Ski Mountaineering Kit list
Ski Mountaineering –Love it! Experience the cracking views of Alpine Summits, moving at Altitude and some the best monster powder descents. Once you have experienced ski mountaineering there’s no going back to the congested pisted resorts. With not a lot of effort and the right type of ski equipment skiers can access a whole new world of the untracked snow and glacial Alpine Terrain. But to travel in the High Alpine mountains in winter requires the skills gained by mountaineers along with a whole different set of kit. A new set up of skis and plenty of climbing equipment to keep the skier safe on steep slopes and crossing glaciers. For those who have already experienced some rock or winter climbing or even a trip to the Alpine Peaks in summer they will be familiar with such technical equipment. But to many skiers it’s a new leap into the world of the Alpinist. What equipment to carry to keep them safe is a whole new bundle of kit in their outdoor wardrobe?
Going off Piste into High Alpine Environment: The basics
when you head into the winter environment it’s a whole different experience. Not only you have the added adventure and new situations but the decision making process is complicated. Ski Mountaineering equipment is different to your normal downhill set up which you slide about on the groomed pistes. Safety is top of your list. It’s impossible to fast track experience and knowledge which enables the skier to make safe decisions for route choice and slope safety. Basic Avalanche training is a necessity, skiing with more able and experienced mountaineers initially a sensible option. For Mountain Guides Ski Mountaineering, Ski Touring and Avalanche training is a big part of our winter work. We often stress not to underestimate the importance of basic mountaineering skills and your skiing technique to cope with the high mountain snow conditions. Using an axe, crampons and a rope are every day skills for Alpine Skiers on many classic ski tours, like the Haute Route (Chamonix to Zermatt). Basic skills required for Ski Mountaineering include:
- Ability to ski a variety of snow types and angles. Ski Mountaineers should be able to deal with Red to black runs on piste with comfort and have some techniques to cope with a variety of snow conditions off piste.
- Have a basic understanding of ‘safe travel’ and route planning.
- Be able to use Avalanche safety equipment: Probe, shovel and transceiver.
- Basic use of walking in crampons and use of an Ice Axe for self-arrest.
- Know how to use harnesses and have knowledge of some basic knots to attach a rope to themselves or clipping points. Fig of Eight knot, clove hitch and Italian hitch are essential knots to be confident with.
- Be proficient in the use of ski Touring bindings , skins and ski crampons for safe travel going up hill
- Crevasse rescue and be able to make snow anchors from your skis if travelling on glaciers.
- Basic rope work of abseiling and belaying a partner going up or down a steep section maybe even a ladder!
Ski Touring Kit List
for many skiers it will be the first time skiing with a heavier ruck sack full of equipment. This larger ruck sack also can get very heavy and unwieldy for skiing off piste. A comfortable ruck sack and modern lightweight equipment is essential and certainly it will dramatically improve the quality of the skiing experience. Light is right always but you still need the basic gear to deal with a variety of situations? If it goes wrong ski mountaineering it goes badly wrong very quickly. Could you cope with an injury and the effect of the biting cold? Have you the equipment and confidence in your skills to search for a buried friend caught in an avalanche? Can you draw on practised rope work to extract a fallen skier out of a crevasse? Are all questions one should ask yourself when I strapping on your skis and head off.
For a great many skiers the equipment will be unfamiliar to them and will almost certainly need to purchase from a specialised shop. So if you are investing in all this new gear best buy exactly what you need, the lightest for the job and what works. The price can add up as can the weight! I’ve enclosed some thoughts here to help with this initial business of sourcing the necessary equipment:
Basic Ski Equipment
- 40-45 litre Rucksack: many skies prefer a tear drop shape ruck sack which gives a more balanced ski rather than a top heavy mountaineering sac. Go Light as possible buy the lightest you can find. Straps for carrying skis on sacks are important plus some spare straps to help bind the ski to the sac. Size is important and to try to get all your equipment into the ruck sack rather than strapped to the outside. In a fall, certainly in an avalanche things get ripped off the outside of a sack. I even have my axe in my rucksack in case of a fall and getting jabbed by the axe. (Do please the axe handy on steep Icey slopes mind!)
