Fritschi Ski Crampons (2013)

Fritschi Diamir Ski Crampons

If you've ever tried skinning up a steep frozen slope in early morning, you know exactly what ski crampons are designed for: they give you more grip on hard snow.

Fritschi's ski crampons snap onto the longitudinal strut of their Diamir bindings, offering much-improved security on long, low-angled traverses across steep frozen corn. Ski crampons can prove invaluable in some situations, but to be honest I find I hardly ever use them. Why? The key word is "improved" security. Ski crampons will let you skin up significantly harder, steeper snow than skins alone. Like skins, however, ski crampons reach a point where they no longer find purchase on steep angles—especially if the snow's surface is uneven.

The result: you climb up into trouble, your ski crampons fail, and you take a much nastier tumble than you ever could have on skins alone. This exact scenario happened to me on Mount Whitney. I was merrily skinning along when I suddenly realized my ski crampons were on the verge of failing. As I tried to turn around to cut back to safer terrain, my ski crampons broke loose from the snow, and I took a big toboggan ride into a boulder field.

That doesn't mean ski crampons don't have their uses. You just have to be careful how you use them. Generally nowadays I keep a pair of regular crampons in my pack. If the snow gets steep and hard, I switch over to crampons. Carrying the extra weight of ski crampons therefore doesn't make much sense to me. Your results, of course, may vary.

In case I haven't closed the sale yet, there's one other detail I should mention—the design of Fritschi's standard ski crampons, like most snap-ons, causes the teeth of the crampons to rise as you deploy the heel elevator. At the heel elevator's highest setting, the crampons won't contact the snow at all, making them effectively useless (note: Fritschi's Axion ski crampon fixes this problem).

Reality Check: despite my griping, you will encounter situations in which ski crampons are essential. If, for example, you're skinning on a hard-but-thin crust, you may find it impossible to get traction without ski crampons—and if you switch to regular crampons, you'll punch through the crust and post-hole your way to slog hell. Also, if you plan on extended skinning in the dark, put the ski crampons in your pack. You'll be glad you did.

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When there is snow, SierraDescents is Andy Lewicky's California backcountry skiing and mountaineering website. Without snow, sierradescents becomes an ill-tempered hiking and climbing blog.

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