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Snow Travel - Book Review


Snow Travel: Skills for Climbing, Hiking, and Moving Across Snow, by Mike Zawaski, Mountaineers Books, $22.

By Andy Dappen and Kalie Wertz

Slip-sliding on snow – it’s a good way to land yourself in a hospital or a cemetery. In fact, slipping on snow (or ice) is the second most common form of accidents in the mountains according to stats compiled in Accidents in North American Mountaineering. Injuries and deaths from such slips far exceed those from avalanches, getting lost, equipment failure, freezing to death, mountain illnesses, or animal attacks.

How do you prevent dangerous slips on snow and ice? Practice with the proper tools and techniques. Toward that end, Snow Travel: Skills for Climbing, Hiking, and Moving Across Snow, a book by Mike Zawaski, is a valuable primer for contending with the many forms, hazards, and steepnesses of a slippery medium.

Beginning and intermediate mountaineers will benefit from the contents of the book. The book starts with equipment discussions covering clothing for snow travel, boots, crampons, ice axes, and helmets. The book then moves onto the techniques of using your feet with and without crampons. Next come the details of using ice axes on snows of all consistencies and steepnesses for self-belay, self-arrest, balance and slip prevention. Good instructions and illustrations teach use of the axe as a low dagger, as a high dagger, for self-arrest, and as a step cutter. To a much smaller degree, other tools (skis and snowboards) are discussed. In total, many basics for safe ascending, traversing and descending are covered.

Finally there’s information about other snow hazards that mountaineers must avoid or navigate: avalanches, cornices, elephant traps, gators, snow bridges, and crevasses. In some cases the discussion adequately addresses the hazard. In other cases (avalanches), the coverage is woefully incomplete and readers are encouraged to seek additional training elsewhere.

One flaw of the book is the first impression given through its cover. There could hardly be a more yawn-inducing photo up front. Many pictures inside the book would have made better covers. And then there’s the equally uninspiring name that isn’t even easy to read, much less remember. Why not find a title with some brain stick like ‘Don’t Slide, Don’t Die’ or ‘Don’t Get  Iced by Snow’ or ‘Blow it Bloke and You’ll Croak’?

These gripes aside the book provided enough advice, coaching, tips, and techniques that we’re glad we didn’t judge it by its cover.

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 ** Slipping and sliding on steep rock is the most common form of accidents in the mountains.