Snow Travel Skills

The use of an ice axe and crampons is fundamental to not only the mountaineer, but also to anyone who wants to be able to move with comfort and safety in the mountains under any conditions. For the backcountry hiker, this course provides the skills needed to safely cross snowy passes and to deal with the mountain snowfields often found in the summer (especially after a heavy winter).

Those mountaineers with ambitions of climbing the world’s higher peaks will also gain confidence as we work through skills such as self-arrest, crampon technique, and belaying on snow.


high-sierra-climbing-super-topoSMC will provide helmets and group climbing gear. You need crampons, ice axe and a harness with carabiners and a belay device (which we rent if you need, contact us before the course). Food and lodging are not included in the course. We have mountaineering boots available for rental. Please refer to the equipment list for more information. For background reading, we recommend the classic “Freedom of the Hills” written and published by The Mountaineers.

For background reading we recommend the classic bible “Freedom of the Hills” written and published by The Mountaineers.

There are many lodging options in the Mammoth and Lee Vining area, including hotels and camping. Check campground opening dates online, or call ahead if you are not sure; openings vary each year due to differing snow levels and conditions.

We highly recommend that you spend at least one night at moderate altitude (higher than 8,000) just prior to the trip. Though we are not hiking far, we will be constantly active during the day. Being acclimatized will help you feel better during the day, allowing you to learn and practice the skills more efficiently. Spending a night in Mammoth would do the trick or better yet, camped at an even higher trailhead or campsite. There are campsites along Highway 120 on the way to Tioga Pass; check snow conditions and when they open before arriving. Please refer to our Planning for Success info sheet for more information.

Return to Summer Mountaineering Programs

We conduct this course at Ellery Bowl off of Highway 120 towards Tioga Pass, between Lee Vining and Yosemite. Here any number of late season snow patches will be our classroom for the day and hopefully we’ll be within five or ten minutes walk of the vehicles.Since the snow is usually firm first thing in the morning we’ll start with crampon skills and work into the snow skills as the snow softens.

During the day we aim to cover, discuss and practice the following skills:

  • An overview of the various types of crampons and how to fit them to boots
  • An overview of ice axes
  • Proper use of the ice axe for balance
  • Step kicking
  • Step cutting
  • Various techniques for ascending and descending snow slopes
  • Self-arrest
  • Snow anchors and belaying from them

Program Prerequisites:

No prior climbing experience but prior backpacking and wilderness travel beneficial. You should be fit and prepared to spend the day climbing up short slopes at altitude (likely above 8,000’), and sliding back down them, and climbing up them, and sliding down them.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, all necessary group climbing gear and helmet if you do not have one. Local accommodation is not included in the program.

Please Read before you go

We feel the following information is essential... (links open as PDF in new window)

  1. Details, itinerary, and equipment list for your trip
  2. SMC Cancellation Policy
  3. Suggestions on preparation - get the most out of your trip!
  4. Tips on physical training for your trip
  5. LNT - Let's work together to protect our precious mountain environment.

Rental Equipment:

Need to rent equipment for your trip? We can help.