Ski Mountaineering Guide Tip
Andrew Klotz – AMGA Ski Guide
Spring is here and the snow is stabilizing so it is time to hit the big lines that you’ve been waiting patiently for all winter. This is the first installment of a mulit-part series on getting kitted out for a multi-day ski mountaineering trip. Of course, the ideas also apply to single day outings as well.
Getting the most out of your spring skiing season also means being prepared with the right gear and tools for the job. Particularly with spring skiing, choosing the right gear on the right days can mean the difference between a fantastic outing and a day of “survival skiing”.
In addition to choosing your gear wisely, selecting the right aspect and timing your descent on that aspect is critical to both safety and enjoyment in the mountains during the spring season. As always, be sure to consult your local relevant avalanche forecast and utilize good terrain selection and travel techniques in the context of your objective for the day. Below are just a few considerations when it comes to gear for spring ski mountaineering:
Although fat skis are the rage, I think short narrow waisted skis are the ticket for ski mountaineering. They allow you to more directly pressure your edges and control your skins for difficult frozen morning upskins and give you the same direct edge pressuring confidence for technical descents. I like skis in the 70-80 mm waist range. It is also a good idea to get your skis a size shorter than you normally ride them. First short skis are lighter on your pack and on your feet. Second, they are more maneuverable in tight skiing conditions often found skiing technical lines. Finally, I think a shorter ski will give you more longitudinal control over the tip and tail, again, an important consideration for technical ascents and descents.
Go for a softer three buckle boot, possibly removing the powerstraps. This streamlined set-up makes the long days in the skin-track more comfortable and makes any technical climbing that you might need to do easier as you are able to move more naturally in a softer boot. Yes, you give up some skiing performance, but skiing skill always trumps gear and skill weighs nothing so think about developing skills rather than relying on gear. Make sure your boot has a beefy mountaineering type sole and that your crampons fit properly and tightly. You end up spending a lot of time out of your skis and in your boots so it also a good idea to size them a bit larger and make sure you have a comfortable rather than a performance fit. Consider utilizing a custom foot bed as well for the best fit for your ski boots. There is nothing worse than feeling as though your boots don’t fit right at the top of a big descent. Most reputable outdoor shops offer some type of custom foot bed option.
Adjustable skiing poles can be shrunk down and fit neatly on your pack if you need to use your hands for climbing. Consider replacing your pole(s) with a Black Diamond whippet or two. These nifty devices may allow you to leave your ice axe at home (depending on your objectives) and at least give you a fighting chance in what otherwise might be a nasty fall. As a final note, I prefer aluminum to carbon poles for multi-day trips. If carbon breaks it literally explodes and shatters is essentially non-repairable, whereas aluminum can be field repaird and will often bend or dent instead of breaking.
Make sure your glue is good. Skin glue problems tend to wildly exacerbate themselves on a multi-day tour. Make sure you have some parts and repair strategies for tip and tail connections if these critical elements fail.
As always, travel safe in the mountains and enjoy the gettin’ while the gettin’ is good!!
Jan 5th I had the honor of again working and guiding long time San Juan clients Lisa Lieb, Ilan Paltrow, and Mark Iuppenlatz. This trio has historically had some great adventures in the San Juans and today added to the list. Last year the team and I attempted, and finished, the first San Juan Haute route hut-to-hut traverse from Red Mountain Pass to the Ophir Pass staying in Browns Gultch Camp and the OPUS hut. We skied the South Face of McMillian, Southwest Face of US Basin Peak, West shoulder of Ohio Peak, and the lower slopes of Lookout Peak getting in over 15,000ft of vertical in 4 days all human powerd.
Mark Iuppenlatz likes skiing, more he like powder skiing. However, he is a peak bagger at heart and loves to add a summit to any outing. That’s what today’s objective was, to summit a peak, and it ended up being Trico Peak 13,321ft. This peak is the triple point to Ouray, San Juan, and San Miguel County(s). The peak is positioned in the center of a triangle drawn between Ouray, Red Mt Pass, and Telluride. Needless to say the view where expected to be fantastic and 360 moutnains.
