Glissade: to slide in a standing or seated position down a snow-covered slope without the aid of skis or a snowboard.
Who does it? Anyone descending a snow-covered slope who wants to save time and have a little fun at the same time.
Mike Zawaski, author of Snow Travel: Skills for Climbing, Hiking and Moving Across Snow (published in December by The Mountaineers Books), discussed the technique with The REI Blog.
Bonus: If you live near Denver, you can hear Zawaski discuss snow travel skills of all kinds in a free presentation at the REI Denver store on Thursday, April 4, at 6:30pm.
Descending climbers hop into a glissade chute. (Photo by T.D. Wood)
The REI Blog: Is there an ideal slope angle for glissading?
Glissading on Mount St. Helens; Mount Adams in the distance. (Photo by T.D. Wood)
REI: Give us your top 3 pointers for glissading newbies.
Zawaski: OK, here's 3:
1. Don’t try it if you’re tired.
2. Start slowly and practice self-arresting if you're unsure of yourself or need a reminder of how to do it.
3. Remove your crampons.
REI: How do you position your feet?
Zawaski: If it’s a hard slope and I’m worried, I’m going to start in a more snowboardy position and ski sideways a bit. If I’m a little more comfortable, I’m going to get into more of a telemark position where my feet are facing downhill, but they’re staggered a little bit, with one foot ahead of the other.
Then if I’m the most comfortable, I’m in more of an alpine skiing mode where my feet are right next to each other, pointing downhill. I’ll kind of make some turns on the edges of my boots if I’m feeling in control.
Glissading on a modest slope without an ice ax. (Photo by T.D. Wood)
REI: More people probably sit when glissading. What’s the best way to control speed: Use your feet or your ice ax?
Zawaski: I don’t know if I can answer that question. If I were to break it down into percentages on which is doing more work to slow you down, I’d say your ice ax is doing the most, especially on firmer snow. When the snow gets really soft you’re usually just using your heels, but an ice ax is still your central component. Having an ice allows you to really dig that spike in and slow yourself down.
REI: Once I sat down in a glissade channel and after sliding 30 or 40 feet I reached a steeper pitch and really picked up speed. I hit a few dips, caught some air and flew out of the channel, tumbling a number of times. It was a real NASCAR moment. I was grateful I had an ice ax to slow my momentum.