/ Getting started in Alpine winter climbing.

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JimboMac on 17 Aug 2013
Can anyone suggest any cost effective methods for learning the necessary techniques for getting started in winter alpine climbing (summer alpine climbing hasn't got the same pull for me and if i have to choose - which according to the wife i do - then winter wins).

I've looked at some of the popular courses available like the one by ISM but at nearly 2000 for a week that's pretty crippling.

Any ideas appreciated.
akana - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to JimboMac: Start with books and video. Then you'll learn faster when on a course. The BMC has some good videos!
timjones - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to JimboMac:
> Can anyone suggest any cost effective methods for learning the necessary techniques for getting started in winter alpine climbing (summer alpine climbing hasn't got the same pull for me and if i have to choose - which according to the wife i do - then winter wins).
>
> I've looked at some of the popular courses available like the one by ISM but at nearly 2000 for a week that's pretty crippling.
>
> Any ideas appreciated.

Can I ask why you want the Alps in winter? Climbing in the Alps in summer will be far better than any Scottish winter day IMO.
ice.solo - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to JimboMac:

depending on the course, a week can easily be worth the money. a good instructor, conditions and location can nail down stuff that takes much longer trying to pick it up elsewhere. also good if you dont have the gear so need to procure it every time, and can save a lot of the down time and basic access time that is the unspoken bane of winter alpine.
GridNorth - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to JimboMac: Winter alpinism is an order of magnitude more serious than summer and jumping straight into it is probably not a good idea. Can you ski? as that is something else that you have to consider. Getting to many of the climbs requires off-piste skiing skills. It can be done in snow shoes but this is a lot harder work and doesn't offer the benefit of getting down quick if the weather deteriorates.
Fultonius - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to JimboMac: Being someone who also jumped straight into alpine winter here are my thoughts:

1. It's cold, damn cold. Make sure you have a really decent pair of boots and soprt your glove system out. (Depending on the difficulty you may be best climbing in a good pair of light ski-touring boots.

2. You must be able to ski. Unless all you want to do is Alpine icefall climbing (which is not really alpine winter) then you will be skiing into and out of routes (certainly in the mont blanc massif).

3. It's quiet. You're much more likely to be able to get on the routes you want.

4. Stable weather. You can only really climb with a good forecast, but when it's good it's often good for a few days in a row and there's no risk of afternoon thunder.

2000 for a course in nothing compared to the costs of all the new equipment you'll have to buy.

Do you have any Scottish winter experience?


Having now done some summer alpine climbing it's definitely more chilled out, but I think I prefer winter for mixed/ice. Summer I mainly stick to rock.
JimboMac on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to Fultonius:

Thanks for the replies. It seems that the consensus is that there are no real viable alternatives for an alpine winter novice other than going down the established course route. Probably just going to have to suck up the cost.

To answer some of the replies - my skiing is of a reasonable standard having skied on and off for about 20 years. I have only had a few seasons of scottish winter climbing and plan to put some work in on that at an indoor ice wall that's recently opened about an hour from my house.

Fultonius - as someone who has jumped right into winter alpine through an established course is there a company / course you can recommend. What routes and grades did you manage to cover during your course? Was there any other additional expenses that upped the total price significantly?

Thanks for the help. Much appreciated from everyone
Fultonius - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to JimboMac: Sorry, you've got the wrong end of the stick - I've never done a climbing course in my life!

I had 5 Scottish winter seasons, doing routes up to VI under my belt, plenty multi-pitch rock climbing experience and 2 ice climbing trips(La Grave and Rjuken). I live in Chamonix so just went at got stuck in. I probably wouldn't recommned this approach but it worked for us! (Our first route was a bit of an epic as we didn't really understand the grading, underestimated the cold, the difficulties with aclimitisation and the "1 hour jot" back to the Midi cable car took 6 hours in the dark...
Simon4 - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to JimboMac: Am I missing something? As far as I can see, the ISM do NOT offer any courses in Winter Alpinism, and I would be very surprised if anyone does. It is so serious that people need to be self-selecting, and I would have thought would certainly need to have ample Alpine Summer experience, as on the face of it, the Alps in Winter no more suitable for learning basic Alpinism than Scotland in Winter is suitable for learning basic ropework.

Unless you know something I don't, I would have thought the only possibility of getting instruction would be by directly hiring a guide, and I would have thought they would be pretty picky about chosing their clients and suitable routes.

I must confess however that I have never really done any Winter Alpinism, though a few Winter ski-tours.
EwanR on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to Simon4:
> (In reply to JimboMac) Am I missing something? As far as I can see, the ISM do NOT offer any courses in Winter Alpinism,

http://www.alpin-ism.com/courses/iceclimbing/wintermountaineering.cfm

It's a bit of an odd one though...

"We climb routes up to Alpine AD+."

"... and use snowshoes to approach the hut, get around on the glacier and to access the routes."

AD+ is a perfectly skiable snow slope and using snowshoes is going to be rather tedious.

It all depends on what one means by "alpine winter climbing" as ski in / ski out goulottes with abseil descents aren't anywhere near as engaging as north faces with a tricky descent.
Simon4 - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to EwanR: Seems you are right, I didn't spot that.

I am amazed though, as it seems such a chancy (and I would have thought uneconomic) thing to offer. I notice they seem to require Winter Alpine ice-climbing as a pre-requisite, which is not very surprising, if it were me giving the course I would ask for at least Scottish Winter climbing as well.

I agree with what you say about selected goulottes, though that does of course imply enough skiing ability to approach and descend with a full Winter rack and food, pretty demanding of itself.
Simon4 - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to EwanR: Actually they DO require Scottish Winter III or equivalent, don't know if the OP has that.

The OP might be better advised to go for a ski-touring course in Spring.
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matt perks - on 18 Aug 2013
In reply to JimboMac: Quite a few of these comments seem a bit negative to me. I think some ice climbing skills are a pre-requisite and solid all-round climbing skills of course. If you don't think you can get up and down a valley ice-route at about Grade 4 then that's the first thing to achieve (either by working up the grades or doing a course - lots of ice-climbing courses available around the Alps). If you're at this standard then I would suggest starting with routes that you can ski in and out of as this means you can bail at any point. Get good info about routes - there are more options than the Chere Couloir - and have a poke at something suitable. I would echo earlier comments about ensuring your fingers and toes are warm enough, make sure the forecast is good, and be paranoid about avalanche conditions (in Scotland the snowpack usually settles quite quickly after storms but not so in the Alps).

In some ways the biggest difference between introducing yourself to the Alps in winter rather than summer is that in summer there are plenty of options for great mountaineering with low/no technical difficulty but in winter these routes normally only make sense as ski-mountaineering routes. That's another way in, since you ski you could do a ski-mountaineering course - lots of those available too. In fact, that might be a great option as it would cover all the mountaineering issues, which are hard to acquire by proxy, whereas the climbing issues are more-or-less the same whether you are in the valley, Scotland, or anywhere else.

If you do pick a course then make sure it's slanted towards learning skills rather than pure guiding. You probably need to have a proper conversation with the provider to check this is what they are offering. If you go with a BMG guide on a 1:1 then you can specify what you want to do, and this is an advantage over an advertised course. You could bring the cost down by finding like-minded individual(s) on here.

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