Skiing and Snowshoeing

Deep, soft snow can render foot travel impossible, so some winter ice climbs can be approached only by ski or snowshoe. The advantages of snowshoes are that anyone who can walk can learn to use them immediately; they are more compact than skis when they must be carried,- and they usually cost less than skis. Some snowshoes are only about twice the size of a boot sole and, while not very useful in fresh powder, they may be carried in the pack on technical ground, ready to be pulled out for use on easier sections of snow.

Skis, on the other hand, allow faster uphill travel—and going downhill, there is no comparison, Not everyone has an easy time mastering the skills of skiing, but persistence, along with some instruction from a friend or professional, will soon pay dividends that are more than simply utilitarian The skier playing with gravity learns to identify a sort of internal gyroscope that performs a more subtle, but equally important, role in ice climbing. It is neither necessary nor appropriate to deal here with all the varieties of ski equipment. Suffice it to say that for approaching ice climbs, the ski/boot/binding combination must allow the heel to move freely up and down so that a motion similar to walking is achieved.


An old adage says if you carry bivouac gear, you will use it. The extra weight of the gear will cause you to go so slowly that you will certainly be caught out at day's end. If an unplanned bivouac is a possibility, a point can be made for limiting equipment to the absolute minimum required for survival. A water bottle and bivouac sac, along with climbing clothing and a pack to sit on, should suffice.

A slight extra degree of comfort might be allowed for planned nights out. A three-quarter length pad of 13mm closed-cell foam, cooking pot and stove, food, and ultralight sleeping bag will improve things.

When the snow is deep enough, a snow cave is always a better shelter than a tent or bivouac sac, but to make one you will need to carry a shovel.

Spedal Training

It has often been said that climbing itself is the best training for climbing. But this is not always true. Sometimes the very practice of climbing gets in the way of advancement. For instance, I have stressed that one of the goals of an ice climber should be to achieve nearly effortless upward movement. Ironically, however, if you come too close to realizing this goal, your future progress may stagnate due to lack of strength. On the other hand, if you rely on muscle alone, you may be able to get up most hard, strenuous routes, but be unprepared for delicate climbs.

Coordination between eye and hand or foot and too! is enhanced by the practice of other sports and

Skis offer tin tpikkest occess to, as well as the most enjoyable descents front, some ke dfmbs.

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activities that use tools. Soccer, cricket, baseball, and tennis, for example, all depend upon the dynamic manipulation of an object or tool through space and time using either hands or feet. Skiing is the best parallel sport for normal alpine ice climbing, as it involves both hands and feet in precise, simultaneous, balanced movements, coordinated through sight and sensation. Rough carpentry definitely helps in learning to swing tools accurately and with subtle power, while cabinet making and fine woodworking are excellent introductions to the subtle qualities of well-designed tools and their interface with the medium being worked.

Modern and classical dance, the martial arts, and certain Eastern practices—especially tai-chi, which is directly concerned with centering and movement—can bring you in closer touch with your body and improve its quality of motion. Meditation or self-hypnosis may aid concentration and prepare the mind to face new problems, while stretching or hatha yoga will make you more supple and teach you better breathing. All of the foregoing are somewhat helpful in increasing functional strength, but gymnastics and weight training are best for developing climbing muscles, and running, biking, or other aerobic exercise builds endurance.

Although few climbers will practice all that 1 preach here, the point is that anyone's climbing can benefit both from a holistic approach to physical and mental balance, as well as from a specific program of strength, endurance, and agility training. Furthermore, this training can be varied and enjoyable, Imbued with the right spirit, there are numerous opportunities to "train" for ice climbing, even if you live three thousand miles from the nearest frozen water!

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