, in the right snow conditions, they make ascending much easier. I’ve been out with friends who didn’t have ascent plates and there was a stark difference in their ability to climb. They just work really well. I little finicky to set up but once they’re set….you’re set. They are a little awkward when traversing in hard snow conditions. All in all, they are an effective tool when attacking the steeps.

    As for the notion that they allow you to access dangerous terrain more easily or that they impair your ability to assess snow stability. This is ludicrous. If you need to posthole into facets to determine that the hugely committing slope you are about to ski is likely dangerous than you should rethink your approach to stability assessment and/or steep skiing in general.

  16. Lou Dawson April 17th, 2013 4:57 pm

    Chris and all, I’m not seeing any problems with your comments. They’re insightful and also amusing. If you want something specifically removed I can do it, but it looks like we should just let it all ride. Lou

  17. Matt Kinney April 17th, 2013 5:55 pm

    The only thing better for booting powder laden couloirs is having two 30-somethings helping me who have big feet and don’t weigh much.

    I used verts-like things and found that the time needed to transition into and out of them could be better spent just booting. I also find when leading a route up a couloir, sidestepping happens quite a bit due to variable snow or searching for better traction on one side or the other.

    I can think of a few times where these may have helped get topped out a few minutes faster and perhaps with a bit less sweat, but not much. Plus, you have to find someplace on or in your pack along with “everything” else. Thanks for the review.

    Marolt makes an interesting point. Constantly looking for clues is a good thing. Booting can be as informative as pole probing as you can feel deeper layers logically better than if you were “verting”. Boot penetration depth is also a common and standard observation in avalanche work. If I am booting up something and suddenly, like a probe pole, I punch through a buried weak layer, I may have found the clue I was looking for.

  18. Evan April 17th, 2013 7:53 pm

    Interesting dialog, and here’s my two cents.

    I find it hard to believe that post holing in your boots or cruising on verts/billgoats is really going to change your information gathering on the snowpack. If that’s the case I think you need to reevaluate how you learn about your snowpack layers!

    Necessity is the mother of invention…and that is what these guys have done with the billy goats. That crew is consistently tagging amazing lines in the coast range, and this product is a testament to how useful and efficient they are. Maybe this isn’t the end all solution but it might be the step in the direction to solving a problem. How many folks out there drag their skis on boot packs vs putting them on your packs? Just curious…if one thing is true about wildsnow.com it offers a great insight into the evolution of our sport/obsession/careers/lifestyles!

  19. Mike marolt April 17th, 2013 8:28 pm

    Evan are you serious? Observation of the snow under your feet is probably the most critical observation possible. If you make a decision to climb, it’s probably because all the pit digging and avy conditions reports among other general observations say go. So the only thing left to make your final decision in the end is what is the snow like where I am right now. Snow pack is far from static. Probing, boot and other are absolutely critical. Inventions are great but the mother of all accidents is letting your guard down regardless of what gear you have, or relying on pits and general observations in lieu of evaluating the specifics here and now.

  20. snowbot April 17th, 2013 10:46 pm

    Sounds to me like MM learned a lesson from a bad experience – and is now turning it into a rule of thumb.

    Remember Perla’s maxim: In avalanche forecasting the only rule of thumb is that there are no rules of thumb.

    In some situations and/ or for some people, these might not be the best tool. Just like a hammer. Or beacon. Or whippet. Or what have you. And in others, they might be perfect.

    br

  21. Trevor Hunt April 18th, 2013 12:38 am

    Wading into this conversation feels like heading out into the backcountry when the avy danger is extreme . . . pretty much pointless. 😉

    But I’ve used these plates a bunch this season, and I know the pedigree of the inventor (he’s a ski partner as well), so I’ll be damned with the possible heckling and share some observations. For more in-depth stories using these plates check coaststeepskier.com.

    First off, the inventor Jon Johnston, is as prolific a ski mountaineer as anyone in North America. He’s spent almost ten years testing and tweaking these plates on world-class lines. So yeah, these things are no gimmick.

    For me, through a range of missions these plates have made otherwise near ‘impossible’ lines possible, and a bunch of lines way less messy. I understand that I’ve only used them on the BC coast so far, where copious amounts of wettish snow allow for some uniquely steep and deep and stable conditions. But they have proven themselves on melt-freeze crusts, and all types of snow surfaces.

