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Getting to Routes on Skis (for mountaineers and climbers)

By Martin Chester


Ten years ago, Tim and I set off from Courmayeur to go ice climbing. We drove as far up the Val Veny as our beat up old van could get, and started to walk. At 6'6", Tim is something of a giant and, pretty soon, even he was up to his nuts in snow. After an hour we had travelled less than a kilometre - as two lycra-clad Italians skied effortlessly past us. Reluctantly, we shuffled back to the car. The lesson is simple, if you don't ski - it's worth learning - it's a great way to access those early season ice routes!


Boots

Getting to Routes on Skis (for mountaineers and climbers)

If you are planning to ski and climb in the same footwear, it is far better to climb in your ski boots, than try to ski in your climbing boots (unless the skiing is really easy). Climbing in ski-touring boots is not as bad as you think. You'll find that fluted or heavily featured routes are trickier than steep uniform pitches, due to the lack of ankle flex. Some people swear by using mono point crampons with touring boots for this reason.


Skin Care

Look after your skins. Early season ice climbing in cold temperatures needs the perfect climate for causing skin problems. If possible, put your skins on inside the apartment before you leave. The warmth makes them much stickier. At the very least, keep your skins down your jacket to keep them warm; clean all snow off your skis before you put skins on; and get slick and quick about it. Get them stuck before it's too late, and then be gentle with them!


At Night

Getting to Routes on Skis (for mountaineers and climbers)

After all the above, don't leave your skins on overnight - you may find the glue prefers to stay on your skis as you peel the skin off! Fold them carefully, stash them away carefully, and get them dried out asap. If you're going somewhere serious, carry a spare skin between you.


Postcards

Falling in a crevasse is a bad thing. Learning about glaciers helps you anticipate where the slots may be - if only to avoid these places. A good tip is to check out a local postcard of the area in summer. See where the slots are, and compare the snow cover. Just make sure it's a recent photo!


Ropes

If you must ski on the glaciers, then: Don't ski on glaciers until the crevasses have been filled in. Early season, things may look well covered, but it's often superficial. Try to stick to non-glaciated approaches until the spring. Don't be frightened to use a rope to get out of trouble. Do be careful not to use a rope to get into further trouble! Skiing roped takes practice (and will put you off for life).


Gather Information

Get some good info! It's often fine to ski from the Aiguille du Midi to climb a route. Far more serious is the ski down the rest of the Vallee Blanche through the icefall. Find out if the local ski guides have been there recently, and what they think of conditions.


It Takes Time

If you can't ski well at the best of times, don't expect to become Warren Miller overnight once you put a climbing sack on your back. When there's too much snow to climb - learn to ski. But learn to ski defensively as well - a stem turn will become your best mate with a big rucksack in heavy snow!


Get Modern

Modern fat skis can make all the difference! In tricky snow conditions, having some extra flotation is a serious advantage, and some of these new skis are just cheating! If you find your old skins don't fit the wider shape, carefully cut the first third down the centre line, and fit to the ski edges.


Give Skiing a Chance

Getting to Routes on Skis (for mountaineers and climbers)

Who knows, by the time you've skinned in to climb a few routes before cruising back to the car, you may find you actually quite like it!




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