We chose this tour because it is an area less traveled and for many in the group a new area. We would not see other skiers or the mob crowding the back country, Also none of us has ever summited this peak. Conditions had settled enough to allow safe travel into the alpine and we wanted the odyssey. It was an opportunity to get higher, see some views, and ski some powder.
We spent a good part of the day climbing into the alpine terrain. The views became broad and more entertaining as we climbed. We reached the ridge crest and the air felt thin and brisk at 12,500ft. We could see most of the San Juans and down into Telluride. We climbed the South Ridge of the peak without our skis and it was a great climb to 13,421ft.
After some great summit time we swiftly descended to the skis and began our decsent. We clicked in, pealed the skins, and began our flow down the mountain. We found variable conditions in the high alpine but conditions improved with every turn. We dropped into lower Mineral Basin and found fantastic runs on low angle rolls back into treeline on cold Colorado snow
It was a great outing with great people. Again are able to enter an environment that can be extremely hazardous, but with the right choices the mountains are the perfect place to spend a day exercising one of your key human rights… powder skiing in the San Juan Mountains.
Come ski us soon,
Over Presidents day weekend we had a great group of people attend an Avy 1 Course. Below are some photos from the last day of the course, taken around Molas Pass.
Winter? What? Whatever! We’re going rock climbing!
That’s right, Moab rock climbing can be enjoyed all year round. Chris came last weekend for some tower and rock fun in the beautiful red desert.
After picking Chris up at the airport in Durango, we were off to the desert. A few hours later at the base of Castleton tower setting up camp.
Saturday we attempted Castleton in the crisp air which was perfect for hiking and climbing. Though we only made it a few pitches up we enjoyed some warm sun, great views, and a short nap on the top of the second pitch.
Realizing that the nearly 6000 jump in altitude was getting to Chris, we decided call it a day and rappel off. We’ll be back.
That night we met up with Matt P and Jeff W who were climbing towers as well for some beers and dinner in Moab. After Dinner, we camped under the unreal star-filled sky that Moab always seems to provide.
Sunday, we decided to play around at the famous Wall Street crag for some fun climbs and rope ascension practice. Chris was feeling better today and managed to send a 5.10b with two rests that he could’nt even get up last year!
Nice job Chris!
Then I set up some jugging (rope ascending) practice.
Well, after some Wall Street fun it was time to hit the road to get Chris back to D-town for his flight home.
Another great weekend in Moab that goes to show that if the sun’s-a-shinin, rock climbing in the desert is a year round affair!
Father and son duo Tom and Morgan came out from North Carolina this mid July to test their knowledge against, and learn more in, Colorado’s San Juan Mountains. We began with rock climbing at one of our local Durango crags; X Rock. Here we covered anchors, belaying, knots, safe climbing skills and a handful of other rope work tricks and tips. Day 2 we utilized everything covered on Day 1, as well as added multi pitch climbing, building more natural anchors, and more efficient climbing technique. Now that our arms were sufficiently tired, Day 3 brought on the leg workout. We planned on climbing Snowdon Peak’s, 13,077, West Buttress. However around 12,650 feet, the weather gods decided otherwise. Thunder turned us around, but this change in events allowed us to cover more efficient alpine climbing skills that Tom and Morgan could take with them on other climbs in the future.
The next three day leg of the course were spent in Vestal Basin. Here we climbed Arrow Peak’s, 13,803, Northeast ramp. We snuck this climb in between rain drops as it rained all the previously night and began again around 11:30 AM. Luckily, with such a highly spirited couple of climbers, morals were never threatened. We played Rummy for hours, practised rope work during lulls in the rain and had fun watching the mountain goats in our camp. The Durango – Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad brought us back to Durango where we added crampons and ice axes to our assortment of gear.
Day 7 we hiked into the breath-taking Ice Lakes Basin. We set up camp at 12,240 feet on the shores of the blue-green Ice Lake and relaxed. Later that afternoon we covered how to walk in crampons, including the important rest step. Next, we slid on the snow and ice practising ice axe arresting. Tom and Morgan did awesome, perfecting all four body positions. Morgan couldn’t stop smiling!
