Ski Mountaineering Tools
I’ll be the first to admit that I’m more skier than mountaineer and generally take powder dreams over summit fever. That said, as the cold snows of winter settle and spring ski mountaineering kicks into gear, a few essential tools find their way into my pack.
For years, I wondered why anyone would need ski crampons. Surely, if it is so hard that it requires crampons to ascend, why would I want to ski it was my thought. I was uninformed. The convenience and ease of ski crampons is hard to overstate when conditions are firm. Afterall, maybe it's the other side of the ridge that warrants the descent or the sun has yet to warm your line.
You'll find ski crampons for just about every AT binding on the market including Fritschis, Dynafits and the G3 Onyx. And for anything else, including telemark bindings, you can use a ski crampon from B and D Ski Gear.
Think of ski crampons as firm snow skinning accessories. They are designed to work in conjuction with skins and in terrain where booting is not warranted. My preference is for the type that pivot with your foot as you skin up the hill. Simple and lightweight, ski crampons save energy and give you added confidence in firm conditions.
There are certain conditions and terrain that require getting a little technical and strapping your skis to your pack, and nothing makes short work of steep, firm snow like a nice boot crampon. Because I am a skier first and mountaineer second, I see boot crampons as a short term solution to reach skiing. As a result, I believe crampons should be lightweight, easy to use and easy to pack. I've been using the Black Diamond Neve Pro boot crampons for a couple of seasons and they work great. You'll also find similar lightweight, aluminum boot crampons from Camp, Petzl and Grivel.
There is definitely a trade-off in durability when you move to an aluminum crampon, but personally, given the amount of use my crampons see, I’m happy to trade a little durability for the drop in weight from a steel model. Staying away from rocks with your aluminum crampons is a great way to help improve their lifespan. They can’t rival the durability of a steel crampon, but the Neve has proven durable enough for varied ski mountaineering use.
Lightweight Ice Axe
Finally, if you are travelling in steep and firm snow, an ice axe is lightweight insurance to help arrest a big slide and for maintaining balanced footing in precarious perches. An axe also doubles as an anchor for your gear, roped lowering and general delicate manuevering in firm snow. My axe stays on my pack more often than not, but when it comes time to transition between skis and crampons or to descend firm slopes, I will often break it out.
I've been using a Black Diamond Raven Ultra ice axe for multiple seasons. It features an aluminum shaft and a steel head - ideal for light-duty ski mountaineering use and it weighs an impressive 11 ounces.
What length of ice axe do you have Dave? I got the shortest one (50cm) for ultimate lightness and packability but maybe longer would be better for when you actually have to use it?
I'm 5'9" and I also have a 50cm axe. I see it as a backup tool, not a primary use item. I could probably use a 60cm, but the 50 is lighter!
Mine is closer to knee height than calf with a relaxed arm.
I'm curious to know what people think of the Black Diamond Whippet ski pole, instead of a light axe?