I went ice climbing the other day at an exposed climb in gale force winds. This place is notorious for wind, and the gusts we were getting that day felt like they were up to the 80-90km gusts range. It was a full on Chinook.

It wasn't bad when you were on the ice hanging on to your tools, but on the descent the wind was so intense I couldn't stay on my feet. It was gusting straight up the mountain, so I was fighting it the whole way down. The gusts would either stop me dead in my tracks or knock me over backwards. I dared not lean into the wind, because as soon as the gust died I would have fallen forward down the mountain. It was a struggle almost every step of the way.

Getting blown around all over the place, I kept thinking to myself, how the heck are you supposed to deal with the wind in this kind of situation?

  • 1
    The safest way is hole up and wait it out.
    – user5330
    Feb 7, 2018 at 0:09
  • @mattnz We weren't that exposed, it was a short walk out, but the wind sure had its way with me on that short walk, and I don't know if you want to wait out a Chinook, they aren't a typical wind. Chinooks tend to make conditions worse after they've rolled through.
    – ShemSeger
    Feb 7, 2018 at 2:58
  • @mattnz You bring up a very good point though, under lots of conditions it would be more appropriate to hole it, or rope up. If you compose an answer to the effect of your comment I'll upvote it.
    – ShemSeger
    Feb 7, 2018 at 3:07

2 Answers 2


The risk of a strong wind (Chinook or foehn winds are common here in New Zealand. Highest recorded wind speed 250km/h caused by one) should never be underestimated. It takes a lot of physical and mental energy to move safely in these conditions - even the most benign snow slope can become treacherous with enough wind. If on the walk out 'get-home-itus' can make you push harder than you might otherwise. The focus must be on the amount of effort you are putting in, not how much (little) you think you should be.

I have seen a climber picked up and blown 20 meters by a foehn wind. It does not matter how good a climber you are - if you lifted off the ground the outcome is always going to be down to luck. If the wind is lifting you, you need to consider if you are safe. If not you can then rope up and use a running belay, maybe even a full belay. Worst case is to dig in and wait it out, but make you this decision is made early enough for a successful shelter to be built or found.

As far as carrying on, roped or unroped, you need to reduce your wind profile. If you are lucky you can choose a route that allows you to descend with you back to the wind - it will be fast, easy and with the wind no longer in your eyes, you can see where your going so much safer (I have done this and ended up on the opposite side of the mountain from my car and overnight gear, but alive). If you have to climb down into the wind, face into it (Unless no pack, then side on is a lower profile). Squat down rather than lean back or forward. Listen for wind gusts and when you hear one coming, get low quickly, as the gust dies down, move on. Have your ice axe ready at all times and use it for stability. I have ended up crawling for about 100 meters,(which got me to a lee slope).

Look for terrain that provide shelter from the wind, but be very wary of lee slopes and assess avalanche risk (all too easy to forget in the joy and relief of getting out the wind).

  • This is better than my answer.
    – ShemSeger
    Feb 7, 2018 at 3:52

One technique I found that worked was to get low and lead with my feet. When a gust came along, instead of pushing into the wind, I'd try to duck under the gust and reach forward with me feet. All the while I was trying to keep my ax plunged into the snow behind me, which wasn't easy for moving because I had my shorter waterfall ice tools and they were plunging up to my wrist. I essentially had to keep one hand on the ground and almost semi-crawl down the mountain feet first.

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