Walk on Snow
Successful snow travel hinges on your ability to understand the terrain and move efficiently across it. Colorado Mountain School guide Ian Fowler shares his tips for conquering the fourth season.
1. Duck walk On slight, slippery inclines, splay your feet outward to maximize surface contact. Take wide steps and kick into the slope with the inside edge of your foot for better purchase.
2. Go American When the slope gets too steep for flatfooted travel to feel secure, use the American step to keep going straight up: Face uphill, splay one foot outward (like the duck walk, above) and kick in with the other toe. Alternate sides when one leg tires.
3. Kick steps For booting up short steeps in soft snow, kick twice, perpendicular to the slope, to create a platform for your foot. Straighten your rear leg after each step to lengthen contracted muscles and “rest” your weight on your bones.
4. Go French On steep, hard snow, save energy (and your calves) with the French step. Make long switchbacks and use a crossover step to avoid wearing out your uphill leg. Point both feet slightly downhill to ensure maximum surface contact (wear crampons). Bring your back foot around, planting it uphill and in front of your leading foot. Use an ice axe for balance.
Plunge step For straightdown descents in soft snow, face outward from the slope. Ram your heel into the snow and point your toes to the sky.
Stomp it out In firm snow, splay your feet (duck walkstyle) and stamp. “Keep a flex in your knees and your nose over your toes,” Fowler says. Switchback on steeps, and face the slope if you feel insecure.
Tip Downward momentum gives falls more consequence. Stay alert, and check for loose straps, clothing, and laces.