The next morning Morgan and I climbed Fuller Peak, 13,761, Vermillion Peak, 13,894, and Golden Horn, 13,780. This cirque is a great place to practise snow skills and get the chance to ridge-run from summit to summit. That afternoon we hiked back to the car and had lunch in Ouray. The last day we had a “check out day” as we called it. This settled any unsure thoughts Tom and Morgan had about anchors and climbing. Now they were able to climb safely on their own back at home. Good work in Colorado and enjoy your new skills back East.
Chris joined us for a hat trick weekend this last weekend of mountaineering, rock climbing, and ice climbing.
The weekend started out with a attempt at Snowdon peak where Ben and Chris made it to the Naked Lady coular before having to turn back.
So, with some extra daylight to kill, we took Chris to the beautiful East Animas cliffs for some afternoon rock climbing which was a warm welcome to the chillier morning in the snow… this is what makes this area so great in the spring! Done with winter? Head towards town for some spring warmth and sun.
After Chris getting in some more leads and harder top-ropes, it was off to town for some well earned dinner.
Finally after a great dinner in town and a good nights sleep, we headed up to winter and Cascade Canyon for some ice climbing on the surprisingly fat ice climbs and some great mixed practice as well.
All together, another great “hat trick” weekend of varied endeavors and jam packed fun… I think this spring “Hat trick” thing could catch on.
Despite getting food poisoning from suspect airport food, Chris trooped through the weekend in style. Back in Ouray, Chris was able to overcome and conquer getting multiple pitches in between bouts of sickness. Way to hang in there Chris!
The next day with Chris feeling much better, he was ready to up the ante with his climbing. So with all the experience that he had gained with us he was ready to cross a major milestone in his climbing… His First Lead!!!
With a couple of Mock-leads the day before and a review on techniques, we found a nice WI3 that was well within his abilities, talked strategy, and off he went cruising his way to the top!
Despite some bumps, we had a great weekend and crossed a milestone. Great job Chris! We’ll see ya soon for Snowdon and more climbing!
Allan joined me this past weekend to get some vertical ice climbing under his belt. Allan has climbed all over North and South America already, and will join us on our Cordillera Blanca trip in the heart of Peru. Artesonraju is a 6000 meter peak comprised of very continuous 50 to 65 degree snow and ice climbing.
check out this program at http://www.swaguides.com/trips_courses/expeditions/peru/artesonraju.shtml
On Saturday Allan and I climbed in the schoolroom. He picked up a perfect swing and great footwork immediately. We made a couple v-threads and placed multiple ice screws. Allan was absolutely shocked as to how strong both v-threads and screws can be. By the end of the day, Allan had climbed around 800 feet of ice. Nice work.
The next day we started out of ‘The Schoolroom Pillar.’ This is the steepest piece of ice in the Schoolroom. No problem.
We then moved North into the Alcove Area and climbed another 5 pitches here ranging over 120 feet long.
Our afternoon was spent working on skills ranging from knots and hitches to glacier travel to companion crevasse rescue. Once we had out climbed our area and were happy with progress, Allan climbed one last route from the canyon floor to the rim. Around 150 feet. 1300 feet total over both days.
At the end of the day, we swung by The Black Canyon of the Gunnison to see the “big ditch” in the winter time. Allan had never been there before and it was a great added bonus to his trip to Southwestern Colorado. Hopefully he will join us for some world class rock climbing there this summer! All in all, the weekend perfected Allan’s ice climbing ability and I know he will be successful in Peru this summer.
As if we aren’t lucky enough here in Durango! Already having access to some of the best backcountry skiing, ice climbing, rock climbing, alpine climbing, and wilderness in the country, we now have one of the most technologically advanced physical therapy clinics in the nation! I have recently discovered this gem in my fight with chronic back pain that started last October.
A team consisting of a chiropractor and two physical therapists, these three bring a multitude of the latest technology to the table. Between chiropractic adjustments, I have also had the pleasure of trying out the Class IV Laser, ASTYM treatment, Trigger Point Dry Needling, and Real Time Ultrasound. This is just a handful of treatments theses guys use in the fight against pain. These guys get my guides pick for a preventative and recovery clinic for anyone that needs a helping hand or needs to speed up the recovery process.
Give these guys a try if you’re in need of a helping hand!