Skiers and boarders are discovering how deep into the world of alpinism their skills can take them. When the angle tips over 40 degrees, or your skins are propelling you across a glacier, you’ve entered the realm of the alpinist; and the tools of the climber: anchoring, belaying, rappelling, route-finding, and climbing become key to success and survival. At Skyward Mountaineering we would like to show you how skiing and alpinism can be combined, and how we incorporate our experience to help you find your own lightweight, alpine-based approach to successful ski alpinism.
This course is for advanced skiers and boarders who want to add alpine ascents and descents to their repertoire. This course, as the name says, will combine the skills of skiing and alpinism. Over three intensive days we will focus on the technical climbing skills you need: From rope-handling and crampon and ice axe use to rappel anchor construction and specific ski techniques that will allow you to ski better both up and down hill.
Day one: Equipment, packing, and ski movement.
After a review of equipment and how to pack efficiently we will head up to Red Mountain Pass at over 11,000’. From here we start to work on making your uphill skinning easy and efficient so you can get to the fun part fast and feeling fresh. Obviously, we will also be skiing down and here we will review a range of techniques to help you master both the steeps as well as the difficult snow conditions common to the high mountains.
Day two: Technical skills.
We will focus this day’s learning on technical skills relevant to the true ski alpinist. We will climb steep snow, ice, and rock with lightweight ice axes and crampons. We will build anchors, rappel with skis, practice belayed skiing, and practice all the applications of a rope when skiing.
Day three: Ski Alpinism.
Today, conditions permitting, we will go for a true “Ski-mo” ascent and descent, utilizing and refining the skills you have learned the past two days. From the high-summit of a Colorado 13’er or 14’er, this is your chance to reward yourself with thrilling turns down a steep couloir or face!
After a day of rest we recommend rounding out the week with another two days of private ski descents in the beautiful and very alpine San Juan Mountains with one or two of your classmates and a Skyward Mountaineering Ski Guide.
April 7-9, 2023
Participants must be advanced intermediate skiers with prior backcountry touring experience, be familiar with how to use all necessary ski touring equipment (including avalanche safety equipment) and be able to safely descend steep snow in varying conditions. They should also be fit enough to carry a 20 pound pack uphill for 2-3 hours at a steady pace.
SKI ALPINISM GEAR LIST
This list may be adjusted by your guide based on the venue and time of season.
• Alpine touring skis, telemark skis, or snowboard (split-board or with short approach skis). Skis should be a minimum of 85mm underfoot and a maximum of 105mm. Wider skis get very heavy and impact your ability to tour uphill. Narrower skis are more appropriate for late season tours and traverses. If you like, you can also bring a second, fatter pair of skis for powder days.
• Alpine Touring (ski) or snowboard boots. Typical downhill ski boots do not work for touring. Must fit well.
• Adjustable ski poles.
• Climbing skins. These must fit your skis well. A good-fitting skin covers all of the p-tex base, but leaves all of the metal edge exposed.
• Ski brakes. Recommended. Retention leashes may be preferred for tours which cross glaciers.
• Ski crampons. (More useful than people think.)
• 2 Ski straps. The typical rubber-based ski strap has many purposes
SNOW SAFETY EQUIPMENT
• Avalanche transceiver (457 kHz single frequency) with new and spare batteries
• Avalanche probe 2-3 meters
• Shovel. Flat-backed metal blade is recommended.
• Pack. 25-40 liters depending on tour type.
• Small, personal first aid kit including blister care.
• Avalung, avalung pack, or ABS pack should be considered situationally.
GLACIER/TECHNIAL EQUIPMENT (ONLY FOR GLACIATED OR TECHNICAL TOURS)
Ice axe. A 50-60cm straight-shafted ice axe is preferred for most situations. A technical ice tool will also work.
Boot crampons. Aluminum crampons with a strap-on system designed for ski boots are preferred.
1 ice screw. 19-22 cm length.
2 lightweight locking carabiners.
2 lightweight non-locking carabiners.
1 60 cm nylon or dyneema sling.
Belay/rappel device. A lightweight device is preferable.
Climbing or ski helmet. Situationally appropriate. (optional)
Small ascender like Rope Man or Ti-bloc (optional)
• All necessary under, mid, and outer layers appropriate to the area and season. The following is a good example for normal winter conditions:
• Good, storm-proof soft-shell jacket with a hood.
• Lightweight wind/weather shell. Example: Patagonia Houdini.
• Soft-shell (or vent-able hard-shell) pants that fit over boot cuff and have integrated gaiter that works with your boots.
• Mid-weight fleece shirt or jacket. Example: Patagonia Piton Hybrid Hoody.
• Long underwear top with zip-tee/neck coverage; either synthetic or wool.
• Long underwear bottom; either synthetic or wool. (bring two pair, one light and one medium-to-heavy weight)
• Good, packable insulated parka appropriate to temperatures and forecast. If a lot of snow or bad weather is forecast, consider opting for a synthetic parka instead of down. (aka “Puffy”)
• Winter gloves, two pair: One light and one medium-weight
•Mittens. Lightweight mittens are important asset, especially in an emergency situation. Very warm gloves may work as well.
• Warm hat.
• Sun hat.
• Balaclava or neck gaiter.
• Ski socks: multiple changes. Typically two pairs for up to one week.
• Headlamp with spare batteries. Lithium batteries are more expensive, but lighter than alkaline batteries.
• Goggles (We prefer light lenses that work well in cloudy conditions.)
• Sun screen. SPF 30 or greater
• Lip balm. SPF 30 or greater
• Butane lighter. (optional)
• Ear plugs. (For overnight tours in huts or tents)
• Personal hygiene articles.
• Small supply of toilet paper or facial tissues.
• One-liter water container. Note that hydration tubes usually freeze while ski touring.
• Vacuum thermos bottle. (Our personal preference over a water bottle.)
SKI CAMPING/ BIVY EQUIPMENT
(For overnight tours spent camping NOT in huts):
• Sleeping bag.
• Sleeping pad.
• Cup and spoon.
• Snacks or energy food (i.e. bars, gels, sandwiches, etc.)
• Drink mix and/or tea bags for water bottle and thermos.
In our experience, downhill-oriented skiers and riders have plenty of strength on the run home, but not so much endurance on the way up the hill. If you can do one thing to train for this course, it would be to incorporate one long run or, even better, ski tour, per week. Long would be a minimum of one hour and as long as five hours.
When we are out skiing together we’ll be skinning uphill and floating downhill all day long, so a five hour easy run-hike should feel manageable. The key aspect of these workouts the definition of “easy”; use the nose-breathing protocol. This means that you should set a pace where you can breathe exclusively through your nose. This intensity level typically corresponds with about 55-75% of your maximum heart rate. Some may prefer to utilize a bike for this training, if that’s the case know that the total volume of training time will have to be increased due to the less strenuous nature of cycling.
For a detailed discussion of how and why these workouts work, please read pages 57-59 of Training for the New Alpinism.
IInterested in a more structured approach to training?
• Read Steve House’s and Scott Johnston’s Book: Training for the New Alpinism
• Check Out Uphill Athlete’s training and coaching options