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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Straps or brakes?

Entering the last gully on the Grand Envers

Rant mode on here and at full volume!

Early this last Fall I was doing an instructors' clinic with the local ski guru's.   As I bent over to hook up my safety straps my instructor for the day started in on using "touring gear" at a lift area.  I mentioned this scene previous but here goes again anyway.  Me being the only one in our group of 25 instructors doing a clinic that day while skiing any sort of "tech gear" you might actually use for touring.

Mind you in Europe there are a whole bunch of very skilled skiers all on tech and bindings.  There it is the norm not the exception for those in the know and actually out "doing it".

My choice for that days was a TLT6 Performance boot, Dynafit Speed Superlight bindings and a pair of Praxis Carbon GPOs to be exact.  A rig I used to good effect @ Crystal Mtn in Washington, off Rainier and for 2 months in Chamonix this year.

But I digress from the topic at hand this morning.   And that is should you use straps to retain your skis or trust the fickle finger of fate and a brake to fook you?

First off any one that tells you to use brakes in real mountains is an idiot. 

I don't give a chit if they are a full cert UIAA Guide or a level 3 PSIA Instructor..they are wrong.

Examples from UIAA Guide's web sites on the Internet for Haute Route gear selection:

"Ski brakes - We recommend ski brakes as opposed to run-away straps. Brakes are quicker to use than straps, are somewhat safer in avalanche terrain, and reduce the odds of a ski getting away from you when putting them on or taking off on steep terrain. "

"Ski brakes recommend over safety straps" 

"Ski Brakes"

Only once did I find this on a UIAA guide's site:

"Ski safety straps. necessary for glacier skiing"

And one suggested both:

"Ski Safety Straps ( Necessary for glacier skiing)
Ski Brakes

I know clients can be rather obtuse.  But both?  How about learning to actually use the gear we do have?  

Loosing a ski in the real mountains is not an option for me.  Or anyone I am going to ski with.  Liability/risk is simply too high.  Tie the damn thing (your ski) to your body.  And do it securely.

More importantly learn how to use the leashes.....putting them on and taking them off.. both the ski and the leash.

Not to mention the fact that brakes up the ramp angle on any Dynafit binding and make them less capable as a pure ski binding because of it.  Take a look here for some of those dirty little details.

Most people think safety straps are as dead as the Dodo Bird.  I grew up using them so not a big deal for me to go back to using them.  Yes they can make a fall more spectacular.  Fall less is a good suggestion.  Yes brakes are easier to use just no where near as secure if you actually need to retain your ski.

My experiences from just this winter?  Three skis lost in bounds locally.  Two owners walked down hill in knee deep to get a ski some one else below them was able to find or stop.  Not a big deal since it wasn't me doing "the walk of shame".    Third ski?   Never did find it.  Long walk (pitifully short by my standard in the hills) to the lift.   They were using just brakes of course.

Prep day for the Haute Route this year.  Two lost skis on piste @ Grand Montets in the fog.  Could have been worse.  But nothing pretty, simple or something I wanted to repeat during the up coming week.    Everyone in my group bought or borrowed straps that night.   It wasn't a suggestion.  I saw one lost ski on the Haute an easy transition late one morning.  Which had their guides scrambling to catch and return the client's skis.  Momentary lack of mental awareness by the skier using brakes.  Could have just as easily been a helicopter required to solve that one.

If nothing else leashes make you focus on the obvious.
Common sense.

This one needs some serious thought IMO.   The picture below is one ski on and one ski off in a particularly insecure position.  Some real advantages IMO of no brake to get in the way trying to stash the ski and eventually to get the ski back on.  Damn glad I had a "handy leash"  to easily clip the ski securely into as well.  Lot going there in a tiny space.  And walking home was not the best option.

One ski on and one off.....not by choice.  Defined by the terrain @ that moment.  And I wasn't pleased.

Not one of my better ideas dropping into this....but damn glad I was using straps and not brakes here.

Small loop of cord has held up well..but not the best for crampons use.
 They will need to be replaced at least once a season if not more.
Ring on the right blew out in a slow speed fall on a flat glacier.  Easy to use,  bad idea.  Ski stayed where I fell.  Thankfully it really was flat terrain.   Cords are new. 