    They take a bit of time to get used to. But all specific gear has compromises. Your first day on tech bindings will be a nightmare, fiddling with the pins. But you soon get used to them and they open up the effortless world of backcountry skiing. These plates may have a similar evolution in your uphill arsenal. Being made to fit every crampon/boot combination is a hard task. My rockered Dynafit soles are a tight fit, but I make due. Certain crampons might demand that you do a little tweaking of the plate. But I’m sure most mod-experts on this site can handle that. They add some weight to your pack and take a few seconds longer in transition. But it is minimal enough that I find myself bringing them on any mission where climbing is a possibility. Combine them with some alu crampons, and your set-up probably still weighs less than a pair of steel crampons. Although they do save a significant amount of time on the up, my favorite thing about them is that they save my hip-flexors. On very steep angles, boot deep snow becomes above-waist deep. On some lines, endless high-stepping has reduced my legs to spasm. Anything to keep me fresh for the down is appreciated. As an aside, I think climbers as well could find them useful on approaches.

    If someone has questions they can contact me on my site. This will be my only comment here. Cheers.

  22. Mike marolt April 18th, 2013 6:55 am

    @ snobot ya I did learn from that one bad experience but also a few more over the decades. I think Lou would agree it is fairly amazing how one close call can create a very strong rule of thumb for the rest of your life. Again know the snow especially where you are “now”.

  23. Evan April 18th, 2013 10:07 am

    Hey Mike, I understand getting scared s?*tless in the hills, and coming home from it and then ratcheting down your risk-meter. Yes Mike, I am serious, what do you do when you skin up a slope, and how would surfing up on plates be any different at all? Do you post hole up the 35 degree bowl so you know what the snow is like every foot? A steep cooler scares me way less than a 35 degree bowl at treeline with buried sporadic surface hoar, and by your logic, I should be investigating the snow every foot while on skis and skins. I often have a pole and/or ice axe while booting and it is really easy to poke in the snow with those regardless of what’s on my feet while boot packing. Food for thought, don’t get tunnel vision on one way of thinking and looking at things as the only way to do them, that’s how you get into accidents, and there is great logic to the fast and less energy expending = less time in the line of fire argument.

  24. Dave Searle April 18th, 2013 11:16 am

    Me and my friends make a similar thing out of Chamonix Traffic bollards. They work pretty well in the right condition’s!

  25. Mike Marolt April 18th, 2013 12:28 pm

    Evan, I think the disconnect between you and I is by location. I believe you are up in BC where conditions are significantly different than here in Aspen or in Asia where I am basing most of my experience. But none the less, as I mentioned, I did use the plates in AK, and have several years in the Wrangel / st elias area and for me, the plates are not desirable. As for post holing up a 35 degree slope checking out every foot, no, I wouldn’t do that. After a few feet of post holing, my decision would be made to go home, or continue, in which case the amount of post holing wouldn’t warrant the small benefit that a plate would bring me. IE if I am post holing much deeper than the top of my boot, I probably won’t be skiing that 35 degree slope. As for skinning, around here in Colorado, I definitely step out of the skis to do a post hole boot penetration test more often than not. Not every foot, but often. Speed is definitely your friend, but if not careful, speed can just get you into trouble quicker.

  26. Dirk April 18th, 2013 1:29 pm

    Also of note: watch out, if you’re the only person in your party that has these (or Verts), everyone will expect you to break trail all the time…….

  27. Lou Dawson April 18th, 2013 7:05 pm

    Two cents from me: I’m constantly concerned about the trend of booting or skinning directly up loaded avalanche paths. This style of getting ski descents has resulted in some notable tragedy over the past few years (Romeo, for one). Louie and his buddies know how risky and tricky this is to do safely, but having equipment that makes it easier is definitely a form of “enabling” what could be toxic. I’ve spoken with Louie a bunch about this, and thought it only fair that I acknowledged this in public as I don’t want WildSnow to appear to condone something being done thoughtlessly. My feeling is the “direct” climb approach can be done safe enough if evaluated with lots of analytic thought as well as field observations — all combined with being willing to turn back or not go. Problem is, some of the climbs being done in this style are huge, with no way of really knowing if a slab is just hanging up there waiting to fall on you. In that sense, it could be like alpine climbing in rockfall zones.

    I’d also agree with you guys that the snow climate you’re in has a lot to do with what’s appropriate. Here in Colorado, booting directly up stuff is usually a dangerous joke. But sometimes it can work. Again, with a very stiff and rational decision making process.

