Winter belaying

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Whether you are an ice climber, ski tourer or winter mountaineer, you’ll be more than aware that frozen ropes, and snow clogged karabiners, can make winter belaying a totally different game from summer cragging! At our mountain store in Windermere, we’ve been asked by lots of you recently what the best device(s) are for winter ropework.

For skiers a belay device is rarely required on any of the classic ski tours in the Alps, including the Haute Route and Silvretta tours, as an Italian hitch would suffice in most cases where required. This saves you carrying extra technical kit, and reduces your pack weight. Don’t worry if you are on one of our guided trips, as the guides always carry a belay device for the team.

If you are ice climbing or winter mountaineering, a figure of 8 is good if using very frozen ropes, but we don’t recommend it in terms of the lack of rope control that it offers. We do not stock them for this reason. Twin slot belay devices such as the Black Diamond ATC or Cassin Piu, offer far greater rope control, and help reduce rope kinking or twisting. They also help de-ice frozen ropes.

On simple snow climbs or routes in winter, a belay device may not be necessary, as snow belays such as stompers or bucket seats do not require a belay device at all, and buried axe belays work well with an Italian hitch. As you can see, there’s a balance to be achieved between rope control, the type of activity, and practicality. For further advice see; belay devices.

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