Using Your Skis as a Belay Anchor
By Martin Chester
Your skis can be so much more than just some fancy footwear for getting to routes - they are handy bits of mountaineering kit as well! Should you need a belay for a steep section; to get over a bergschrund; through some crevasses; or extract your mate from a slot; your skis can provide a quick and effective anchor:
Place the tail of your ski as far in to the snow as you can get it. Like placing a tent peg, this should be angled back away from the direction of pull. By placing it as shown, you get the flat face pulling against the snow, and keep those sharp edges in the least worrying place!
Now place the second ski behind the first. This time, angle the ski even further back than the first one. Place them in line with the direction of pull - one behind the other. You will often see this "picket post" technique to secure marquees.
Now clove hitch a cord from the front ski to the back ski at ground level. As this will transfer the load through both skis, I often finish the clove hitch with a couple of half hitches. This brings the pull from the centre of the ski, rather than the side. Clove hitches for easy adjustment - half hitches to centre the pull.
Clove hitch a cord around the top of the ski to pull it back to the ski behind. The front ski should "bow" ever so slightly to be sure that all is tight. I tend to carry a couple of pieces of 7mm cord for this. They are lightweight and versatile - useful for all sorts of lashing and carrying jobs on a ski tour - as well as a cordelette. They are also much cheaper to replace than slings should your ski edges damage them.
You now have a sturdy triangle, well anchored in the snow. You can now wrap a sling around the front ski (just above the lower cord) as low to the snow as possible. Use this as you would any other snow belay - carefully, delicately and conservatively. Remember - it is only as strong as the snow in which it is made!
The quality of the snow can vary widely, from "bomber" spring snow to deep unconsolidated powder. There is little you can do to change the snow, but lots you can do to change the way you use the belay. If in doubt, consider putting yourself in the system - by tying in to the anchor and using a bucket seat. One marginal "quick fix" is simply to sit in front of the front ski, and brace yourself - every little helps. If the snow is really poor, you can always bury your skis horizontally like an enormous buried axe belay.
For more snow belay ideas and uses, see the excellent "Winter Essentials" and "Alpine Essentials" DVDs by the BMC/MCofS.