Dynafit system of nylon leash and a stout ring to snap into.  Easy to use.  Very secure on the boot cuff once you get it on and out of the way so no crampon snags.
A little hard to see clearly but Black Diamond wire leashes on a set of Dynafit Low Tech Race bindings.   Latched to my my boot by the simple cord attachment pictured above.   Good match up and secure in use if you are paying attention.  Same set up I am using on all my skis right now. 
rant mode off ;)

These are what I am currently using on most of my skis.  Dynafit's version is good as well.  But their easy disconnect avi  feature worries me.
I want to retain my ski.  Way, way less worried about avi terrain.
Not that shoe string boot attachment loops are going to take much strain.
What ever you use it needs to be more than what a key ring is capable of holding!


Mike said...

Its definitely an interesting topic and one that I have have personally gone back and forth on.
Had dynafits with brakes and now have plums with leashes. the brakes do help with stepping in to keep the ski still and a quick way of hooking the skis together to throw over your shoulder for a quick boot pack but other than that there's not much advantage, in the BC I think leashes are much better.
I've got a pair of the B and D leashes which I really like, nice and stretchy so you can leave the leash attached while dealing with skins means less messing around with it. Also have a fuse that theoretically will break in a big fall or avy. Luckily I haven't tested this yet to see what the breaking point is. I do Like the idea of the ski disconnecting from me in a big fall or something.

Semnoz said...

Hi Dane,

Great post. I have to agree with you both on the usefulness of leashes/retention straps AND knowing how to use your gear.

Of course knowledge and experience often come through making mistakes. On my resort alpine gear, I use only brakes 99% of the time. Work fine. That written, it took 45 minutes of searching for a ski in powder 20 or so years ago for me to decide to use them on alpine gear from time to time on those especially deep days (and those are days that you don't need to worry about the ski hitting you in the head).

For touring, I just have the classic TLT Speed binding, and always use the leash (when I don't forget it, in which case I lock out the front toe piece). Given the nature of the mountains – whether on steeps, glaciers, or a long walk from anywhere) I agree that leashes are a good idea. If traveling through avy terrain on the climb, I personally choose to unhook them.

When putting skis on in steep terrain (read Chamonix steep) or in firm snow conditions, leashes are more than useful.

I still fail to understand why some people are so vehemently against them.


Bruno Schull said...

Hi Dane. I used a tech binding set up with leashes for the first time this year. I was surprised how easy the leashes were to manage--much less faff than I expected. What do you recommend about a "break-away" part of the leash stock Dynafit system is all metal, cablem and so on...should I tie a small cord on there somewhere...something that will break easily if necessary? Also, as hilarious as this sounds, I did manage to drop a ski. I was carrying my skis in my hand, about to put them on, and I stepped off a large rock into soft snow, performed a very ungraceful sprawling fall, lost a ski, and watched it slide for some distance before luckily coming to a stop. I guess even if you make something idiot proof a real idiot will find a way to screw it up. I walked down and put on my skis (and ski leashes). Funny now, but of course I was lucky.

Jon B said...

Only time I almost lost a ski on a tour was using BD leashes on the Spearhead. It wasn't a big fall, but the braided wired broke like it was an overstretched rubber band. Luckily, the ski slid almost directly to the group that had already descended, and I just had a 200-300 vert boot down to thegroup and the ski. Now I'm using the Dynafit leashes, but who knows if they're any stronger. It still gives me pause, regardless of how I secure my skis.

Dane said...

Hi Guys, thanks for the comments.
Bruno? worries, I some times fail to just clip mine!

Sorry for the confusion though. I edited the post to clear it up hopefully. I use the Black Diamond leash and not Bill's BD leash.

Bill's B&D version can be found here:

Dane said...

Oh and you'll want at least one Voile strap :)

Andy Danger said...

This is an interesting topic to me. Thanks for sharing your views. I typically run skimo bindings on a variety of skis and therefore agree about the brakes - only for the resort. I've also used leashes a bunch, but mostly in years ago in my in-bounds tele days. Most of the time now I eschew leashes as well for two reasons: (1) the avalanche thing is big. A breakaway link of some kind could change my mind on this, but I don't think it makes sense to be inescapably tied to your skis in avalanche terrain. (For the record, I don't use pole straps for the same reason.) (2) they're kind of a pain and I do a fair bit of skimo racing where leashes, despite being on every resort's required gear list, are not used and would be a significant hinderance.

