It is a common advice to handle your ice axe with the pick facing to the rear. Furthermore, having a single technique of self-arrest aids in training and being prepared for an emergency situation.

However, the instructions on the newly purchased Grivel hiking ice axe of a friend advise the following.

The ice axe must be held with the blade facing the slope, so it can be plunged into the snow without having to turn it round. In other words the ice axe has to be held in the traditional way, blade facing forward during the ascent. But on the way down the grip must be changed so that the blade is again facing the slope.

I already explained my skepticism of this claim. Please advise what is the best practice for an occasional hiker around 2300m european winters.

1 Answer 1



As long as you can walk normally (using the whole foot not just the toe area) always hold your axe at its head with the blade pointing backwards.

More information

This depends on the situation you are in. The text from Grivel seems to be a oversimplification. There is not just one technique for ascending and one for descending. There are two basic methods which are applicable for both ascent and descent (regarding how you hold the axe).

Moderate terrain / Walking on snow

This is likely the situation in question here, as in the question hiking and not mountaineering is mentioned. This includes both flat and steep terrain. The latter as long as you can walk with all points of the crampons in the snow (i.e. "normal" walking). Here you hold the axe at the head with the hand closer to the slope with the blade facing backwards. Here the axe is used to hold your balance and self arrest in case of a fall. The blade is facing backwards exactly for that: self arrest (the video in the question and this TGO question explain this well).

Steep terrain / Ascending on toe points

When the terrain gets too steep for the above technique one turns to face the snow and ascends plunging the toe pieces of the crampons into the snow. The axe is held at the shaft and arrested with the blade in the snow, so you can support your weight on it and use it to pull yourself upwards. Here a slip simply must not happen, the chances of being able to self arrest would anyway be slim. This is why you kind of "continuously" arrest with the blade facing forward. I guess this is what Grivel is talking about.

  • 1
    +1: At some point the terrain is such successful self arrest is unlikely, so a slip is not acceptable. This is the point you are no longer 'walking', but switch to 'climbing'. Snow conditions, steepness and personal competence, along with risk aversion, make it subjective when this transition happens.
    – user5330
    Dec 12, 2015 at 22:28

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