8. Changing Directions in Snow

Let’s look at how to change directions when climbing steep snow slopes. When switchbacking up a steep snow slope, you will obviously have to change directions—multiple times!

Here are the steps for changing direction, while maintaining a self belay with the ice axe for security:

Step 1: Take an “out of balance” cross over step (legs crossed).

Step 2: Move your other foot up and into the same plane, so you’re standing in the “duck walk” position with both hands on your ice axe in a “self belay.” See the video for demonstrations, and for more on walking techniques, see our video on “Snow Travel – Duck Foot”.

Step 3: Change hands on your ice axe so that when you change directions your axe is still in the uphill hand. Spin the head of the ice axe so you have the same grip as before the turn (this will likely be the “self arrest” grip with pick backwards, but some may prefer a pick-forward grip).

Step 4: Move your foot into an “in balance” foot position (legs uncrossed, uphill foot forward), and continue to walk or climb in the new direction of travel.

We hope you found this video helpful. Feel free to comment below with questions or thoughts!


Please remember, climbing is inherently dangerous. Climb at your own risk.