- Avalanche Airbag systems: For folk who ski regularly many use the Air bag system which inflates when a toggle is pulled during an avalanche. The inflated air bag protects the head in an avalanche and creates a small airspace around the buried person, giving crucial extra air potentially keeping somebody alive longer during a search. A general guide is that for day ski Tours and off piste skiing this is becoming more common but certainly not a requirement. For longer ski tours involving nights in Alpine Huts it’s uncommon to be using ski bags due to the extra weight they add. It’s a personal choice and it depends on your wallet as these bags are not cheap. Most Heli ski operations seem to be heading in the direction that requires such gear.
- Off piste skis with touring bindings. There are many manufactures about that give differing models. Generally there are two classes of touring binding: Off Piste Free Ride bindings that are heavy, have good release, and intended for short tours in and around ski areas. Ski Mountaineering bindings are generally not as releasable as traditional piste bindings and are very light weight to help with the extra effort of longer days skinning over mountain ranges. The Marker Kingpin binding seems to have stolen the market as a Ski Touring Binding. Lots of advantages like stepping straight in and click heel piece plus an excellent release mechanism in case of a fall. Also the metal sections are manufactured by DMM
- Skins for moving up hill need to be full width of the ski to allow for good grip on icy slopes. Most are like a seal skin and grip when the skier loads the ski and pushes down.
- Poles. Good solid poles are fine and many use telescopic adjustable poles. Personally I prefer solid poles that never break.
- Crampons for skis Harsheisen/Knives/Couteau totally essential on hard pack snow and icy slopes. These are not the same as your mountaineering crampons you put straight to your boots.
- Probe is a piece of kit you hope you never have to use. But in the case of a buried person under an avalanche is essential bit of equipment to quickly find somebody. Statistics say that the time window is short for burial victims. After 15minutes the chances of survival drop off dramatically. Normally 2.5m to 3m in length.
- Shovel(metal ideally) for digging out casualties in avalanches and also digging snow pits to assess the snow pack for stability is always carried. Plastic is light but hopeless in a real case of digging. Buy a metal one which always works
- Transceiver On a ski holiday where you are going off piste or Ski Touring it’s the first thing I reach for after stepping out of bed in the morning. Buy one, wear it always it will give you at least a chance to be found in avalanche. Without one it’s highly unlikely you will be found. Be careful of skiing with folk who don’t have one as if your buried you will stay buried most likely. They are now not so expensive and the digital age has made their use much simpler.
- Boots Any boot intended for walking and ski touring will have a release on the heel to allow flexibility. As with bindings they rough fall into two categories: Free Ride all Terrain boots and ski Touring. As with the bindings they vary in weight and style. Most skiers go for a boot that allows a slightly easier ski rather than the super light ski racing boots which are not intended for enjoying the up rather than the down! Get them fitted properly and my advice buy boots before skis. It’s easier to hire skis but ski Touring hire boots are a recipe for blisters.
Technical Equipment for Ski Mountaineering
when travelling up hill on aglacier and if there are crevasses open and visible it’s sensible to rope together for safety. This at least gives somebody a chance of being hauled out if a snow bridge spanning a crevasse fails. Extracting a skier from a crevasse is hard work and relies on plenty of experience, skill and strength. Luckily this is not common occurrence but just in case it’s important to have the crevasse rescue kit handy on the harness for immediate access.
What to carry on a harnesses while moving in glacial terrain:
- Harness. A light weight wrap round style harness is best. Easy to put on when you have big ski boots to go over. Make sure it fits over all your ski clothing rather underneath and hidden. When stuck in a crevasse having the central loop on the front of the harness makes for a much safer and quicker extraction. DMM Couloir is perfect
- 4 Screw gate Karabiners ( DMM Phantom Screw gates) The DMM Phantom screw gate is one of the lightest Karabiners on the market they are just perfect in my opinion
- 1 HMS Screw gate Karabiner (Sentinel Screw gate Karabiner). The Sentinel Screw gate is a perfect lightweight but still large enough to use the Italian Friction hitch (an essential knot used to safeguard somebody climbing up)
- 1 Revolver Screw gate The Revolver Karabiner to reduce friction while hoisting a person out of the crevasse
- 2 prussic Loops (1.4m length of 6mm accessory cord before knotting) a prussic loop or jamming pulley to connect the load from the weighted rope to the anchor; another prussic and sling to safe guard the surface person to safely move to the edge of a crevasse.
