Crampons for Ski Mountaineering: To Access Steep and Icy Terrain
By Matt Inoue
As the snowpack settles and the days get longer, ski mountaineering becomes more reasonable and appealing throughout Colorado. In order to safely access the multitude of steep objectives, especially couloirs or peaks such as Torreys Peak’s Tuning Forks, crampons are needed to provide solid footing on firm snow and icy crusts. At Bentgate we offer a variety of crampons that may be suitable depending on your objectives -- in general, the two types of crampons used in ski mountaineering are ski crampons and boot crampons. Ski crampons attach to ski bindings and are used for low-angle movement across glaciers, snowfields, and wind-compacted snow. Boot crampons are needed for steeper terrain on soft/firm snow and are also suitable for ice, depending on the crampon and the hardness of the ice. Before purchasing crampons anywhere, make sure that you check the fit of the crampon-boot combination you plan to use.
Boot crampons are worn on the bottom of a ski boot (or mountaineering boot) and offer the highest level of security and climbing ability on steep snow and alpine ice. When choosing a crampon, you should consider a variety of factors: front point configuration, attachment style (binding between crampon and boot), and material construction. For ski mountaineering, glacier travel, and general mountaineering, you almost always want a dual-point, light-weight crampon that gives good purchase in both soft and firm snow without weighing you down on the approach. My personal favorites are shown in the table at the right and include a ski mountaineering specific crampon (CAMP XLC Nanotech Semi-auto) and a light general mountaineering crampon (Black Diamond Sabretooth Clip).
When looking at the multitude of crampon options, you might notice the wide design and performance differences between the various models. Crampons range from minimalist, ultralight ski mountaineering crampons to durable, general mountaineering crampons to aggressive crampons for vertical ice, mixed and dry tooling. To help navigate the different options here is a table of the primary factors to think about when considering boot crampons.
|Front Point Configuration||When climbing couloirs, I prefer to use a crampon with dual, horizontal front points as they tend to perform better on both soft and firm snow. Shorter, dual front points also tend to walk more naturally.|
|Attachment Style /Boot Compatibility||Although automatic crampons are slightly lighter, properly adjusted semi-auto or strap crampons will perform equally well on soft to firm snow and most ice. Not all crampons fit all boots equally - see how crampons fit your boots before you purchase. Strap crampons give you the most versatility and can be used on boots that lack heel and toe welts.|
|Material Construction||Although I prefer chromoly steel crampons for ice climbing and general mountaineering, stainless steel and aluminum crampons are both good options for travel over and up both soft and firm snow on steeper angles. When you only need crampons to climb a couloir or for snow travel, aluminum is the lightest but may deform when contacting rock.|
For most snow and alpine ice climbing, carrying boot crampons gives an extra layer of safety and confidence; however, for ski mountaineering or glacier travel, ski crampons can provide better comfort and speed and allow the skier to maintain glide and fluid motion over low angle terrain. It’s not a bad idea to carry both if you are climbing/skiing peaks and larger objectives.
Ski crampons attach to the bindings on your ski and engage when stepping down on that ski. This allows grip and traction on your stationary ski while allowing glide on the motionary ski during each step. Ski crampons provide traction and improved security on icy and firm low-angle sections (up to about 20-25 degrees) but do not provide the grip needed to safely ascend steeper slopes -- having to switch from skis to crampons in a steep, firm section after slipping with ski crampons is dangerous and should be avoided by an earlier transition to boot crampons. Planning transitions saves time and improves safety.
Although aftermarket and third-party options for ski crampons exist, I suggest using the manufacturer-supplied ski crampons for the Dynafit, G3, and Marker bindings carried by Bentgate. These options, shown below with the Radical 2.0, Ion, and Kingpin bindings have secure attachments and allow for nearly frictionless pivot on each step. Keeping the ski crampons sharp insures penetration and minimizes the amount of force needed for each step.
|Dynafit Ski Crampons, $74.95||G3 Ion Crampons, $59.95||Marker Kingpin Crampons, $99.00|
Crampons for boots and skis have come a long way from the days of heavy, clunky pieces of metal. Modern crampons offer the user the ability to climb steeper lines on snow and ice faster and with better security. Putting on crampons and transitioning remain essential, but the variety of modern ski and boot crampon options gives you the ability to access a variety of terrain with minimal weight and wasted time.
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