What are Ski Boots? They’re the heavy, thick-soled, ankle-high skiing shoes, often with padding and additional supporting straps and laces around the ankle, as well as grooves at the bottom of the heel. They connect your body to your skis, determining your overall performance, comfort, and enjoyment of the sport.
Can I use ski boots for Ice Climbing? Yes, you can ice climb in ski boots, but it will be more difficult than in mountaineering boots. As long as you bring the proper equipment, ski boots or alpine touring boots will work perfectly fine for ice climbing.
Ski boots provide the necessary support for ice climbing due to their rigid soles.
Ice Climbing in Ski Boots
As I said before, It is entirely possible to climb ice in ski boots. I would never recommend that someone who is just starting out in ice climbing buy a pair of ski boots designed specifically for vertical ice. While you can climb in them, they aren’t as good as mountaineering boots for technical ice, so you shouldn’t buy a pair of ski boots just for ice climbing.
People practice the ice climb sport in ski boots for one of two reasons:
- They don’t want to carry extra equipment: Bringing an extra pair of boots with you on a long ski-touring approach or an alpine route can be a major pain. Using your ski boots on ice saves you pack weight and the hassle of changing your boots while waist-deep in snow.
- They’re new to the sport and already have ski boots: I’d wager that more people own skiing boots than ice climbing boots. If you just want to go for a casual crag day with your friends, or if you want to try out the sport without having to buy a lot of new equipment, ice climbing boots will suffice.
Those who are used to ice climbing in mountaineering boots, ski boots, or alpine touring boots may feel strange and different, and it may be more difficult to perform some of the more technical moves.
- Less Pieces of Equipment: This is one of the primary advantages of ice climbing in ski boots. If you’re ski mountaineering or have a long approach and want to go cross-country, bringing only one pair of boots saves time and weight. Furthermore, changing your boots in frigid alpine weather is inconvenient, and you don’t have to do so if you can simply strap your crampons onto your ski boots.
- More Affordable/cheaper: You don’t need to go out and buy a $600 piece of climbing footwear if you already have ski boots. You also don’t have to worry about sizing, finding the right boots, and then breaking them in just to go ice climbing because you already own the boot.
- Easier to penetrate the ice: Ski boots are heavy, as anyone who has worn them before can attest. When swinging with your kicks, the extra weight on your foot can add a lot of power to the movement and make it easier to drive your crampon home. The weight can also help your feet get stuck in the ice. Overall, wearing ice climbing boots can provide you with more secure foot placements.
- More warmth and comfort: Ice climbing boots are large and form-fitting. Because of the stiffness of the ankle and the firmness with which your foot is held in place, you’re less likely to drive your toes into the front of the boot(while kicking), which can save you a lot of bruising and pain.
- Can be harder to find crampons: Because not every pair of crampons on the market will fit over a pair of ice climbing boots, your options when shopping may be limited. This can be aggravating if you find a pair of crampons that meet all of your requirements but are incompatible or do not fit well with your ski boots.
- Harder to be precise with your footwork: While ice climbing boots are heavier, allowing you to kick harder and keep your feet warmer, you also lose a lot of sensitivity in your foot. This can make it more difficult to find good placements and to test how good they are. Thin ice that necessitates good footwork, as well as mixed routes with tiny holds, will be more difficult to climb precisely.
- Reduced flexibility: Ski boots are made of a stiff shell that does not allow for much ankle flexibility. This makes complex moves or different ice climbing methods more difficult; for example, you will be unable to do any French-technique ice climbing on lower terrain.
- Easier to get fatigued: According to the old adage, a pound on the foot is worth three on the back. Ski boots are heavy, and moving around in them all day can tire you out faster than mountaineering boots.
- Harder on the approach: People who want to use their ski boots in places where they walk on the approach can find them extremely inconvenient. Walking in them is inconvenient, slow, and clumsy; you’ll probably need to bring a pair of approach boots with you, which means you’ll have to change out of them.
These were some of the advantages and disadvantages of ice climbing in ski boots. With that out of the way, let’s get into some of the specific gear choices you’ll want to make.
Not all ski boots are created equal. Alpine Touring boots (AT boots), according to the ice climbing community, are the best choice for hybrid skiing/ice climbing missions.
Alpine touring boots are a subset of ski boots designed for backcountry adventures. Unlike downhill ski boots, which are all rigid plastic and designed solely for descending, AT boots are designed to be used for both skis touring and descending. This allows them to be more flexible, natural to walk in and less cumbersome than traditional ski boots.
When shopping for crampons, the most important thing to look for is ones with a metal toe bail.
A toe bail is a metal loop on the front of the crampon that swings over the toe of your boot and secures it. This keeps the crampon snugly in place, allowing you to kick and step confidently. When using ski boots, make sure the crampon has a wide enough bail to fit over the front.
Because not every pair of crampons will be compatible with ski boots, bringing them into the store and trying them on can be a good idea. If you are unsure, you can always ask a sales representative to assist you in finding something that works for you.
Ice climbing in ski boots is possible and fairly common in the community, but you should always conduct your own research and seek expert advice before making any decisions.