- 2 slings (Dyneema 11mm x 120cm) 1.20m sling to attach the buried Axe to the rope another to safeguard the surface person. My advice is avoid the thinner 8mm as the rocks can be sharp and having a wider stronger more abrasive resistant sling makes sense. 1.2m is perfect for all jobs like running belays and attaching to buried axe belays.
- 1 17cm Ice screws (DMM Revolution Ice Screw). Ice screws are generally more of use for the person who has fallen into a crevasse to secure themselves to stop the situation getting worse. Don’t go smaller than a 17cm, smaller ice screws might be lighter but generally very weak on glacial surface ice.
- An Ice Threader an Ice threader for abseiling off ice cliffs or down steep ice. There are many purpose made threader devices but a 0.5m of stiff wire, similar to coat hanger wire, suffices. Also useful for fixing broken bindings. Can be carried inside the sac.
- A belay device (DMM Pivot) for belaying people up and down steep ground.
- A jamming pulley (Rope man, Duck, Mini traction) to help make Crevasse rescue and ascending ropes safer and quicker.
- Ice Axe (DMM Cirque) an Ice Axe to stop a slide and create an anchor. I use a 50cm Cirque which fits nicely inside my rucksack.
- Crampons. Many folk carry alloy crampons which are much lighter. In winter it’s often the case that crampons are used only on snow. But watch out for icy slopes in dry seasons and late season rocks to bend the soft metal. Ski Touring crampons that have a wire bale at the front and clamp system at the back are my choice on the longer tours. They fit quickly to stiff ski touring boots. Strap on crampons do work but can more easily work loose and fall off.
- Ropes: Ropes are needed to abseil down steep slopes; safe guard steep terrain going up and crevasse rescue. In case the person carry a rope goes down the crevasse I prefer to carry two ropes in a group. It can also spread the load carrying. Two ropes are also useful for creating two separate systems one hauling and one safety when pulling somebody out of a crevasse. Ropes can be heavy so many ski mountaineers prefer to carry 2 x30m ropes of 8mm diameter. Half rope or Low stretch ropes in character are used mainly ski touring, rather than heavy single weight ropes. As generally the only time a rope is used while ski touring is abseiling, roping up on a glacier and for crevasse rescue where half and low stretch ropes work fine. Many Alpine Guides have adopted to using Low stretch ropes in recent years. They are not intended for lead climbing but work more efficiently than a lead dynamic rope in abseiling and hauling systems.
- Group shelter or Bothy bag for emergency stops
- Blizzard bag a foil sleeping bag which compresses to a tiny block.
- First aid
- Spares for bindings/skin/etc. Duct tape is handy to keep skins on if they get balled up.
- Spare pole for longer tours
- Waterproof top and bottoms(generally a light pair of over trousers)
- warm fleece/soft shell top
- thin layer fleece
- thermal top/base layer
- ski trousers(not too thick, you can add thermal leggings if thin)
- socks plus one spare pair
- light duvet jacket
- leather gloves plus warmer spare pair
- warm hat plus sun hat
Bits and bobs
- small knife/screwdriver/plyers (1 set between 2)
- Maps 1:50.000 and an Arolla 1:50.000 ski touring map. (1 set per 2) for Haute Routes.
- Goggles and Sun glasses Cat 4 protected.
- mobile phone
- white zinc oxide tape for blisters
- blister pads
- sun cream
- insurance card
- Credit card. Best way of ski touring. Light sac heavy wallet!
- Water bottle 1 litre. I use a wide neck bottle in case the water freezes. Camel back systems need to be used with care in ruck sacks with spikes in!
- straps for carrying skis
- pain killers
- Tea bags
- fruit teas
- hill bars chocolate or cereal
- 2 days of packed lunches
- Light book
- small travel towel
- Sense of humour and a strong mate to carry lots of group kit!
Ski Touring and mountaineering kit list