The Ice Axe can be used by alpinists, ice climbers high-country trekkers, as well as ski mountaineers on winter expeditions. It is used to support and balance yourself on steep slopes, to self-arrest in the event of a fall or snow slide is imminent, and as a retrievable snow anchor during rappelling down a pitch.
There are many types of ice-axes. The best one for you is determined by your budget, size, and activity. You can compare the length, weight and shape of ice-axes in order to choose the best one for your needs.
Buying Your First Ice Axe head is a broad part of an ice-axe. It is comprised of a pick, an adze, or hammer. The axe head is generally constructed of steel and is designed to cut through snow, while the hammer or adze helps you move the snow around inside the head of the ice-axe for greater traction and stability.
The spike at the base of the shaft is a sharp edge which penetrates snow for stability, balance and safety. It’s also a great option to grasp the shaft of the Ice Axe while you hold it in your hands.
The axe shaft is the thing you hold when you are using an ice axe, and is made of metal, like carbon fiber or aluminium. These metals conduct heat very well, and allow the extreme cold of a winter mountain climate to be dispersed away from the body of the user.
Axe Head Types
There are two main types of Ice axe heads: neutral curved and positive curve. The majority of general mountaineering picks include a positive curve. This is the most sought-after design due to its self-arrest capabilities and its ability to climb moderate slopes.
However, if you’re more into technical climbing on ice, then go for the neutral curved design. It is easier to swing, and removes ice faster than the positive curvature style.
Hybrid ice axes (or “general-mountaineering/technical-ice-climbing”) combine the features of both types, so they are suitable for both steep snow and mixed rock-and-ice climbing. They are generally shorter than a technical-ice-climbing axe and are more forgiving in snow and less prone to cracks when used in steeper ice.
Typically, a hybrid ice axe will have a recurve pick and will be designed to be more comfortable to hold than a technical-ice-climbing style axe. They are also lighter than the traditional axes that are neutral-curved and can be used in a variety of situations. This might be appealing to those who prefer the ergonomics and performance of traditional mountaineering tools or a technical ice climbing tools.
How to Self-Arrest Using an Ice Axe
When you are preparing to make use of an ice axe practice self-arresting by standing in your winter hiking boots with the spike at the base of the axe’s head pointing to your rear and your thumb resting on the head. Have someone take a measurement of the distance from the point of your thumb to your ankle (about one inch or 2.5cm).
It is essential to place the ice pick in the snow before you fall. This is the only method to stop your fall and avoid falling hundreds of feet downhill.