This article is to share some tools I have gathered over my short stint in ski mountaineering. This sport has quickly became my main focus and passion in life, so hopefully what I have to share will be useful to others, as I have found these tools incredibly beneficial for my days in the mountains. I strongly believe that even traditional mountaineers will find some of these tools useful to their arsenal.
Sometimes skinning on the snow is not always a viable option. While skinning is one of the most efficient ways to move in the alpine (condition dependent), it is ocassionally less efficient than booting. This is due to a combination of the terrain being too steep, rocky or sometimes the snow is just too deep! The two tools I have found to be incredible useful in my kit for snow travel are Verts, a lightweight snowshoe for ski & snowboard boots, or Billy Goat Ascent Plates, a crampon compatible plate that acts as an extra layer of floatation.
Verts - When the powder is deep and the snow is steep! These are my go-to tool. Essentially verts are just plastic snowshoes with webbing that is cinched down to a ski or snowboard boot. They work with mountaineering boots as well. The benefit of verts is they are lighter and more transportable than snowshoes. They work in everything from a breakable crust to waist deep powder. Verts have small plastic spikes on the bottom, which allow for improved traction on slightly icy bed surfaces. These baby snowshoes are perfect for areas such as the Wasatch Range, in Utah. They excel in non-technical chutes and couloirs with ALOT of snow.
Verts weigh approximately 750grams each (1.2lbs), which are a bit heavy for my liking. If you are trying to shave weight, I modified my verts by drilling 10 holes with a circular saw (be careful not to drill into the ridges at the bottom). This shaved approximately 300grams off each. Verts do not excel if traversing in steep snow, they are mainly a tool for ascending STRAIGHT up and do not excel in rocky terrain, or there is an ice crust underneath. For more technical terrain, Billy Goat Ascent Plates will be far more useful.
Billy goats were designed for use in ranges such as the Tetons, Sierras, Coast Range, Alaska Range. They are great when the snow is still deep, but traction with crampons is desirable. In addition, they are easy to pack and relatively lightweight. Each plate weights approximately 375grams (~.8lbs). If there is any chance of hitting rock, the aluminum plates are certainly desirable as opposed to plastic verts.
This is one of my favorite tools in the springtime or on very steep snow (45+DEG). Designed by Andrew McClean, a local Wasatch ski mountaineer, the whippet has become very popular for ski mountaineers. A whippet is essentially a baby ice axe fused onto a trekking pole. For ski mountaineers, this allows you to substitute an ice axe when the terrain doesn't necessarily warrant a true axe, but is steep enough that you would like some comfort. I have self arrested with a whippet, and yes, it worked! Note: This is not a replacement for an ice axe in certain terrain.... The limitations need to be understood. It is certainly nice to have a pole with the ability to sink into snow when it gets steep.
While I don't always utilize ski leashes, there are times when these are one of the most critical safety pieces for a ski mountaineer. Losing a ski can be a serious mistake when time is critical, as it usually is in the mountains. Leashes attach to a binding and hook onto a ski boot in case of an ejection or for extra security when putting skis on. In addition, losing a ski in deep powder is incredibly stressful, and you will likely lose a ski. The true solution? Don't fall! However, I suck.... So sometimes, I fall :) Note: leashes can also be dangerous in certain instances, for example, if you take a fall and your binding ejects, you now have a ski attached to your boot, which will flop around and most likely hit you... Many times.
These are awesome universal solutions to many problems. They are nylon straps which have the ability to cinch down nearly anything. The straps were originally designed by Voile, but have since been created by many different companies. Typical uses are for carrying skis, cinching down a ski boot to a ski in case of binding failure, securing climbing skins to a ski in case of glue/tail clip failure, attaching objects to a pack and even use as an emergency tourniquet(!!). On single day outings, I usually always bring two voile straps in my kit.
While this is a tool you hopefully never have to use, I always carry this in my pack. It's one of the best 'emergency' pieces out there. The InReach is a two way sattelite messenger, with many functions such as SOS, two way text message communication, weather updates, location tracking and more. The mini is the lightweight version of the classic InReach, and can be used to pair with a phone app for easy texting. My experience with this device is as follows: It potentially saved my partner from losing his arm. He had fallen into a crevasse deep in the Karakoram in Pakistan and dislocated his shoulder. I was unable to get his shoulder back into its socket, so we used the InReach to call in a rescue. While it took 3 days for the rescue to be carried out, if we didn't have this tool, it would have been a 4-5 day hike out. I also used this device in the Alaska Range for weather updates and sanity from boredom during storms. Subscriptions are relatively cheap ($20-40/month). Simple lesson - It works & I will always carry this device with me in the future. It weighs 100grams (~3.5ounces, 0.25lbs), not bad for the potential to save someones life.
Ski mountaineering is a niche sport, but it is an efficient way to travel in the mountains, given the proper tools. New products are constantly being developed as the popularity grows and having the right tools for the job can make or break your ascents, descents and safety. I'm sure I will be updating this page as I think of more items that I use or discover. Feel free to suggest any tools that you have found useful. Hope this helps for those gaining a budding interest in the sport, or even for mountaineers finding themselves in need of solutions!