Winter Mountaineering Course

Overview

Winter mountaineering encompasses one of the most aesthetic and rewarding facets of the sport of climbing. Like all forms of the sport, winter mountaineering has as much to do with mental challenge as it does with physical endurance and the successful application of technical skills. In addition to applying a wide range of climbing skills, as a winter climber you must:

  • understand and evaluate snowpack stability and assess avalanche hazards
  • have a thorough understanding of mountain weather
  • be capable of route finding under difficult conditions
  • readily maintain suitable shelters in cold and wind
  • attend precisely to the details of climbing technique and protective systems

The goal of the winter mountaineering course is to help intermediate to advanced level backpackers and mountaineers with minimal winter experience gain a complete repertoire of winter backcountry and climbing skills. We cover the challenges of cold weather camping at altitude; the complexity of backcountry travel (including both route finding and hazard evaluation); winter climbing, protective systems, and rope handling skills; and snowshoeing technique. 

 

Locations

Mt Whitney Zone, California

The Mt Whitney Zone serves as a perfect training ground for winter camping and climbing. This course will take place around Upper Boy Scout Lake or Iceberg Lake at the base of Mt Whitney, which is the tallest peak in the Lower 48 states. Instead of gaining ice climbing experience like you do on the Ouray or RMNP winter mountaineering course, you will get a chance to ascend Mt Whitney! This winter ascent will be done via the Mountaineers Route and during the winter this route can range from a rock scramble lightly dusted in snow, to a full-on snow and ice climb with sections of up to 40 degrees in steepness.

 

Ouray, Colorado

The San Juan Mountains near Ouray see some of the finest snow conditions in North America. From stunning peaks, high mountain valleys, and an abundance of waterfall ice, the San Juans create one of the best winter sports areas in the United States. During the Ouray winter mountaineering course you will gain thorough waterfall ice climbing skills as you’ll spend your first 3 days at the famous Ouray Ice Park. On the last 2 days, you’ll head into the beautiful backcountry of the San Juan Mountains for an unforgettable winter backcountry camping experience. 


 Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado

Rocky Mountain National Park straddles the Continental Divide and encompasses hundreds of fantastic winter climbs for all ability levels. The high elevations and cold temperatures of Colorado’s Front Range bring about winter conditions much earlier than other destinations in the United States, and cause them to linger much farther into the spring. With such diverse terrain, complex snowpack, and variable conditions, this area proves to be one of the best teaching venues. This winter mountaineering course is structured similarly to the Ouray course in that you’ll have 3 days of front-country ice and mixed climbing experience, and the last 2 days of the course you’ll head out into the backcountry for a fully immersive winter experience.  

 

Other Winter Courses

Winter climbers should also consider taking an avalanche safety course in Washington. While the winter mountaineering course covers some avalanche awareness skills, we can’t cover everything taught during an avalanche awareness course.

Winter Mountaineering Course

Curriculum

Winter mountaineering, like all mountaineering, is an activity that is extremely subject to route conditions, snowpack, and weather. All these conditions dictate, to some extent, which subjects will be covered in detail. Normal core topics of instruction include introductions to:

The Physics & Physiology of Cold Weather

  • An introduction to human physiology in cold weather
  • Equipment, clothing, and shelter for the winter and expedition climber
  • Internal maintenance - food and hydration in a cold environment
  • A short introduction to avalanche safety, including snowpack mechanics, avalanche release mechanisms, route selection, and hazard mitigation (for a complete introduction, take our Avalanche Level 1 course)
  • A brief introduction to avalanche rescue procedures (to become proficient, take the complete Avalanche Rescue course)

 

Winter and Expeditionary Climbing, and Protective Systems Skills

  • Selection and use of ropes, knots and harnesses
  • Design concept, selection and use of ice axe and secondary hand tools
  • Proper choice and application of the primary ice axe positions: piolet canne, panne, and manche
  • Use of crampons, including French technique (flat-foot), German technique (front-pointing), and American technique
  • Selection and placement of snow and/or ice anchors for protection and belays, including – as appropriate to the conditions – pickets, deadmen, and bollards
  • Winter rock climbing and mixed climbing skills
  • Establishment and maintenance of fixed lines and fixed protection

 

Skills for Winter Travel

  • Techniques for snowshoeing varied backcountry snow conditions
  • Techniques for snowshoeing with a pack in low and high angle terrain
  • Route finding and tour planning
  • White-out navigation using both map & compass and GPS-based techniques
  • Leave No Trace climbing, camping, and travel skills

Winter Mountaineering Course

Dates

Sierra Nevada, CA

  • March 3 - 7, 2025
  • March 24 - 28, 2025

 

Ouray, CO

  • January 6 - 10, 2025
  • February 17 - 21, 2025

 

Rocky Mountain National Park, CO

  • February 24 - 28, 2025

 

Additional dates (including the option to do this course on skis or a splitboard) are available as a private course. Contact the AAI office for further details - [email protected] or 360-671-1505

Winter Mountaineering Course

Details

Prerequisites

  • Previous backpacking experience
  • Previous experience camping on snow
  • Excellent physical fitness

 

Program Details

Max Ratio - 2:1 (Sierra Nevada, CA) and 3:1 (Ouray & RMNP, CO)

Capacity - 6 participants

 

Cost Inclusions and Exclusions

Inclusions: Included in the course cost is group technical climbing equipment, permits and access fees, and the guide fee.

  • On the Sierra Winter Mountaineering course, camping is also included since you will be backcountry camping for the duration of the course.
  • On the Ouray and RMNP Winter Mountaineering course, camping is only included on the fourth day of the course during the backcountry portion of the course. You will be responsible for your own lodging for all the other nights of the program (either in Ouray, CO or in Estes Park, CO).

 

Exclusions: Not included in the course cost is all personal clothing and climbing gear, transportation, gratuities to guide, meals while on the course, lodging before or after course dates, or travel insurance.

  • Again, lodging is not included in the Ouray and RMNP Winter Mountaineering course except for the fourth day of the course. 

Winter Mountaineering Course

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