Every year, more people are getting into the backcountry to escape the inbounds ski crowds. The longer days and firmer snow of spring tours bring a new perspective to skiing as the playing field expands, and skiers can disperse even further into the mountains. In our neck of the woods, the experienced ski mountaineer can often find great snow through July. The tools of the game may change, though, and one needs to decide whether to carry avalanche gear vs. glacier travel gear or both. And as the snowpack changes, ski crampons and whippets may also become essential.
In the North Cascades, ski crampons might be your best friend. Ski crampons do not replace skins for going uphill but augment the skin’s traction during alpine starts or at higher elevations. In slushy conditions, when traversing a mushy slope, they act as a sort of keel and keep the ski from drifting to the side, thus saving energy.
For ski mountaineering or longer traverses, the question is not about whether to bring crampons but which crampons to bring. Whenever possible, I’ll drop boot crampons in favor of ski crampons. I rarely see the need to bring both, as ski crampons are lighter and more efficient in anything but the steepest terrain. Just make sure the crampon is compatible with both the binding and the waist width of your ski.
Backcountry Essentials, owned by Chris Gerston, is an outdoor specialty shop located at 214 W. Holly in Bellingham, WA.