That said, I lost a ski a few years ago that necessitated some one ski descending of a couloir and a separate rescue mission into terrain I wouldn't normally like to find myself.

That said, you mention several times that skiers should learn to use the equipment right e.g. put the skis on and put the leashes on, fall less. This logic doesn't work. If you're using the skis correctly then they won't come off and if they do then it'll be one huge mess if you're in "real" mountains. A leash isn't going to help you regain control if you lose a ski in 60 degree terrain. It seems to me that leashes are mostly useful at times when you shouldn't need them, that is, to keep you from dropping a ski or something along those lines. Like me, when I dropped my ski.

Perhaps it's worth my reevaluating leashes for big mountain terrain.

Unknown said...

Hey, Check these leashes out. Very easy to use because of their design.

I bought my pair at the Telemark Fest at Mad River Glen a year and a half ago and they are robust and easy to use.

Made in USA as well...

Anonymous said...

If the leashes stay intact all good unless someone falls at speed and tumbles or god forbid gets in an avy. If they fail by design then they won't drag you down in an avy but they probably won't stay attached in much of a fall. Which makes both sorts of leashes useless in my book...

As to the propriety of skiing lift served with touring gear, I do it too from time to time but regular alpine gear is simply better at its intended purpose. It has a different set of compromises, which would seem to help in a clinic setting. It's also more like an alpine ski instructors students would use of course.

Terry said...

Great topic, Dane.
From a friend's experience, it seems the Dynafit leashes are not anywhere as strong as I'd thought. 1st day out on his new tech setup at the resort, he dropped in, for some reason both skis released, he slid over some rocks and both leashes sheared in the middle of the coil. One ski went to the bottom of the resort and the other caught and stayed near the crash site...

brian p. harder said...

Hey Dane,

From my skimo racing days, I simply got out of the habit of using anything. With my lightweight leanings, brakes are not an option. Plus, bindings simply work like shit with them for all the reasons you describe. That said, I'll likely start using leashes for skimo/bc skiing because losing a ski can be a disaster.

Funny, my only lost ski in the last several years was on a steep line where I fell, the ski released and likely struck the side of the couloir, snapping the Plum binding wing and stopping the ski. Of course, I had an interesting single ski out that day. A leash would have likely saved the day for me.

As for the quick booter/over the shoulder hiccup Bruno experienced, a quick Voile strap together would likely inhibit any runaway.

Dane said...

Good point Brain..Voile straps are handy in many ways. I need a few more myself.

Anonymous said...

Coming from the Tele world...leashes just make sense.

Unknown said...

Snowkiting is my passion in higher alpine terrain. To make things easier I finally dumped my heavy touring stuff and got Dynafit and Scott boots and binding. Still getting used to the setup I found the brake that came with it is a pain. Overcoming the brake's spring effect meant slamming the foot repeatedly into the heal piece lock in position causing delays and mostly, I suspect a quicker wear out of the pins and plate on the boot. Now I designed my own boot straps. My only reservation is in certain falls the ski can helicopter and hit the skier with the strap option. loosing a ski though is no option for me as I often go solo. Thank you for the discussion.

Mike Peat said...

I've used leashes for 30 years, and strongly recommend their use in the back country. I would DEFINITELY have lost skis a dozen or so times over the years without them. Luckily I've never had any injuries from flailing skis, but I can understand this concern in a tumbling fall, it's a not as big an issue in a sliding fall. However, forget falling for a moment, the single bigest risk of losing a ski is when either putting them on or taking them off on steep hard packed or icy snow. We get these conditions a lot in New Zealand due to our temperate climate. I've had to precariously remove ski's one at a time and get crampons on, it's great to be able to just let the ski dangle while doing this, then you can deal with the skis once you have a more secure footing! The best leashes I've used were on the Tyrolia TRB circa 1980's (I had a couple of pairs of these in my youth). I've skied on Diamir Fritchi's since the mid 90's, a great binding but rubbish leashes which freeze and are unmanageable. My solution has been nick the leashes off my old TRB's and use them on the Fritchi's, these are still working a treat.