When we get out on the mountain, we may encounter different types of snow and terrain where we’ll need to progress safely to prevent accidents. Following the evolution of the weather and avalanche risk forecasts the previous days, as well as the snow conditions, will help us choosing our ascents and descents efficiently and safely, and deciding what gear to include in our equipment. All this will enable us to prevent the possible difficulties we may encounter.
Our progression on a splitboard might be affected, or even compromised when we find ourselves on hard or icy snow, where our edges or blades will not perform properly. The right use of crampons and ice axes will allow us to progress safely.
This information should in no case replace specific training courses. From Splitboard Magazine, we encourage you to learn these and other techniques under the supervision of qualified guides and instructors.
Pau Gómez, UIAGM guide at Dablam Esports in Tavascan, describes the techniques which will help us minimizing risks on the mountain.
The type of crampons we shall use will depend on the boot, but strap crampons are most commonly used due to their compatibility with standard snowboard boots. The increasingly used Vibram sole alpinism boots with a heel counter, and hard boot systems enable the use of semi automatic and automatic crampons; the latter are way more efficient when progressing on complex terrain.
- When we fall, a splitboard doesn’t come off our feet; this could be a problem when it comes to applying some of these standard techniques used on ski touring.
- The use of soft boots and snowboard bindings, and other factors, such as waist width, hinder the transmission on the effective edge, reducing contact points while traversing or kick turning, a problem that increases considerably when the snow is hard or icy.
- The incorrect placement of the skins could worsen this situation. We should leave some space for the splitboard edge to work properly, gripping the snow.
Progressing on hard crusty snow, where it is difficult to progress with skins or blades:
If the snow is very hard or icy, affecting our stability and safety, we will use our crampons to progress. We want to insist on the relevance of knowing how to anticipate the type of terrain and snow we are to find. If our stability is severely hindered, it might be very difficult to find a safe spot to put our crampons on. If we know how to anticipate the difficulties, and the terrain is too steep to change to crampons, we may use the adze to carve a small “balcony” and put our crampons on comfortably and safely.
While ascending, we will use three main steps:
- Diagonal ascending or descending step, criss-crossing the strides (the tip slightly facing the valley), using all the points in the crampons.
- Combined step, using the front points on one foot and the side points on the other. Alterning the position of our feet will enable us to rest our calfs.
- Two front point steps (steep or very steep slopes).
It is advisable to reduce the steepness by progressing diagonally in order not to exhaust our calves. While progressing on this type of terrain, we must carry our ice axe in the uphill hand, changing hands every time we change direction.
Different uses of an ice axe:
- As a walking cane.
- Ramasse or cross body.
- Digging the pick and the spike.
- Hooking ice axe.
In case of a descent, it is most relevant to use always all 12 points, if the slope allows it. Therefore, we will have to bend our knees and separate our legs lowering our center of gravity. We will keep our back as straight as possible, depending on how heavy our backpack is.
If the steepness of the slope allows us to use all 12 points comfortably, we will descend facing the valley, working on the front points, using the ice axe as support. Besides the aforementioned ice axe progression techniques, while descending, we may use it for:
- Descent support position.
- Cross-body or ramasse.
Progressing on very steep slopes with hard or icy snow:
If the snow is very hard or icy, we will be able to progress without using crampons, chopping steps with our boots.
- Progressing cutting steps with the front tip of our boot.
- Progressing cutting steps with the side of the boot, criss crossing our strides.
If the slope becomes steeper, we will use our ice axe as a walking stick and we will progress carrying it on the hillside hand in the case of diagonal progression, or in either hand in the case of vertical progression.
We will always grab the ice axe with the pick facing the valley, thus, if we happen to slip, we could immediately do the right move to practice self-arrest.
If the snow is too hard or icy to cut the steps with our boots, we shall use the adze in case of both lateral and frontal progression.
Self-arrest in case of falling:
In case of falling on this type of terrain, we will use the self-arrest technique to stop ourselves. In any given situation, it is easier to apply this technique during the first instants, rather than when we’ve already slipped down a few meters. Thus, it is relevant to be very aware, specially on hard and icy snow, where stopping might be very difficult.
If we are not carrying an ice axe, we may use the “cat” technique, opening our legs and arms to use all four contact points, lifting the body to apply more pressure on our boots, thus stopping ourselves.
If we do carry an ice axe, we should hold it in cane position. We will grab the side of the shaft with the thumb and two fingers, and the other two fingers on the other side. We will grab the spike with the other hand. This hand will be at hip height. We will use the ice axe pick friction against the snow to stop, bending ourselves down to apply as much pressure as possible with our chest and shoulder.
The stopping position will be the same in any case, that is, with our chest facing the snow and our head looking up. If we fall in any other position, we will have to look for the initial position. In case of falling, we need to keep calm and be persistent about the position, because depending of the type of snow, we might not stop immediately.
If we have our crampons on, it is crucial not to use them to stop, as they might stop us abruptly, making us burst forth on our back, losing control. It is important to keep the knees bent to avoid the crampons contacting the snow.
Pau Gómez dablamesports.com