Winter Mountaineering Skills Course

Climbing Sierra peaks in the summer months is usually a warm, casual experience but ascending the same peak during winter can be a totally different proposition. Snow, cold temperatures, wind, short days, and avalanche hazard conspire to make a more serious and difficult climb.

We have designed this course to give you a sample of the full winter experience, from steep ice to deep snow to a Sierra summit.

Our peak objective, Crystal Crag, allows travel to a base camp in terrain that will not be shut down by avalanche danger if we get significant storms and is somewhere that also allows you to experience the wonders of the beautiful Lakes Basin in the Mammoth area. Crystal Crag’s west ridge might be an easy climb in the Sierra summer but in big boots, snow cover and exposure to the winds sweeping across the Sierra Crest it will be a challenge for everyone but one that will get you excited for more winter experiences.


We do the first two days at a one guide to six participants ratio. When climbing rock or ice this allows us to operate two ropes with a climber, a belayer and a backup belayer. For the peak ascent we add another guide dropping the ratio to one guide to 3 climbers.


This is our ideal schedule but since this is a winter trip there may well be changes depending upon the weather. So please keep this in mind and be prepared to adapt. Not matter what our goal is to give you a learning experience.

Day 1

We will spend the first day working on rope techniques and snow skills, getting used to climbing snowy rock in big boots and making sure that everyone is up to speed on the basics before we head into the mountains. We will also cover the basics of avalanche beacon use and rescue.

Day 2

A day of ice climbing at June Lake or Lee Vining. While we probably will not be climbing anything this steep on Crystal Crag this day gives you the confidence to take on the less steep snow and ice we might encounter on our ascent.

Day 3

We approach our camp from the Lakes Basin trailhead just out of Mammoth. We start out on a groomed ski trail for several miles and then head to camp near Crystal Crag. We work on digging a solid camp protected from the weather and get into the details of camp life that can make any winter trip enjoyable

Day 4

Carefully assessing and discussing the avalanche danger, we make our way to the col at the base of the West Ridge. From here we connect snow ramps, short rock steps along the ridge crest, moving together or in pitches until we gain the summit. From here we enjoy fantastic views over Mammoth, Sherwin Ridge and far into the desert beyond the White Mountains before following our footsteps back to camp. We break camp and return to the trailhead, aiming for a late afternoon arrival back at the cars.

Program Prerequisites:

Prior rock climbing experience will enhance your enjoyment of this course. At a minimum you should know how to tie into a rope and be familiar with belaying. If you are not familiar with these then spend an hour or two at a local gym to get up to speed. We will review belay skills prior to the start of the climbing and coach movement through out the program. Prior camping skills are required, but not necessarily in winter. You can travel on skis or snowshoes for this trip; most people however choose snowshoes. If traveling on skis, you need to be proficient; this is not a ski skills course. We have snowshoes available for rent and can coordinate ski rentals with Mammoth Mountaineering Supply.

Program Inclusions:

Price includes guiding, permits, all necessary climbing group gear, avalanche beacons, tents, kitchen gear and dinners, lunches and breakfasts while in the mountains (you bring snack items and your favorite hot drinks).
For this trip we split our time between front country and backcountry with some time spent in town. We do not include the following: hotel/motel on days one and two, meals on days one, two and morning of day 3. On Day 3 we include lunch and dinner; on Day 4 we include breakfast and lunch.

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.

PDF Maps:


Rental Equipment:

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