After a long day of mountain climbing, the descent can be both knee-jarring and painful. However, glissading down low-angle snowfields offers you an easy and super-fast way to lose hundreds of feet of elevation in a couple of minutes while offering a welcome rest for the joints.
Glissading refers to sliding down a slope of ice or snow with the support of an ice ax. While the definition suggests that the activity is simple, this may not be the case for beginners. For inexperienced mountaineers, the seemingly harmless and fun way to slide down the mountain can easily become dangerous.
The last thing any mountaineer would want is to trip and start tumbling downhill uncontrollably. To help you get down safely while staying in control, we will focus on showing you how to glissade.
To glissade, the climber will sit on his butt, lean back a little bit with his or her feet out in front and the legs bent slightly. If the slope angle is not steep enough, the climber will have to scoot forward using his/her feet. As the climber starts picking up speed while descending, he/she will have to use the mountaineering boots heels and ice ax to stay in control and to maintain a manageable speed.
To keep your bum dry, it is a good idea to wear some waterproof mountaineering pants. However, it is worth noting that these will lower the friction and hence increasing speed – this makes the waterproof shell pants ideal for low angle slopes.
In addition to having an ice ax, you should wear a pair of waterproof gloves and a high-quality helmet. The later is not for helping you stay warm on the snow; they are for protection. Snow can be surprisingly abrasive and a pair of gloves will protect your hands. The helmet will protect your head in the case of an accident.
Things to Keep in Mind When Learning How to Glissade
Keep Your Legs Bent
Glissade tracks are wilder and different than the corduroy groomers you may have encountered at your favorite ski resort. The slope angle and variable snow conditions are the objective factors that determine your speed. However, having responsive and loose legs will help you react more quickly to small surprises.
Locked joints and completely straight legs transmit any force directly into the knees and the rest of the body, resulting in sprained and jammed joints. Keeping the legs bent acts as a shock absorber, helping dissipate the force gently through the muscle – this will help you save your precious body parts.
Use the Ice Axe the Right Way
When learning how to glissade, most climbers tend to make one common mistake – using the ice ax wrong. Apart from making glissading less effective, using the ice ax wrongly can lead to injuries.
You should run the ax diagonally across the torso, with its head up near your shoulder and the spike (available at the bottom of your ax) pointing down to the snow next to the hip. Either direction can work for you, however, it is usually easier to maneuver with the dominant hand on the ax’s head.
If you find yourself in a self-arrest situation, the dominant hand will have the most control and power over the ice ax. The thumb will cradle the adze, which should be pointed toward your chest, and the fingers go over the top of the pick, which should be facing away from your body.
With one hand just above the ax’s spike and the other wrapped around the head, this setup should serve as the primary brake when you dip it periodically into a snowpack. If the speed happens to get out of hand, simply roll your body over towards the pick side, so that you are lying on top of the ice ax and digging the ax’s pick into the snow – this will help you execute a self-arrest by putting your full body weight onto the pick and kicking the toes into the snow.
If you forget to bring your ice ax, you shouldn’t glissade. However, if the snow surface and slope angle are moderate enough and you decide to glissade without the ice ax, use trekking poles, a couple of rocks in both hands, or a nut tool for a fairly effective way to control your speed. For stopping power, you will have to dig all these tools as deep as you possibly can.
Understand the Speed Limit
Going fast is fun. However, when glissading, too much speed can be fatal – you may end up with major injuries or it can easily kill you. Most glissade paths have little divots and washboard dips that can easily jostle or bounce the climber out of control. Periodically, do a speed check to make sure that this does not happen. To check your speed, simply dig the heels and spike the ice ax into the snow until you feel you are at a comfortable speed.
Personal speed depends on both your confidence and skill in self-arresting. For example, if you are learning how to glissade, your speed should be much slower compared to an experienced glissader. However, as a general rule, when you find that you are reaching speeds where you find yourself bouncing and losing snow contact, come to a stop before you start again.
Avoid Crampons and Microspikes
The toothless heels on your mountaineering boots will work fine to help you control your speed. Crampons and microspikes, on the other hand, tend to catch on hidden debris, rocks, or ice under the top snow layer. The resulting abrupt stop can easily send you tomahawking down the slope, head over heels – this can result in fatal injuries.
During the slide, ditch the crampons but be sure to keep them accessible in your climbing backpack. You may need to use the crampons or microspikes to continue with the descent when sliding down becomes impossible.
Prevent Yard Sales
Hiking up a mountain is tiring. Fatigue often takes over when you reach the summit and most people often forget to pack their backpack correctly and ensure it is safely attached to their back before they start to glissade.
Use the compression straps – one of the most important parts of a backpack – to ensure that your pack is tightened down into a completely compact bundle with nothing loose strapped to its outside. If you have to leave something outside, be sure to run a pack strap through it so that it stays with you. These objects can easily detach during the glissade – this will force you to trek up to retrieve them on a potentially hazardous slope.
You should consider wearing a hip-belt so that the climbing backpack moves with your body. This should keep it from becoming a problem as you move down on the snow.
Conditions to Consider When You Glissade
1. Snow Conditions
If possible, try to analyze the descent when climbing up the mountain. This should help you figure out whether the snow conditions are ideal for the glissade or not.
If the snowpack seems icy or bulletproof at all, take a long rest and allow it to become slushy – glissade only after the sun has softened the snow sufficiently. To consider the snow ideal for the glissade, you should leave boot prints of at least 2 inches deep. This, however, may vary depending on how steep the angle is and personal comfort.
2. Snow Slides
Most climbers glissade later in the day after the snow becomes soft as a result of baking in the sun. In these conditions, the disturbance that results from the glissade can easily trigger an avalanche. Suddenly, you will be rolling on a snow carpet and it will be almost impossible to control your speed using your ice ax.
If the snow happens to be moving with you, stop and allow the mass to move ahead. If it is impossible to stop, barrel roll out of the ice carpet by flinging both arms in a helicopter motion and rolling out to the side of the slide’s path. Using your hands and ax, claw out to stable snow.
3. Check the Runout
Though the slope may seem viable at first, your ride can end abruptly in a cliff, a pile of jagged rocks, or a crevasse. If it is impossible to view the entire glissade path, do not glissade. Be wary of glaciated terrain since crevasses are usually more difficult to spot.
Globo Surf Overview
Glissading is one of the enjoyable bonuses of mountain climbing. Offering the easiest, fastest, and most exhilarating way down snowy slopes, it is well worth the effort. In this article, we have shown you how to glissade.
Controlling your speed, and wearing safety gear is one of the best ways to make sure that you do not end up hurting yourself while sliding down the slope. Keep in mind that avalanches and runouts featuring rocks, cliffs, and crevasses can turn your fun glissade into a nightmare. Hence, inspecting your route beforehand is extremely important.