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Mountaineers Ski Committee - Ski Mountaineering
This is the handbook of Mountaineers ski mountaineering course, updated for the second year of the course in 1942-43. Members of the committee that organized the course are: Fred Beckey, Elov Bodin, Lyman Boyer, Doris Brightbill, Joe Buswell, Harry Cameron, Ann Cederquist, Bill Degenhardt, Jack Hossack, Mary Hossack, Ella Knutson, Dave Lind, Ken Prestrud, Jean Rathburn, Helen Rudy, Roland Sherman, Roy Snider, Burpee Stevens, Jim Wasson, Art Winder.

For reference, here are the members of the committee that developed the initial course in 1941-42. This list is from the 1941 handbook: Fred Ball, Lyman Boyer, Joe Buswell, Tom Campbell, Harry Cameron, Ann Cederquist, Mary Kelly, Walt Little (ski committee chairman), Ted Murray, Jud Nelson, Stan Newell, Stan Savage, Roland Sherman, Burpee Stevens, Walt Varney, Jim Wasson, Art Winder.

Chapters in the 1942-43 handbook:

I'm especially interested in the glacier skiing techniques prescribed by this course, so I've transcribed part of that chapter, beginning on p. 63:

Glacier Skiing

Reasons For Glacier Skiing

Characteristics Of Glaciers

Glacier is formed of ice in various stages of transformation from snow to ice. Glaciers form at high elevations from large snowfall and low temperatures, slowly move downward by the pressure of their weight and melt away at lower end. At about 8,000 feet in early spring, cross section of glacier from top to bottom shows: new snow, old snow, solid neve from previous year, grainy ice, solid ice. Higher up there will be relatively more snow and neve; lower down there will be relatively more ice.

Downward movement of ice over and around irregularities in its bed causes crevasses; cracks don't usually form in ice fields where there is no movement. The junction of 2 glaciers is generally well-crevassed.

Types and locations of Typical Crevasses:

  1. Bergschrund forms at the top of glacier where moving ice pulls away from ice and snow attached to the rock walls of the glacier cirque; usually large and deep.
  2. Marginal crevasses are formed at edge of glacier because ice in center moves faster than ice on sides. Normally these are not large and run diagonally upstream from edge of glacier. Crevasses form at right angles to glacier movement.
  3. Longitudinal crevasses run up and down glacier; usually found on top of longitudinal ridges in the glacier; infrequent occurrence.
  4. Transverse crevasses run crossways of glacier; usually found on top of humps or ridges of glacier; frequent occurrence and sometimes very large; probably the most dangerous type.
  5. Seracs are ice pinnacles formed by intersection of lateral and longitudinal crevasses. Usually found in ice falls.
  6. When glacier passes over a steep drop in its bed, an ice fall is formed with all types of crevasses.
  7. When glacier goes around a curve in its bed, numerous crevasses of many kinds may be expected.
  8. Ice wells and ice caves sometimes found at lower terminus, caused by melting.

Remember that the glacier doesn't know that there are any rules about crevasses and will crack wherever a mechanical stretching action occurs. Safest rule: expect any kind of a crevasse anywhere; use close observation to select your path. Crevasses are bridged with snow during the winter, because of wind action forming cornices on the crevasse edges. Bridge is weak at first when snow is powdery, stronger after it becomes thicker, and stronger still after much thawing and freezing in the spring have converted the powder snow to crust, then progressively weaker toward the summer as it becomes thinner and finally collapses from thawing. Slope of a glacier may be as much as 45 degrees above the bergschrund and over ice falls; may be as flat as 1 degree. Skiing not practical when slopes exceed 35 degrees.

Moraines are accumulations of rock debris on the edges (lateral moraines and terminal moraine) and possibly the center of the glacier (medial moraine). Crevasses are nearly as frequent on medial moraines as on glacier. Lateral moraines are safer.

Sources Of Danger To Skiers On A Glacier

Frequency Of Fatal Accidents To Glacier Skiers

Arnold Lunn states the following figures for twenty-five years of Glacier Skiing in the Alps:

Total killed by falls in crevasses = 9; on the ascent, unroped = 4; on the ascent, roped = 2; on the descent, unroped = 2; cause unstated = 1.

Apparent that had rope been properly used, crevasse accidents would have been limited to 3 at the most, out of probably several thousand glacier skiers.

Methods Of Avoiding Dangers On A Glacier

How To Tie On The Rope

Fundamentals Of Roped Glacier Skiing

Roped Skiing - Uphill - Easy Terrain

Walk uphill as in ordinary skiing, all following leader's pace. Only difficulty comes in turns. Skiers following in same track will cause slack in rope after the first man kick turns and starts new traverse. To prevent this, all skiers stop together at same time, and kick turn in order, top man first, then each starts out on new track. In certain cases this is impossible and special attention must be given to avoid slack in rope. Two on rope is easiest, and safe enough in easy terrain.

Roped Skiing - Downhill - Easy Terrain

Roped Skiing On Dangerous Terrain - Both Uphill And Downhill

Special Problems In Roped Skiing

  1. Going downhill cross narrow bridge thus: No. 1 anchors and gives a strong belay to No. 2, who approaches in line of bridge with strong stem; when he gets to bridge, pulls skis together, runs bridge straight without braking, makes controlled fall or quick stop turn on lower side. On gentle slopes no belay needed, both skiers keeping on the move. Once across, best belay No. 1 can give to No. 2 is to proceed downslope, keeping slack out of rope, while No. 2 runs bridge. Going uphill cross bridge thus: No. 1 crosses bridge with sidestep or herringbone, being careful not to stamp skis hard for fear of breaking bridge, while No. 2 remains on lower side, giving strong belay. Once across No. 1 anchors, gives belay while No. 2 crosses, or proceeds slowly upslope if terrain easy, keeping taut rope on No. 2.
  2. Narrow bridge over one crevasses with open crevasse just downslope and parallel to first. Going downhill proceed as in (1), except that No. 1 stops at lower end of bridge (across crevasse), anchors and belays partner across. Going uphill, proceed exactly as in (1).
  3. Zig-zag path through interfingering ends of crevasses—going downhill danger lies in fact that skiers can't turn together. Resultant slacking and jerking of rope handled badly may jerk skiers into crevasse. Party reduces speed, gives careful attention to rope so that under no conditions will the rope tend to pull No. 2 into one of the crevasses. Last man should travel as close to the lower lips of crevasses as possible. If conditions are bad enough, skiers move one at a time with belays. Going uphill, skiers carefully keep slack out of rope, using anchors and belays when necessary.

When To Put On The Rope

Always use the rope when on a glacier, unless it is absolutely certain that no crevasses exist. Some recommend taking chances on unroped skiing in order to get more fun. Changes of breaking through in April and May are slim, but only an expert who knows what he is doing should accept even a small risk.

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Other subsections of the glacier skiing chapter include:

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Last Updated: Mon Dec 7 10:51:42 PST 2009