Tech Tip – Ice – Use your head … and your feet

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Regardless of how much better ice-climbing equipment gets — better tools, easier-to-place screws, heel spurs, or better clothing — ice climbing has a different learning curve than rock, and, in general, it’s best not to fall off. Trial, error, and experience are the keys to improvement. Here are a few tips to help you along the curve.Tip your lid, you’ll be glad you did. Dodging dinner plates of ice is a dangerous part of ice climbing. Like any dodge game, you’re bound to take some hits, but where you take your lumps is the real concern. Use your helmet for what it was designed for — taking impacts. To be combat ready, your helmet’s front brim should be positioned just above your eyebrows and securely positioned on your head. Always be alert for the sights and sounds of ice breaking loose — these are your best warnings that you’re about to contend with falling ice. Next time you’re swinging and a piece of ice comes loose, tilt your head down and slightly towards the arm that’s swinging. If done properly, the brim of your helmet should end up just lower than your eye’s horizontal plane. This is a subtle movement — tip your head too far forward and you expose your cervical spine; tip it too little and the ice might hit your face. Looking up with your eyes while maintaining the tipped-brim position allows you to see, and keeps you protected.Perpendicular and flat make crampon placements fat. Unlike in rock climbing where we often stand on our tip-toes, sound crampon placements result from keeping your feet flat so your crampons remain horizontal. Standing on your toes brings your heels up, forcing your front points down, possibly causing them to sheer. To avoid the whip, keep your heels level with, or, lower than, your front points. This angle of attack provides the most secure crampon placement, and brings your secondary points closer to the ice. This is obvious when you’re kicking straight in front of you, but what happens when you need to kick out to either side? More often than not, kicking to the side leaves your inside points touching and the outside points barely contacting ice. To counter this, move your heel away from your body by rotating the top of your leg inside your hip’s ball-and-socket joint. Your foot and front points should now be perpendicular to the ice. As you kick, remember to keep your toes up and your heel low, allowing both the front points and the secondary points to hit the ice.Kicking with a stiffy to clear a bulge. Clearing an ice bulge can be difficult. Kicking in the typical manner (where your knee joint acts as a hinge) almost always leaves your front points pointing downwards, not straight in. Rather than using your knee like a hinge, gently lock it, lift the front of your crampons up and swing your leg from the hip. Ideally, your knee remains stiff throughout the motion, keeping your toes higher than your heels, which helps engage your front and secondary points at the moment of impact.David Roetzel lives in Avon, Colorado, with his wife and two children. He teaches and guides rock and ice climbing year round in the Vail area through his company, Vail Rock and Ice Guides.

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