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.

Backpacker - - CHEAT SHEET -


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.

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