Some topical tips on how to improve your winter footwork on steep snow slopes.
This week's Monday Tip is about walking in snow and specifically, how to use your boots to maximum advantage.
We covered crampon use last week – when to put them and when to take them off – but with good technique and stiff-soled winter boots, you can manage surprisingly well on steep ground even without crampons, though at the point where your boots simply won't cut into the snow, we'd always suggest adding steely points.
Here are a few basic techniques to try out:
The best way of descending moderately steep-ish snow slopes is to face out, sit back slightly as if you're going to sit down on the slope and plunge sharp rear edge of your heel into the slope. You can hold the head of your axe and plunge it in by your side as you go for additional security.
You can descent quite steep slopes this way, but on really steep ground, you can vary this by facing in towards the slope and kicking in with the toe end of your boot, a bit like front-pointing with crampons.
Use the head of your ice axe like a dagger, plant it around waist height for security, move both feet down, then repeat.
The most natural way of ascending and indeed traversing steep slopes is to simply face in and kick the front your your boot into the slope hard to create holds – you can always re-use existing footholds if someone's been up the same slope before you and it's a more economical way to do it.
Again, hold the head of your ice axe and use the pick as a dagger for added security. As long as you can kick into the snow pack, you can climb surprisingly steep slopes like this.
Use Your Sole As A Saw
If you can't kick your toes into the snow, an effective alternative is to use your outsole like a saw by kicking the edge of the sole into the slope facing side on to it. That way the serrations formed by the lugs of your boot, slice into the snow creating a small ledge to stand on – with fully stiffened boots, you can traverse or climb on surprisingly hard snow like this with only a small ledge necessary.
Again, hold your ice axe in your up-slope hand and either plunge the shaft into the snow or even place the pick of the axe for security.
We're not going to go into the details here, but you can also use your axe to cut slash steps on shorter stretches of ice or steep snow where you'd normally use crampons.
Last but not least, to get used to moving around on steep ground without crampons, find a steep but safe slope with a clear run-out if you do slip, and go play with the different techniques. You may be surprised by what you can get away with. You need to be positive and firm with your movements, place your feet deliberately and carefully and if you feel insecure, find a safe place to put your crampons on.
Bear in mind that the stiffer the soles of your boots are and the sharper the edges, the better these techniques will work. If you're using so-called 3-4 season boots, you may find they lack the stiffness to stand comfortably on smaller incuts in the snow, so you may need to don your crampons earlier.