13. Placing Ice Screws

In this video we look at how to place ice screws. Ice screws offer protection for the lead climber in the event of a fall, the same way cams and stoppers do in rock climbing. Below are the steps for placing ice screws:

Step 1: Turn one foot sideways if possible to help create a more comfortable stance while placing the screw.

Step 2: Place the screw at waist level. This position allows the climber to maximize power without compromising balance. Placing a screw in a higher position minimizes power and affects balance.

Step 3: Begin by pushing and twisting the screw into the ice until the teeth bite and hold the screw in place. Note that the angle should be slightly lower than perpendicular, as this is the strongest and most effective angle to place a screw (the strength actually comes from the threads pulling against the ice).

Step 4: Pop out the “turbo” or crank, and continue screwing the piece into the ice. Be sure to return the crank to the original position, as the rope can potentially catch on this in a fall. These cranks, such as the “turbo” on the Black Diamond screw, have been rumored to sever ropes. You must return the crank to the original position!

Step 5: Chip away any weaker surface ice around the screw that may have cracked during the placement, and set the screw so the hanger is flush with the ice and hanging downward.

Please note that best practice / pull tests show we should back off the screw a bit, rather than over-crank it to get the hanger to sit flush on the ice. You can damage the thread placements by cranking the screw with too much force. This means if the hanger sits flush with the ice but is in the upward direction, it is best to un-thread a half turn to get the hanger to hang down, instead of cranking it tighter.

Step 6: Once the screw is screwed in up to the hanger, clip a quickdraw to the hanger. Then clip your rope into the lower carabiner of the quickdraw, just like sport climbing. Be sure to avoid back-clipping the rope. For more on this see our video on “Avoid Back-Clipping.”

Below are a few additional considerations when placing screws:

  • More often than not, the leader will need to place the screw with one hand, especially on steeper ice. This makes the first step, which is getting the teeth to bite, the trickiest, and the most likely time you could drop a screw. No dropping!
  • Strength of the screw placement depends on the quality of the ice you place it in:

Good = Cold, Clear, Dry

Bad = Soft, Warm, Wet

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.