    Lou

  28. Brian April 19th, 2013 8:22 am

    I try to live by the adage, “climb what you ski”. With that in mind, I would say that the best steep powder runs of my life, on stable snow, have come after “trenching” my way up many couloirs in the Tetons and Chugach. If I used Mike’s boot top rule I’d missed all of them. Of course, when I find those same lines with firmer footing as his rule would suggest, I’m pretty damn happy.

  29. Lou Dawson April 19th, 2013 8:43 am

    Brian, things have really changed over the years. I’d say there is now no rule of thumb, you instead take the best route whether it be around to the top, or up the direct. Both have their pros and cons. Lou

  30. mtsplitski April 19th, 2013 10:51 am

    While I understand your concerns, Lou, I think it’s only fair to mention the number of fatalities that have occurred on descents where the skier did NOT ascend their route of descent. Stephen Koch does a good job of making this argument here: http://stephenkoch.com/2010/06/ski-vs-snowboards-for-mountaineering-descents/comment-page-1/#comment-111989 (add Wray Landon to this sad list as well…)

    I also live and shred in a continental snowpack. Like you say, while they’re not the norm, there are a handful of midwinter powder days where lines can be ascended and descended by those properly calculated few who accurately assess the hazard.

  31. Mike Marolt April 19th, 2013 12:42 pm

    I think the point that Lou is trying to make about line, is simply that gear has allowed for large numbers of people to get into the BC, and to places where they have not been able to get to in the past, and that the same gear is pushing the sport to bigger lines. Lou and I are a bit older and with age have seen this progression. Along with the progression, many people are getting killed, and especially for Lou who has become a bit of a guru, he is planting the seed to help us employ “strict and rational decision making”. Now more than ever, people need to really think and understand. Acceptable risk is much greater today. In general, I was thinking about the subject a couple years ago as we experienced a rash of tragedy with local ski mountaineers here in Aspen. There were more people killed in a 4 year period than the 40 years before just counting from the cuff. And the thing that is really amazing is most were experienced or even “pro’s” including a guided client in an avalanche class. As Dav says in my film Skiing Everest, “the mountains don’t care who you are…..” They were not just killed due to the specific line discussion, but rather in general accidents, but point is, without that contrast from experience, you don’t look at this stuff in the same way. So ya, I got off a bit on a rant mainly with a patched guide and avy expert in Evan, but here again, along with bigger, faster, and the direction the sport is going, you just can’t be too careful. I didn’t take it that Lou thinks direct line ascending is wrong, or even that plates are bad. Rather just be extremely careful….no matter what you are climbing or skiing…

  32. Brian April 19th, 2013 11:40 pm

    Lou,
    I’m trying to think of why a “rule of thumb” that you seem to imply made sense at one time would no longer be applicable. If it doesn’t apply now than it should have been equally spurious previously. And, with that same reasoning (mine), if it made sense before, whenever that is, then it still makes sense now. For me, it does.

    I apply the “climb what you ski” mind set purely to steep, technical lines, typically in couloirs. And I apply it when climbing is a viable option. But with the increasingly more contrived or broken lines going up now, it’s sometimes not an option.

    Little has changed in terms of the benefit of knowing what you’re heading into on one of these chutes. There isn’t a steep line anywhere that I think about skiing when Hans Saari doesn’t come to mind. I miss him. He preached the rule to me and died one of the few times the situation conspired against him doing so.

    All this said, I agree that sometimes you simply don’t do it. This season I’ve dropped a few cornices and belayed some ski cuts with good effect. Flexibility is important, too. (another rule of thumb).

  33. Lou Dawson April 20th, 2013 5:21 am

    Well, Paul Petzoldt used to constantly berate his NOLS students with the old adage “rules are for fools.” And I tend to agree when applied to alpine judgement, though I tried that adage with driving and for some reason it didn’t work (grin). Yeah, flexibility based on good decision making, without the pressure of rules, but still paying attention to rules of thumb?

  34. Jim May 1st, 2013 12:25 pm

    When booting up a steep couloir in soft snow, due to the angle of the slope sometimes you end up thigh or hip deep with the arms crawling up. The plates seem to help with the snow support. But they sure take up a lot of space, and are heavy with the bindings or crampons. You’re talking close to 5 pounds for a set up.

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